chapter  2
15 Pages

The Moral Expertise of the British Consumer, c.1900

A Debate between the Christian Social Union and the Webbs
ByJulien Vincent

The social, cultural and intellectual history of consumption, already a well-established topic of eighteenth-century historiography, has at last become a favourite focus of historians of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Britain. The Webbs' hostility may seem somewhat surprising, given that the CSU shared the Fabians' aspiration towards a 'progressive' doctrine which would not contradict generally accepted principles of economics. The Webbs believed the Christian Social Union(CSU)'s argument, which summed up the Oxford views on consumption and exclusive dealing at the turn of the century, to be both naive in its assumption that it was possible to trace the conditions under which every good had been produced, and amateurish in its use of statistics. This chapter of the debate between the Fabians and the Anglican reformers of the CSU has enabled a reconstruction of the language of moral consumption, through which it was possible to express diverging opinions on the power of the consumer at that time.