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How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?
A historical defense of the concept of bourgeois revolution, from the sixteenth century to the twentieth.
Once of central importance to left historians and activists alike, the concept of the “bourgeois revolution” has recently come in for sustained criticism from both Marxists and conservatives. In this comprehensive rejoinder, Neil Davidson seeks to answer the question, How revolutionary were the bourgeois revolutions? by systematically examining the approach taken by a wide range of thinkers to explain their causes, outcomes, and content across the historical period from the sixteenth-century Reformation to twentieth-century decolonization. Through far-reaching research and comprehensive analysis, Davidson demonstrates that there is much at stake—far from being a stale issue for the history books, understanding these struggles of the past can offer insightful lessons for today’s radicals.
Reviews

  • “I was frankly poleaxed by this magnificent book. Davidson resets the entire debate on the character of revolutions: bourgeois, democratic, and socialist. He’s sending me, at least, back to the library.” —MIKE DAVIS, author, Planet of Slums

    "Davidson's book is one of immense and impressive erudition. His knowledge of the history of Marxist theory and historiography is as detailed as it is comprehensive, and must be well-nigh unrivalled. The endless, complex debates that characterize the Marxist tradition are distilled with clarity and illumination." —JEREMY JENNINGS, Times Literary Supplement

    "Epic in scale, How Revolutionary? is by any standards a significant achievement. Its intellectual scope is commendably wide-ranging; no one else has put together such a broad field of references on this subject, or conjoined such widely dispersed historical and theoretical arguments. In addition, Davidson discusses virtually every key issue in Marxist political sociology, sweeping from the tributary mode to the nation-state, the differentiation of the peasantry to the revolution en permanence."
    —New Left Review

    " What should our conception of a bourgeois revolution be, if it is to enlighten rather than to mislead ? Neil Davidson’s instructive and provocative answer is given through a history both of a set of concepts and of those social settings in which they found application.His book is an impressive contribution both to the history of ideas and to political philosophy.” —ALASDAIR MACINTYRE, author, After Virtue

    "This is, quite simply, the finest book of its kind." —Tony McKenna, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

    “Neil Davidson wends his way through the jagged terrain of a wide range of Marxist writings and debates to distill their lessons in what is unquestionably the most thorough discussion of the subject to date. If the paradox at the heart of the bourgeois revolutions was that the emergence of the modern bourgeois state had little to do with the agency of the bourgeoisie, then Davidson’s study is by far the most nuanced and illuminating discussion of this complex fact.A brilliant and fascinating book, wide-ranging and lucidly written.” —JAIRUS BANAJI, author, Theory as History

    "There are books which are of such kind that upon reading them, one immediately knows one is dealing with a future classic. Such a book is Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary Were The Bourgeois Revolutions?"—Matthijs Krul

    “[This] is a monumental work. Neil Davidson has given us what is easily the most comprehensive account yet of the ‘life and times’ of the concept of ‘bourgeois revolution.’ . . . This would have been enough. However, Davidson has also provided us with a refined set of theoretical tools for understanding the often complex interactions between political revolutions which overturn state institutions and social revolutions which involve a more thoroughgoing transformation of social relations.”
    —COLIN MOOERS, author, The Making of Bourgeois Europe

    "This magisterial book is destined to be a key reference point in future debates on not only the transition from feudalism to capitalism, but the meaning of socialism in the 21st century. Davidson interweaves a detailed intellectual history of theories of revolution with a vivid retelling of a multitude of transformative social struggles."
    —TAD TIETZE, Green Left Weekly

    "This is a book in the grand style...In addressing the question set by his title, Neil Davidson effortlessly displays analytical intelligence and erudition rare among historians of any persuasion. And the reader put off by the sheer size of the book will be reassured by Neil’s easy, fluent style, plentifully interlarded with humour. If there were any doubts about Neil’s calibre as a Marxist historian after his two books on Scottish history (which looms large in this work as well—no one could come away from it without knowing it was written by a Scot), and his numerous articles, these have now been removed." —ALEX CALLINICOS, International Socialism

  • “I was frankly poleaxed by this magnificent book. Davidson resets the entire debate on the character of revolutions: bourgeois, democratic, and socialist. He’s sending me, at least, back to the library.” —MIKE DAVIS, author, Planet of Slums

    "Davidson's book is one of immense and impressive erudition. His knowledge of the history of Marxist theory and historiography is as detailed as it is comprehensive, and must be well-nigh unrivalled. The endless, complex debates that characterize the Marxist tradition are distilled with clarity and illumination." —JEREMY JENNINGS, Times Literary Supplement

    "Epic in scale, How Revolutionary? is by any standards a significant achievement. Its intellectual scope is commendably wide-ranging; no one else has put together such a broad field of references on this subject, or conjoined such widely dispersed historical and theoretical arguments. In addition, Davidson discusses virtually every key issue in Marxist political sociology, sweeping from the tributary mode to the nation-state, the differentiation of the peasantry to the revolution en permanence."
    —New Left Review

    " What should our conception of a bourgeois revolution be, if it is to enlighten rather than to mislead ? Neil Davidson’s instructive and provocative answer is given through a history both of a set of concepts and of those social settings in which they found application.His book is an impressive contribution both to the history of ideas and to political philosophy.” —ALASDAIR MACINTYRE, author, After Virtue

    "This is, quite simply, the finest book of its kind." —Tony McKenna, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

    “Neil Davidson wends his way through the jagged terrain of a wide range of Marxist writings and debates to distill their lessons in what is unquestionably the most thorough discussion of the subject to date. If the paradox at the heart of the bourgeois revolutions was that the emergence of the modern bourgeois state had little to do with the agency of the bourgeoisie, then Davidson’s study is by far the most nuanced and illuminating discussion of this complex fact.A brilliant and fascinating book, wide-ranging and lucidly written.” —JAIRUS BANAJI, author, Theory as History

    "There are books which are of such kind that upon reading them, one immediately knows one is dealing with a future classic. Such a book is Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary Were The Bourgeois Revolutions?Matthijs Krul

    “[This] is a monumental work. Neil Davidson has given us what is easily the most comprehensive account yet of the ‘life and times’ of the concept of ‘bourgeois revolution.’ . . . This would have been enough. However, Davidson has also provided us with a refined set of theoretical tools for understanding the often complex interactions between political revolutions which overturn state institutions and social revolutions which involve a more thoroughgoing transformation of social relations.”
    —COLIN MOOERS, author, The Making of Bourgeois Europe

    "This magisterial book is destined to be a key reference point in future debates on not only the transition from feudalism to capitalism, but the meaning of socialism in the 21st century. Davidson interweaves a detailed intellectual history of theories of revolution with a vivid retelling of a multitude of transformative social struggles."
    —TAD TIETZE, Green Left Weekly

    "This is a book in the grand style...In addressing the question set by his title, Neil Davidson effortlessly displays analytical intelligence and erudition rare among historians of any persuasion. And the reader put off by the sheer size of the book will be reassured by Neil’s easy, fluent style, plentifully interlarded with humour. If there were any doubts about Neil’s calibre as a Marxist historian after his two books on Scottish history (which looms large in this work as well—no one could come away from it without knowing it was written by a Scot), and his numerous articles, these have now been removed." —ALEX CALLINICOS, International Socialism

Other books by Neil Davidson

  • As Radical as Reality Itself

    Davidson brilliantly argues the case that Marxism should be seen as a living, breathing, critically engaged tradition.
  • How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Abridged Edition)

    The globalized economy of the present is the result of political and social revolutions directed against pre-capitalist economic structures.
  • Nation-States

    Davidson argues that a Marxist understanding of the meaning of contemporary nation-states must begin from the inseparable connections between them.
  • We Cannot Escape History

    The latest collection of essays from the Deutscher Prize winning Marxist scholar, Neil Davidson.
  • Holding Fast to an Image of the Past

    Davidson discusses how Marxism can retain a sense of historical tradition without becoming fossilized.