Victorian Critics of Democracy: Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Stephen, Maine, Lecky

By Benjamin Evans Lippincott | Go to book overview
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WILLIAM LECKY

I

LECKY marks the close of the Victorian tradition of Burke.1 His Democracy and Liberty, which was first published in 1896, is the last will and testament of an intellectual reaction that was founded largely on eighteenth-century ideas. Stephen and Maine had protested against the consolidation of political democracy; Lecky recognized its victory and turned to point out its disastrous consequences. Where Stephen and Maine had set their lance against democratic ideas, democratic dogma, and democratic confidence, Lecky set his against the implications of democracy. He saw political democracy moving toward an equalitarian state and beginning to direct its attack upon industrial privilege; he fully realized that it was turning from its triumph over aristocracy to an attack on the middle class. He wrote to warn Englishmen that the realization of universal

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1
William Hurrell Mallock was not in the tradition of Burke; he was not primarily a conservative in the basic sense of opposing change as such. He was a conservative in the sense of standing broadly for the arrangements of his own time; for economic individualism and the supremacy of the industrial oligarchy. Unlike most conservatives, he did not believe the common man was untrustworthy and irresponsible. He believed that the common man was endowed with the ordinary virtues, such as common sense and honesty, yet held that he was incompetent. He insisted that the common man without the leadership of the able few would produce no more than a subsistence living. Mallock's conservatism sprang from an individualism which held that all economic progress came from the brains of the few -- the scientists, inventors, engineers, managers, and financiers of capitalism. He argued that inequality of reward, such as existed in his time, was essential if the élite were to make the most of their talents. Mallock is perhaps better placed in the twentieth than in the nineteenth century. It may be worth noting that about half of his writing on political and social matters was done during the first two decades of the present century.

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