William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

1
PROLOGUE A Private Life

I

THE personal and political contexts within which this book was conceived have changed radically since it was first published in 1977. The first edition was written under some degree of constraint from, and obligation to, William Beveridge's close relatives and executors. For a variety of reasons these constraints no longer exist: it is now possible to write of Beveridge's personality and personal relationships with a greater degree of frankness, and less tact. In addition, several major and minor collections of relevant archive material, including many items of personal correspondence, have become available since the 1970s. Several specialist studies and monographs have appeared, which have added to our knowledge of Beveridge's role in certain specific spheres, such as Ralf Dahrendorf's history of the London School of Economics and Asa Briggs's history of broadcasting.1 These have not led to any major revision of my account of Beveridge's ideas and public career, but the story can now be amplified and modified in a number of significant ways. And, most fundamentally, the history of twentieth-century social policy, in the development of which Beveridge played so seminal a role, has evolved in ways that were almost wholly unforeseen and inconceivable less than two decades ago. The legend of Beveridge as the 'father of the welfare state' has by no means vanished from view: indeed, if anything, it has become a more powerful icon for a certain kind of society and a certain set of principles than it was in the post-war era.2 But although Beveridge's ideas retain their significance and potency both in Britain and in a wider international context, the critical climate within which those ideas are judged has changed dramatically. 'Beveridgeism' is no longer perceived as the comfortingly familiar collective wisdom of the age. In Britain, Europe, and North America it has become an embattled ideology, fighting its corner

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1
Ralf Dahrendorf, LSE: A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science 1895-1995 ( 1995), pp. 137-329; Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, iv. Sound and Vision 1945-55 ( 1979), pp. 291-420.
2
See e.g. John Hills, John Ditch, and Howard Glennerster (eds.), Beveridge and Social Security: An International Retrospective ( 1994), based on the 1992 York conference of the International Social Security Association, which was entirely devoted to the work and influence of Beveridge.

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