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

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

1
INTRODUCTION

WHAT happens when a sophisticated body of political ideas runs out of intellectual momentum after a long spell of ascendancy? What befalls an ideology when, after a sustained period of attachment to a successful and powerful political party, the latter suddenly collapses under a barely foreseen set of political and economic developments? These are two of the questions that prompted this study of the fortunes of British liberal thought in the years immediately following the triumphant accomplishments, theoretical and practical, of the new liberalism. The answers this book attempts to provide do not, however, dispose of such questions painlessly. The First World War was followed by two decades of ideological crisis for liberalism and, as is often the case, crisis is not only disruptive for those involved but--at least for the non- participant observer--illuminating. The shocks that jolted liberalism also disclosed its anatomy, as hairline cracks widened into rifts that would not heal, and its edifice was revealed to contain ill- fitting sub-structures: 'liberalisms' that could not be reduced to 'liberalism'. Hence while part of this story is one of ideological standstill, even of regression, another concerns itself with the continuing attempts of liberalism to recuperate from set-backs, to regenerate and to maintain vitality and relevance. Failure and success thus proceed side by side and the final account lies open to this day. The reasons for this complexity, and for the inadequacy of any approach that assumes the existence of a defined entity called liberalism within the time-limits of this study, may be found in the bifurcation and occasional fragmentation of liberalism itself. What makes the period under observation particularly interesting is that it brought into sharp relief the theoretical divisions that liberalism has always been liable to, but was usually able to paper over. This also lends an unusual and perhaps unexpected significance to an era in recent British history that has not appeared especially promising for students of Western political thought. At first glance the years between 1914 and 1939 seem to offer little in the way of the depth, scope and incisiveness that Continental political theory possessed,

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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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