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

By Rodney Barker | Go to book overview

7

Arrivals and departures

Political ideas in the third quarter of the twentieth century

CAUTION AND CONSENSUS

Before the Second World War political enthusiasms had become attached to extra-British events. But at the same time the very destructiveness of those events and the continued intensity and violence of the Cold War in Europe and the hot war in Asia further strengthened the flight from political discord. The post-war generation, as E.P. Thompson put it, ‘grew to consciousness amidst the stench of the dead, the stench of the politics of power’ (Thompson et al. 1960:188). Consensual, authoritative and traditionally ordered ways were given increased respect not necessarily because they seemed right but because they seemed safe. Laski in 1951 argued that ‘the real alternative to the House of Commons is the concentration camp’ (Laski 1951:9). Even allowing for the fact that Laski’s enthusiasm for the established political institutions was increased by the presence of a Labour government, the emphasis of his argument had shifted not only from the critical constitutionalism of the 1930s but from the revolutionary democracy of the early 1940s. One political scientist observed in 1955 that the generations before the mid-1940s ‘dreamed of realizing Utopia; this generation hopes to escape disaster, whether in the form of economic collapse or atomic destruction’ (Peardon 1955:488). It was the age of the lifebelt, and people, giving up dangerous ideas of grand voyages, clung on to anything which looked as if it would float, never mind where to, provided it was not far away. Even those who like Michael Oakeshott, Laski’s successor at the London School of Economics, aspired to grander craft nevertheless eschewed all thought of anticipated arrivals. There was ‘neither starting-place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel’ (Oakeshott 1967:127). And because the familiar was accepted because it was familiar, because it seemed safe rather than because it

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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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