Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850

By M. J. Daunton | Go to book overview
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technology. By the end of the nineteenth century there was a new mood of anxiety, which was reflected in political debate. The rise of foreign competition led some to doubt the value of free trade, and to urge the return of protection. There was deep unease that the slower rate of population growth was a source of weakness, particularly because the birth rate of the middle class and 'respectable' workers was lower than that of the poor. The result, it was feared by some commentators, would be a deterioration in the racial stock and degeneration. Others shared the concern, but felt that the consequences could be overcome by improvement in the environment, health, and education in order to increase efficiency and productivity. Perhaps the experience of Germany and America showed the virtues of improved technical education and the application of science to industry, which led some politicians to urge a reform of the education system, which was strongly opposed by others who stressed the value of a liberal, non-vocational education. Until 1914, these debates took place from a position of strength, for Britain was still highly prosperous, with a dominant role in world trade in manufactures and financial markets. After the First World War, there were far deeper problems: the position of London was challenged by the rise of New York, the world economy on which Britain was so dependent was unstable, the staple industries of coal, cotton, and shipbuilding were in decline, and the costs of defending the extended British empire were straining the domestic economy.

F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, ed. with an introd, by E. J. Hobsbawm ( 1969), 51.
Ibid. 53.
B. Disraeli, Sybil; or, The Two Nations ( 1845), 76-7.
V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, preface to the French and German edns. ( Peking edn., 1975), 9-10.
See Ch. 8.
G. Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working-Class History, 1832-1982 ( Cambridge, 1983), 107.
The comment of Lord John Russell, quoted in P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in the Age of Reform: Whigs and Liberals, 1830-52 ( Oxford, 1990), 41.
On this, see E. Biagini, Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone, 1860-80 ( Cambridge, 1992); and R. McKibbin, 'Why Was there no Marxism in Great Britain?', in his The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain 1880-1950 ( Oxford, 1990).
R. J. Morris, Class, Sect and Party: The Making of the British Middle Class: Leeds, 1780-1850 ( Manchester, 1990), 331.


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Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850
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