chapter  5
24 Pages

INTELLECTUAL PRELUDE

The intellectual history of Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century has tended to see Conservative thought as unimportant.1 In part this neglect can be attributed to a tradition of regarding the Conservative party as if not ‘the stupid party’ then an institution lacking a deep interest in ideas. The Conservative party produces few ‘great thinkers’ and fewer ‘great texts’ and, as a consequence, has generally been viewed as an unpromising subject for historians of political thought.2 A comparison with work on the Edwardian Left makes this clear. The volumes devoted to the emergence of British Socialism have been matched only by the thoroughness with which the New Liberalism has been examined, whilst another corpus of research has scrutinized the relationship between them.3 This work has enriched our understanding of British political and economic development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yet full understanding will not emerge until a similar degree of attention is paid to the Right. What has emerged from studies of the intellectual Left is a picture in which Collectivism is the key development in late Victorian and Edwardian political thought, whilst the Socialist ‘revival’ of the 1880s and 1890s, the emergence of the ‘New’ Liberalism, and the dialectic of Liberal-Labour relations are the driving force of this intellectual dynamic. In this scenario an increasing awareness of the social problems facing Britain’s economy, and the growth of a Labour movement which appeared to owe its existence to working-class resentment of these problems, are seen to have prompted the Liberal party to revise Individualist assumptions and look to Collectivist welfare reforms to reconstruct Liberalism and revitalize the Liberal party’s electoral fortunes. The climax of this process is seen to have been reached in the Edwardian period, when the most powerful forces of Progressivism joined hands to promote a breach with the laissez faire assumptions of classical Liberalism-a breach confirmed by the social reforming strategy of the 1906-14 Liberal Governments.4