Liberalism Divided: A Study in British Political Thought, 1914-1939

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

6
LIBERALISM, SOCIALISM, AND LABOUR

THE previous two chapters have looked at the development of liberal ideology from within, against the socio-economic backdrops that stimulated it. Throughout the 1920s, however, the tortuous relationship with the Labour party constituted the major political environment of liberalism. Operating simultaneously on two levels --the ideological and the organizational--liberalism at times seemed engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the other main progressive force in the land. This chapter will examine the way in which liberals interpreted that dual relationship and the effect it had on their self-image. On the seminal questions of a progressive alliance, the attitude to socialism and the role of the trade unions, liberals were subjected to opposing forces and pressures. Inasmuch as Liberalism as a political movement began to be replaced by Labour as the left-of-centre party, some important questions need to be explored. Was the boundary between the Liberal and Labour parties essential and inevitable? What was their degree of compatibility in terms of ideological structure? Did the heritage of liberalism survive the partial demise of the party and, if so, in which form? How central to the bifurcation of liberal thought were its perceptions of its ideological rivals on the left?

From the end of the nineteenth century, the relations between liberalism and socialism/Labourism were more complex than historians and political theorists, let alone official Labour historiographers, have--until very recently--allowed for. Two central problems are immediately prominent. First, the identification of party with ideology has contributed to an over-simplified version of events by which the progressive function of liberalism was taken over by the Labour party. This version postulates the smooth succession of a vigorous and popular Labour movement to an antiquated liberalism which--easy to see for all but liberals themselves --was merging into conservatism in much the same way as Liberal Unionism had done in the 1880s.1 It is in the nature of the

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1
The parallel error is to collapse Labour party ideology into socialism, an error of which the greater number of liberals in this study--as will be shown--were guilty.

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Liberalism Divided: A Study in British Political Thought, 1914-1939
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vii
  • Contents ix
  • ABBREVIATIONS AND CONVENTIONS xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The War on Liberalism 18
  • 3 - The Worker as Citizen 45
  • 4 - The Liberal Summer School: the First Decade 78
  • 5 - Human Nature, Economic Laws, and the Reconstitution of Capitalism 127
  • 6 - Liberalism, Socialism, and Labour 177
  • 7 - The Elements of Liberal Humanism 223
  • 8 - Socialism with a Liberal Face 294
  • 9 - A Decade of Dormancy 329
  • SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 373
  • Index 385
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