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

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

2
THE WAR ON LIBERALISM

THE study of twentieth-century politics and history is inextricably bound up with issues of war and peace, but this classificatory perspective has often been applied at the cost of accuracy. The world wars have on the whole been the subjects of separate studies and their dates have helped neatly to demarcate eras in European history. The First World War especially has been seen as the great divide between a century of harmony and peace and the unleashing, of the irrationalism that blemished the world after 1914. Within the British context the war has further been portrayed as 'a triumph of state planning' to many people of progressive sympathies and as an impetus to the advance of collectivism.1 A close examination of the impact of the war on the domestic ideological scene, however, reveals continuities as well as changes; indeed, the analysis of British liberalism can only be harmed by treating the war as a separate unit of study or as a deus ex machina or 'rampant omnibus'.2 In terms of political thought it eliminated some tendencies but exacerbated others: the ideological development of liberalism was powerfully influenced by the war, yet the war created little that was totally new in political thinking. The aftermath of the war-- reconstruction and the debates of the 1920s--also had its roots in the pre-war period as well as in the war itself. No new phoenixes arose out of its ashes, but when the dusts of war had settled some of the older phoenixes looked rather more menacing, while others were scarred with the burst fragments of ideological dogmas and political illusions.

The advent of the war saw a curious development among liberal thinkers. The confident and combatant mood of the pre-1914 new liberals had stretched the limits of liberal theory to a point where mutual responsibility, social welfare and common ends had staked claims equal to, and occasionally prior to, the liberty of the in-

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1
A. Marwick, The Explosion of British Society 1914-1970 ( London, 1971), pp. 13-14; W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition, vol. i. The Rise of Collectivism ( London, 1983), pp. 74, 76.
2
T. Wilson, The Downfall of the Liberal Party 1914-1935 ( London, 1968), p. 20.

-18-

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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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