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

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

5
HUMAN NATURE, ECONOMIC LAWS, AND THE RECONSTITUTION OF CAPITALISM

HARDLY a decade had passed since the outbreak of the Great War before the legacy of late-Victorian liberalism began to adopt a new form. From the vantage point of 1914, one is tempted to regard the new liberalism as the logical development of a tradition of political discourse that reunited ethics and politics, linked the notion of community firmly to liberalism by way of a socially oriented and interdependent concept of human nature, and welcomed the state as the central agency of a solidaric society, through which collective mind would triumph over matter and the continued evolution and progress of humanity would be assured. Ten years later the long- term perspective on liberalism would have had, of necessity, to be altered dramatically.1

Propelled by the experience of the war itself and by the savage reality of an accelerating economic decline, British liberalism underwent a theoretical fragmentation that paralleled the shattering of its political confidence. Those liberal elements that still maintained allegiance to notions of reform, progress and individual betterment, evinced a fundamental bifurcation between a liberalism of the left and a liberalism of the centre. Each of these two streams had its sub-currents, not all of which seemed to be flowing in the same direction. Both streams, however, could with some justification claim that they contained important components of the liberal heritage. To follow this crucial divergence of the liberal

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1
The confusion surrounding the liberal tradition is well illustrated by the intriguing responses to a questionnaire circulated among young liberals (average age 28.2) by the centrist-liberal Forward View in 1928. Answering the question whether nine- teenth- and twentieth-century liberalism were based on the same principles, 55 per cent (base not given) assented and 38 per cent demurred. The Forward View interpreted dissent as a negative verdict on the present quality of liberalism, but failed to establish what those principles were. ( FV, December 1928, Apr. 1929.)

-127-

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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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