Looking back on his youth Lord Bryce observed that the earlier generation ‘busied itself with institutions; this generation is bent rather upon the purposes which institutions may be made to serve’ (quoted in Fisher 1927, vol. 2:268). It was a pertinent comment. During the second quarter of the twentieth century there was a different emphasis in political argument. Champions and opponents of the state, of libertarianism, of democracy or of oligarchy all seemed to have less to say, and to utter what they did say in ways which were both muted and indirect. There was an accommodation to state collectivism, less discussion in general terms of whether or not the responsibilities and powers of the state ought to be increased, and more argument about how the acknowledged strength of the modern state ought to be employed. The dominating political arguments of the second quarter of the century were about the character of public policy, and of how the state should use its powers, not about what powers it should have. The sheer weight of the state might have induced a sense of powerlessness amongst those who in earlier and more fluid times might have criticized or praised it, whilst those who had earlier argued for various forms of state collectivism now no longer saw the need to do so. The essential point had perhaps been won, and what was now appropriate was to pursue its implications. By the end of the Second World War these implications were overwhelming, and involved a general commitment to a degree of public responsibility for economic management and social services which would have seemed substantial to many socialists in the 1930s.
Given this commitment, extensions of state power which would previously have been controversial were now pursued as little more than practical necessities. As the Labour Party leader Clement Attlee