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

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

7
THE ELEMENTS OF LIBERAL HUMANISM

1. THE SURVIVAL OF ETHICAL LIBERALISM

THE one characteristic that clearly separated the tone of left-liberalism from its centrist counterpart was the salient linking of its arguments to a communitarian ethic. Most centrist-liberals were abandoning references to the ethical ends of the community or to the moral role of the state--other than to hint vaguely at the importance of social justice or to identify, in Murray's words, moral reform with a Puritan recoiling from drink, vice and gambling.1 Even Barker, one of the few centrist-liberals to accord the state a moral role, saw it as the facilitator not of a social morality but of a network of individual moral obligations, in which personally responsible individuals exercised claims on each other.2 Left-liberals, however, preserved the cardinal insistence of the new liberalism on the interpenetration of politics and social ethics. Neither the First World War, nor the post-war pessimism that engulfed many liberals, ended that tendency in British political thought. Rationalist beliefs plainly survived the war; indeed, the rationalism of a Hobson or a Hobhouse was ipso facto conterminous with a community-based morality. Hobhouse's post-war social-philosophical works sustain this assertion. As he wrote in 1922: 'Politics must be subordinate to Ethics, and we must endeavour to see Ethics not in fragments but as a whole.'3 This double theme, despite some significant variations among left-liberals, sums up the organic holism that still pervaded the left-liberal assessment of social structure and function, one in which politics was restored both to the Greek ideal on which most university trained liberals had been nourished, and to dominant nineteenth-century Idealist or utilitarian perspectives that refused to detach politics from ethics. If some interpreters of Benthamism regarded it as a scientization of politics, Hobhouse was right in recognizing its important moral message and in realizing that its

____________________
1
Murray, "'What Liberalism Stands For'", 684.
2
E. Barker, The Citizen's Choice ( Cambridge, 1937), pp. 128-9.
3
Hobhouse, The Elements of Social Justice, pp. 13-14.

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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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