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

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

3
THE WORKER AS CITIZEN

1. HOPES OF A NEW WORLD

The post-war years found Britain distraught and uncertain.1 Political confusion and a crisis of confidence in the national leadership, a social unrest that hinted at a grave underlying malaise, economic instability within two years of the end of the war, and the questioning of moral and ideological principles confronted a liberalism that hardly knew what it was or where it should go. Its organizational vehicle, the Liberal party, had been ravaged by the personal feud between Asquith and Lloyd George, and, for many of its supporters, had irreparably blemished its reputation as the party of peace--the first pillar of the ideological trinity that had traditionally included retrenchment and reform as well. Now two further threats materialized: the Coalition, which initially had held out the promise of comprehensive social reform,2 threatened to divest Liberalism of its identity and to subsume it under a lack-lustre Conservatism, and the much-strengthened Labour party, invigorated by the infusion of enfranchised blood, seemed capable of eclipsing the Liberal party--certainly in terms of enthusiasm and purposiveness, if not yet in votes. If Hobson had written about a crisis of liberalism in 1909, that crisis was now compounded and augmented as the liberals, winded by a series of body blows, gasped for breath. This lack of oxygen lasted for half a dozen years, during which some liberals' faces turned blue with the inertia of conservatism, while others reddened in the struggle for new life as they found themselves uncomfortable members of a Labour party they never

____________________
1
C. F. G. Masterman, Liberal politician manqué, writer and journalist, lent his eloquence to the occasion: '. . . the forces of malignancy, some blind or capricious power which turns the sight of men into darkness, and the reason of men into lunacy, are to-day dancing [a] "Devil's Dance" over the ruins of a world' ( England After War [ London, n. d. ( 1923)], p. 11).
2
See the interesting reappraisal of the Coalition by K. O. Morgan, Consensus and Disunity: The Lloyd George Coalition Government 1918-1922 ( Oxford, 1979), ch. 4 and passim. Few progressive liberals at the time, however, felt inclined to praise the Coalition for its social reform measures of 1919 and 1920.

-45-

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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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