Political Ideas in Modern Britain: In and after the Twentieth Century

By Rodney Barker | Go to book overview

2

Friends of the modern state

The increases and mutations by which political institutions grow are always misrepresented if chopped into neat periods and bisected by ends, beginnings and turning points. But though history is a continuous process, if it is to be understood at all then some violence must be done to its complex reality by representing it in terms of emphases, directions and prevailing characteristics. In the case of British government, some such new emphasis, and some such turning point, may be identified after 1880. After that date government did more of what it had done previously in the way of regulation and control, and it did what previously it had not done, or done very little, in the way of direct intervention and the provision of services. There was no sharp departure from previous practice, and little was done that had not in some degree been done before. But the number of state employees began to increase significantly in the 1880s whilst state expenditure as a percentage of national expenditure began to rise in the 1890s. The accelerations and changes in direction were not necessarily the result of conscious decisions to give the state a different role. But what was conscious was the reflection of contemporaries and the belief of many of them that something had changed, and that government now had a novel and distinctive character. Writing in 1881, the Liberal politician John Morley drew attention to ‘the rather amazing result that in the country where Socialism has been less talked about than in any other country in Europe, its principles have been most extensively applied’. What Morley meant by ‘Socialism’ was simply the assump-tion by the state of extended powers for the regulation of life and work in the interests of the welfare of its citizens. He wrote

We have today a complete, minute, and voluminous code for the protection of labour; buildings must be kept pure of effluvia; dangerous machinery must be fenced; children and young persons

-15-

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Political Ideas in Modern Britain: In and after the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • 1 - Two Introductions 1
  • 2 - Friends of the Modern State 15
  • 3 - Pleas for Liberty 58
  • 4 - Neither State nor Individual 77
  • 5 - The Pale of the Constitution 111
  • 6 - Accommodations to the Modern State 135
  • 7 - Arrivals and Departures 179
  • 8 - The Death of Conservatism and the Dispersal of Liberalism 223
  • 9 - The Death of Socialism and the Rise of the Left 251
  • 10 - Definitions and Doormats 280
  • 11 - Conclusion 301
  • Bibliography 304
  • Index 343
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