Conservatism and Collectivism, 1886-1914

Conservatism and Collectivism, 1886-1914

Conservatism and Collectivism, 1886-1914

Conservatism and Collectivism, 1886-1914

Excerpt

In 1894 The Economist surveyed the British scene and realised that a development of great historical importance was well underway. The nation was moving towards a large scale expansion in the powers of the state. In an editorial entitled 'The Advance of State Socialism'the journal noticed the increasing role of government in economic and social life, and observed a major shift in political opinion: 'A passion has arisen for asking State aid'. The Economist not only grasped that it was living in a period which launched the nation on a collectivist future but also predicted a subsequent reaction:

We attempt no forecast, but whenever the check comes, and from whatever cause, we shall see a strong and heavy swing of the pendulum back in the old direction. The cry will then be that we are all crushed by officialdom, that the nation has been placed in leading strings, and that individual energy must be emancipated from all this self-sufficient and unnecessary guidance. A Minister will be found who promises 'independence' instead of supervision, and gradually the army of officials who by that time will be employed will melt away.

What was this but to anticipate Mrs Thatcher?

In the 1980s and 1990s this 'strong and heavy swing' is upon us. Great debate is now taking place in Great Britain concerning the role the state should play in people's lives. Conservatives and collectivists (of various hues both) struggle to implement their policies and diffuse their ideas. This conflict has dominated modern politics for nearly a century and its consequences have been of critical importance for our national civilisation. These rival forces appear to represent two distinctive cultures which have their roots deep in British, European and Western history. The outcome of this conflict will have a profound impact on the future course of the nation. It is in order to provide a perspective on modern controversy and to aid in the analysis of contemporary conditions that this book returns to the first great period of struggle between Conservatism and collectivism -- the tumultuous three decades that preceded the Great War.

'L'Etat, c'est moi'. For a long period in Europe great debate centred . . .

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