The Unloved State: Twentieth-Century Politics in the Writing of Nineteenth-Century History

by Martin J. Wiener
The Unloved State: Twentieth-Century Politics in the Writing of Nineteenth-Century History
Martin J. Wiener
The Journal of British Studies
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License

The Unloved State: Twentieth-Century
Politics in the Writing of
Nineteenth-Century History
Martin J. Wiener

"Who loves the state these days?" Frances Cairncross rhetori- cally asked in The Times Literary Supplement at the height of the Thatcher era.' "People have become more cynical," she went on, "about the central tenet of socialism: the concept of a wise and be- neficent State, representing the best interests of the community at large." The skepticism about the state as a provider of national well- being which Cairncross was referring to was of course not confined to Britain. Nor was it, in Britain, simply to be identified with "Thatcher- ism." Rather, such disillusion developed over a period of several de- cades and across the political spectrum. As significant in this develop- ment as the thunderings of Thatcherites were the reconsiderations of those further left; David Marquand spoke for many when he declared his own tradition of Croslandite social democracy virtually bankrupt, flawed to the root by its statism, through which "civil society was seen, all too often, not as an agent, but as a ~atient."~

The deep shift of opinion embodied in such observations has made its mark in a vari- ety of realms, one of which is the subject of this essay: an alteration in the interpretation of British history, in particular of the nineteenth

MARTINJ. WIENER is professor of history at Rice University. An earlier version of this essay was presented to seminars at All Souls College, Oxford; King's College, Cambridge; and the Institute of Historical Resea~ch, London. For very useful com- ments, the author would like to thank the directors and members of these seminars, especially Gareth Stedman Jones, Colin Matthew, Jose Harris, and Paul Johnson.

' Frances Cairncross, review of Rethinking Socialist Economics, edited by Peter No@ and Suzanne Paine, The Times 1,iterary Supplement (January 9, 1987). -David Marquand, The Progressive Dilemma: From Lloyd George to Kinnock (London: Heinemann, 199 I), p. 212.

Journal of British Studies 33 (July 1994): 283-308 O 1994 by The North American Conference on British Studies All rights reserved. 0021-937119413303-0003Ull.00

and early twentieth centuries, the era in which this newly problemati- cal state began to grow into its modern form."

It has become something of a truism that historical writing is a part of the wider field of social discourse. Even while immersed in another time, historians share the concerns and values of their own, and these tend to find their way into their work and into the construc- tion of their narratives and of the interpretive frameworks in which those narratives are embedded. Taking the accounts historians con- struct as historical subjects in their own right provides a better under- standing of how the profession's concerns have arisen and developed and also affords a new perspective on the wider movement of ideas and opinion in society at large. Moreover, with national history restored to a central place in the English schools' curriculum, how it is interpreted is of more practical importance now than it has been for a long time, if ever

This essay argues that the disillusionment with both the virtue and the efficacy of the state that came to permeate political and social discourse in the 1970s and 1980s was also taking place within the writ- ing of the history of modern Britain. The "ideological crisis of the state," which in Britain culminated in the Thatcher years, spilled over into the nation's past, so to speak, where it contributed to a breakdown of an only recently evolved consensus among historians about the crucial, necessary, and essentially beneficent role of the central state. This breakdown had a po~itive~side

as well, nurturing the makings of a possible new "poststatist" consensus. By about 1960 a rather novel "Fabian" consensus historiography of modern Britain had ~rystallized.~

Like Fabian socialism, this body

'The recent tendency among scholars to revaluate upward the importance of the eighteenth-century state (see, e.g., John Brewer, The Sinews of'Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 [New York: Knopf, 19891) raises important questions that cannot be adequately dealt with in this essay. It should be noted, however, that while in the "long eighteenth century" to 1815 the British state grew markedly in size and expenditure, its functions did not significantly expand. In particular, it remained a very minimal state with regard to domestic social services. The origins of the twentieth- century welfare state remain in any meaningful sense in the nineteenth century, and not earlier. On the "traditional" character of eighteenth-century state growth, see Philip Harling and Peter Mandler, "From 'Fiscal-Military' State to Laissez-faire State, 1760-

1850," Jorrrnal of British Studies 32, no. 1 (January 1993): 44-70.

In attempting to distinguish some large patterns, the analysis which follows inevi- tably involves oversimplilication. Terms like "statism" and "Fabianism" are more ideal types than precise descriptions, useful in pointing out affinities between professional history and the world outside, but not meant to be taken as fixed and controlling. Actual historical scholarship has of course almost always been more subtle and complex than such labels, or the sort of brief, rather schematic citation to which we are limited here, can convey. Nonetheless, such labels and citations have important uses.

of historical writing projected a highly positive view of the capabilities and beneficence of the state, along with a strongly evolutionary out- look. It incorporated elements of earlier Whig and Tory historiogra- phy: to the long-dominant Whig picture of a steady expansion of liberty and political parti~ipation,~

it joined the Tory stress reemerging at the close of the Victorian era on the growth of good (and firm) govern- ment-an emphasis which can perhaps be seen in its most evocative form in Rudyard Kipling's Edwardian meditations on English history, Puck of Pook's Hill and reward.^ and Fuiries.During the interwar period, the two traditions of historical thinking had moved closer to- gether, as the Whig made room for the imperial experience,' and the Tory liberalized itself in a Baldwinian fa~hion.~

After the experiences of the 1940s-the successful waging of total war and the building of a welfare state-these converging streams blended into a new picture of the previous century-and-a-half of the national past which placed the growth of the "liberal state" at the center. The dominant form of national history remained teleological and celebratory, but its "hero" came to be an ever more centralized and efficient state, confronting the challenge of new social problems and gradually advancing the nation's well-being as it pushed back parochialism, corruption, and ignorance.

This development had been foreshadowed by the original Fabians, like Graham Wallas, who in his 1898 biography of Francis Place and

'On Whig historiography there is a large literature: the starting point is Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation yf History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931); see particularly J. W. Burrow, A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). On the reaction leading up to Butterfield's critique, see P. B. M. Blaas, Continuitv and Anachronism: Parlianlentary and Constitutional Development in Whig Historiographv and in the Anti- Whig Reaction betnwen 1890 and 1930 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978).

Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill (London: Macmillan, 1906), and Rewclrds and Fairies (London: Macmillan, 1910). For a more prosaic and straightforward Tory history, see C. R. L. Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling, A History of' England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1911) (written by Fletcher, with poems by Kipling).

'"This [Tory] epic of English expansion has been swallowed into the original sys- tem of the whigs" (Herbert Butterfield, The Englishman and His History [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19441, p. 82). While Butterfield stressed the way the Whig tradition absorbed all rivals, he failed to notice how the process changed it as well, attenuating its traditional antistatism.

Arthur Bryant, who wrote many of Stanley Baldwin's speeches, in his very popu- lar English Saga, 1840-1940 (London: Collins, 1940) chastised the early nineteenth- century rulers of England for their abandonment of paternalist traditions in favor of radical doctrines of laissez-faire individualism, tracing the roots of this betrayal of the people back to 1688: "With the weakening of the authority of the central government that followed the defeat of the Crown by the aristocracy, the rich and powerful grew restive at any interference with their freedom of action" (p. 32). Bryant went on, how- ever, to inveigh against the "bureaucratic despotism" that gradually arose to fill the void left by paternalism's demise.

after had insisted on the decisive importance of Jeremy Bentham and his followers to nineteenth-century hi~tory.~

In the new political cli- mate at the turn of the century, Wallas and his colleagues, taking a fresh look at Benthamism, saw, coexisting with familiar doctrines of laissez-faire, a powerful drive to active government, a kind of proto- Fabianism. At a time when he was generally regarded as the theoreti- cian of individualism, the Fabians discovered Bentham the Social Engineer, busily "inventing" the modern state."' Such positive reap- praisal of Benthamism not only underpinned emerging New Liberal thinking but had affinities with the imperialism also flourishing in these years. From the Edwardian period, accelerating after the First World War, with its great stimulus to state expansion, British history began to be rewritten around the state and its bureaucracy (its modern form hailed by Wallas as early as 1908 as "the one great political invention of the nineteenth century")." Administrative history became a recognized and flourishing field, first in regard to the medieval and Tudor eras, spreading later to the modern era,I2 bringing for the first time the theme of the growth of the state, long a staple of Continental history, to the center of British national history. With this shift of focus came also a shift of valuation, as the pioneers of administrative history tended to look at situations through the eyes of the state's

'See Graham Wallas, Ltfe of Francis Place (London: Longman, I898), and "Ben- tham as Political Inventor" and "The British Civil Service" (1927 inaugural address to the Institute of Public Administration) in Men and Ideas, ed. May Wallas (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940), pp. 33-48, 114-30.

lo As far back as 1962, William Thomas noted that Wallas was the first to emphasize the importance of the Benthamites in the "nineteenth century revolution in government" ("Francis Place and Working-Class History," Hi.storicu1 Journal 5, no. 1 [1962]: 61-79).

S. E. Finer, author of influential works on the civil service and on Edwin Chadwick, later recalled of the interwar period: "In my youth when I was much under the influence of the Webbs' historical works and was privileged in my brother Herman's house to mix and talk with their latter-day disciples among the political scientists of the LSE, [Bentham's Constitutional] Code was regarded by them with a sort of holy awe; it was seen as the very f'on.s et origo of the kind of democratically-sanctioned bureaucratic state to which their Webbist Fabianism was conducting them" (Bentham Ne~).sletter, no. 6 [May 19821, p. 30).

" Graham Wallas, Human Nature in Politics (London: Constable, 1908), p. 263. Wallas thereafter served on the 1912-14 Royal Commission on the Civil Service. Sidney Webb similarly described the civil service as a national treasure (quoted in Kevin Theak- ston, The Labour Party and Whitehall [London: Routledge, 19921, p. 77).

''Blaas (n. 5 above) has much of interest to say on the early phases of this develop- ment, which reached a kind of culmination for the medieval period in G. 0.Sayles, The Medieval Foimdations qf England (Idondon: Methuen, 1948) and H. G. Richardson and

G. 0.Sayles, The Governance qf Medieval England (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1963), and for the early modern period in G. R. Elton, The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign qf Hemy VIIl (Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press, 1953). The nineteenth-century state began to get serious study only in the 1950s, with the debate over the sources and character of the "Victorian revolution in government" (see n. 20 below).

representatives. In his brief history of England, reprinted eighteen times between 1912 and 1947, A. F. Pollard (Wallas's friend and col- league at the University of London) described the Tudor state's leap forward in efficiency as an essential step in the rise of national well- being and went on to make a general argument for the necessity of a strong state:

all power is distrusted by old-fashioned Liberals and philosophic Anar- chists. . . . but the forces of evil cannot be overcome by laissez-faire, and power is an indispensable weapon of progress. A powerless state means a helpless community. . . . Political liberty and religious freedom depend upon the power of the State, inspired, controlled and guided by the mind of the community. . . . It is not an engine of tyranny, but the lever of social morality; and the function of the English government is not merely to embody the organised might and executive brain of En- gland, but also to enforce its collective and co-ordinating con~cience.'~

In the historiography of the modern period, the reformed state came to be closely associated with social progress. E. L. Woodward, son of a civil servant, signaled the change in 1938 in his volume for the Oxford History of England on the 1815-70 period by not only highlighting "reform" as the theme of the volume but entitling a chap- ter on the growth of local and central government "The Organization of a Civilized Social Life."I4 There was general agreement on the broad picture of steady (if perhaps too slow) reform, beginning in the 1820s, through accommodation by an increasingly reasonable, hu- mane, and competent state, ever more responsive to popular needs, while different aspects of reform were dwelled on by those of differing

''A. F. Pollard, Historv of England (London: Home University Library, 1947), pp. 163-64. Pollard's great successor in Tudor history, G. R. Elton, shared his anti- Whiggism (but from the Right, as Pollard has criticized it from the Left). Elton began his landmark work, The T~ddor Revolution in Government, in 1953 by declaring that "English history has been as remarkable for good government as for free and constitu- tional government"; yet though the latter could not flourish long without the former, it had received far more attention. "Our history," he complained, "is still much written by whigs, the champions of political freedom; to stress the need for controlling that freedom may even today seem not only not liberal but even illiberal" (Elton, p. 1).

l4 E. L. Woodward, 2'he Age of Reform, 1815-1870 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1938). At the same time appeared K. B. Smellie's influential history of the modern rise of the state, in which he complained that "the growth of English administrative machinery was stunted by the continuity of her political and legal tradition. We paid too big a price in administrative immaturity for our national tradition of gradualness" (A Hundred Yecirs ofEnglish Government [London: Duckworth, 1937; rev. ed., 19501, p. 57). The climate of "progressive" opinion is suggested by Douglas Jay's remark that same year in his widely read book 7'he Socicilist Case (Idondon: Socialist Book Club, 1937) that "the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves" (cited in Theakston, p. 6).

political inclinations. Historians of a conservative bent highlighted the achievement of conservation within change, and of order without coer- cion, avoiding all revolutionary excesses, in contrast to Continental history, while those of left sympathies stressed the march toward a welfare state. This can perhaps best be seen in the historiography of two specific policy areas (usually studied quite separately from each other) which the central state has come to dominate: that of law en- forcement and criminal justice (my own particular research field over the past decade)" and that of welfare provision

In their massive history of local government published in nine volumes between 1906 and 1929, the preeminent Fabians Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb reshaped the modern history of social policy, in regard to both law enforcement and welfare provision, into a story of the slow emergence of bureaucratic order out of corrupt, callous, and inefficient muddle.I6 Their account was received with great respect, bordering on awe, and, coalescing with more emollient but not at root dissimilar accounts by former civil servants," formed the framework for the writings of the following generation. The subsequent writing of modern criminal justice history, dominated from the 1940s to the 1960s by Charles Reith and Leon Radzinowicz-one a former civil servant and the other a longtime advisor to the Home Office-was indeed structured by the theme of state-guided reform. Centralization, profes- sionalization, and "humanization" were portrayed as generally work- ing together through the previous century-and-a-half to transform po- licing, prosecution, and punishment. The product of this long process of reform was a steadily more orderly and law-abiding society, super- vised by an ever more humane and enlightened state.I8

At the same time the historiography of welfare (in the broad sense

See Martin J. Wiener, Reconstructing the Crirnincil: Culture, Law cind Policy in Englantl, 1830-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Ih The "entire narrative [of their poor law history]," Alan J. Kidd has noted, "is a litany of praise to the growth of collectivism. . . . They interpreted the old poor law in terms of 'state-building,' applauding the centralized administration of the Privy Council in the early seventeenth century and condemning the 'unfettered local autonomy' of the eighteenth century." See Alan J. Kidd, "Historians or Polemicists'? How the Webbs Wrote Their History of the English Poor Law," Economic History Review, 2d ser., 40 (1987): 402. The same can be said of the parts of their local government history devoted to law enforcement and prisons. For similar observations on yet another aspect of their historiography, see Chris Wrigley, "The Webbs: Working on Trade Union History," Ilistory Totlay 37, no. 5 (May 1987): 51-55.

" Such as Evelyn Ruggles-Brise, The English Prison System (London: Macmillan,


On policing, see Clive Emsley, introduction to The English Police: A Politic,al and Soc,icil History (Heme1 Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991). Key works in this tradition were Charles Reith, The Police Idea (London: Oxford University Press, 193X), and British Police ant1 the 1)ernocratic Ideal (London: Oxford University Press, 1943); and T. A. Critchley, The Concluest of Vio1enc.e: Order and Liberty in Britciin

embracing health and education as well as poor relief) painted a similar landscape, in which, again, centralization, professionalization, and hu- manization advanced arms linked in the gradual construction of the British welfare state, from the 1833 Factory Act and 1834 Poor Law Act down to the present. The war and welfare state-building experi- ences of the 1940s solidified the influence of the Webbs. At the close of that decade a significant rush of writings appeared on the key figure, Edwin Chadwick, in which Asa Briggs, R. A. Lewis, and S. E. Finer separately described a dramatic, difficult, but ultimately victorious "battle for public health" waged not only by Chadwick but also by heroic medical experts and reformist politicians, all struggling against a resistance to state expansion compounded of ignorance and selfish interests."

In the course of the 1950s, this interpretative framework was ex- tended to more and more aspects of welfare history and was general- ized by a U.S. scholar, David Roberts, in his 1960 work, Victorian Origins of the British Welfare State. The years around 1960 witnessed a vigorous argument over the role of the Benthamites (more generally, of "intellectuals" and, still more generally, of ideas) in the "Victorian revolution in g~vernment."~~'

But none of the parties to this argument doubted that there had indeed been a revolution leading more or less

(London: Constable, 1970). On prosecution and punishment, see Leon Radzinowicz, History of English Criminal Law and Its Administration since 1750: vol. 1, The Struggle for Reform (London: Stevens & Sons, 1948); vol. 2, The Enforcement of the Law (London: Stevens & Sons, 1956); and vol. 3, The Reform of the Po1ic.e (London: Stevens & Sons, 1956). On punishment, see Lionel Fox, The English Prison and Borstal Systems (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952); and Gordon Rose, The Str~ggle .for Penal Reform: The Howard League cind Its Predecessors (London: Stevens, 1961). See also

Wiener, introduction.

Asa Briggs, "Public Opinion and Public Health in the Age of Chadwick" (paper presented at the New Art Gallery, 37th annual lecture series of the Chadwick Trust, Leicester, October 4, 1949); rev. version in The Collec~tedEssciys ofAsci Briggs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 2:129-52. See also S. E. Finer, The Life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick (London: Methuen, 1952); and R. A. Lewis, Etlwin Chudwick and the Public Health Movement, 1832-1854 (London and New York: Longman, Green, 1952). Finer had previously authored a generally admiring sketch of the civil service (The British Civil Service: An Introductory E.~:c.sciy [London: Fabian Society, 19271).

David Roberts, Victorian Origins of the British Welfare State (New Haven,

Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960). Some of the highlights of this debate are L. J.

Hume, "Jeremy Bentham and the Nineteenth Century Revolution in Government,"

Historical Journal, vol. 10 (1957); D. Roberts, "Jeremy Bentham and the Victorian

Administrative State," Vic,torian Studies 2 (1958-59): 210; 0. Macdonagh, "The Nine-

teenth Century Revolution in Government: A Reappraisal," Historical Jonrnul 1 (1958):

52-67, and A Pattern of Government Growth, 1800-1860 (London: MacGibbon & Kee,

1961); J. Hart, "Nineteenth Century Social Reform: A Tory Interpretation of History,"

Past cind Present, no. 31 (July, 1965), pp. 39-61. This debate is surveyed in Valerie

Cromwell, "Interpretations of Nineteenth-Century Administration: An Analysis," Vie

torian Studies 9 (1966): 245-55.

directly to "the collectivist system of the present dayu2' or that this revolution had been necessary and almost entirely beneficent.

In his influential 1960 Ford Lectures, G. Kitson Clark placed the growth of the "new state" and its new professional administrators at the center of his analysis of the "making of Victorian England."" In the following year Maurice Bruce brought this emerging scholarly consensus to a wider readership, describing the modern welfare state as the natural culmination of a long and gradual process of conscien- tious and practical men responding to pressing new need~.~%s Kitson Clark concluded his next book, the "most eloquent . . . lesson" taught by Victorian history was

the great influence in human affairs of the force of necessity, of the pres- sure of circumstances. Most intelligent and influential people in Victorian England believed to a greater or less extent in self-help, the avoidance of state control, government economy and the anxious preservation of human freedom. Yet they started to build one of the most effective sys- tems of state government in Europe, and they had to do so. . . . Here was a community trying to live in an overcrowded island with a constantly growing population. It was faced by the problems of ever-increasing ur- banization. It had to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the industrial and scientific revolutions. It was increasingly enlightened and disturbed by the leaven of humanitarian and religious feeling which had begun to work in it in the eighteenth century, and it was subject to the mounting demands of democracy. Such circumstances made an increas- ingly elaborate social policy necessary. Such a policy could only be put into effect by an increasingly powerful secular state.24

By the early 1960s, the accepted picture of British history was one of massive and parallel advance in both justice and welfare begin- ning around 1830,at the heart of which was the reform, modernization, and expansion of the state, carried through in a gradual, nondoctrinaire "English" way. As thereafter satisfaction with this state and its offi- cials waned, ever-widening cracks appeared in this picture. Such wan-

'' Macdonagh, A Pattern oj Government Growth, p. 15.

22 G. S. R. Kitson Clark, The Making of Victorian Englantl (London: Methuen, 1962). On public health reform in the 1860s he remarked, "It was in fact a policy devised by experts, appealing to experts, to be exccuted by experts. . . . It was a foretaste of what was to come as the work of the State grew more technical, and [John] Simon was the forerunner of other men, like himself unusually able and unusually devoted, who were to play their part in making both Victorian and post-Victorian England from behind increasingly effectively closed doors" (p. 110).

23 Maurice Bruce, 7he Coming of the Weyare State (London: Batsford, 1961). 24 G. Kitson Clark, An Expanding Society: Britain, 1830-1900 (Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press, 1967), p. 182.

ing satisfaction was not a phenomenon of the Right or the Left only, but was apparent across the political spectrum. The frustrations of successive governments between 1960 and 1979-especially the dash- ing of the technocratic visions nurtured in the first half of the sixties by the quintessential Fabian, Harold Wilson-nurtured mounting disil- lusion about the capabilities and even the intentions of the state on both Left and Right. These reactions began, even before Thatcherism took shape, to find their way into history writing.

One sign of disillusion with the active reformist state was the rise in the seventies of what became known as the "high politics school" of political history. This approach, generally associated with Tory alle- giances, was rooted in a sweeping rejection of both Whig (and now Fabian) teleology and liberal reformist claims of a special moral status for government, as the instrument of the popular will and, even more, of high public purposes.25 The life of government, in the work of mem- bers of this "school," was portrayed neither as heading necessarily in any particular direction nor as a higher sphere of activity than every- day life. Rather, it was essentially no different from the rest of human life, without manifest direction and permeated by the same moral and intellectual imperfe~tibility.~~

The single most important work of this "school," John Vincent and A. R. Cooke's The Governing Passion, opened by citing the observation of Evelyn Waugh's Gilbert Pinfold that "in a democracy men do not seek authority so that they may impose a policy. They seek a policy so that they may achieve author- it^."^^ One "lesson" of such deflating, almost cynical, scholarship was to expect less of politicians and politics, and thus of the state, as vehicles for the improvement of society.

At the same time, disappointment with the reformist Wilson gov-

25 In arguing for the replacement in the Conservative pantheon of Disraeli and Churchill by Lord Salisbury and Baldwin, two leading "high politics" historians praised Salisbury's skeptical view of government: "Legislation had for Salisbury a more un- equivocal capacity for inflicting injury than for imparting benefit. . . . In dwelling on the essential inferiority of the political profession, his ordinance was self-denying: rent- collectors did not intrude between the soul and its Creator, nor did officers of the law, and 'I rank myself no higher in the scheme of things than a policeman-whose utility would disappear if there were no criminals'" (Andrew Jones and Michael Bentley, "Salisbury and Baldwin," in Conservative Es.suy.s, ed. Maurice Cowling [London: Cas- sell, 19781, p. 27).

26 "'High politics' as a treatment of a subject was not so much obsessed with ambition and manoeuvre, as human imperfectibility" (Richard Brent, "Butterfield's Tories: 'High Politics' and the Writing of Modern British Political History," Historical Journal 30 119871: 945; also see J. C. D. Clark, "National Identity, State Formation and Patriotism: The Role of History in the Public Mind," Histor.y Workshop Journal, no. 29 [Spring 19901, pp. 95-102).

"A. B. Cooke and John Vincent, The Governing Pc~s.sion: Cuhinet Government and Party Politics in Britain, 1885-86 (Brighton: Harvester, 1974), p. I.

ernment on the Left nurtured a similar sort of skepticism about the beneficence of the state. And as governments, both Conservative and Labour, became in the course of the 1970s more concerned about industrial and public order, such skepticism soured into outright suspi- cion of state power.28 In this new climate the concept of social control, which had lain dormant in sociological literature since the beginning of the twentieth century, was seized on as a conceptual tool which could be used to "expose" the covert disciplinary functions of almost every department of administration and measure of ref~rm.~' When after 1979 the Thatcher government embarked on explicitly disciplin- ary campaigns-against the labor movement, against political subver- sion, against "immorality" and "disorder" defined rather broadly, against even local government "profligacym-the state looked from the Left a good deal worse still. Suspicion turned into outright antipa- thy to the state, culminating in a broad "revisionist" interpretation of the entire sweep of British history.

In 1985 two books appeared, which between them covered almost all British history in a quite similar fashion. Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer's The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolu- tion, covering the Middle Ages to the mid-nineteenth century, and, less ambitious but even more representative, the collection of essays coming out of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Stud- ies entitled Crises in the British State, 1880-1930.30 Ironically, both works picked up the Tory alternative account of English history from the MiddlesAges on, and, blending it with a Foucauldianized Marxism, reversed its valuation. Together, they provided a photographic nega- tive image of Tory national historiography; that is, all British history as the story of the gradual rise of an actively disciplining, controlling state, sinisterly reshaping its subjects, a project fully realized only with the modern unfolding of capitalism. Here one can hardly be accused of reading in presentist concerns: though Corrigan and Sayer end in the mid-nineteenth century, they add an afterword making explicit that the true end point of their account is the Thatcher government;

'*The leading Left historian, E. P. Thompson, for instance, focused an increasing amount of his topical social criticism during the 1974-79 Labour governments on the supposed growth of authoritarianism. See the essays in his Writing by Candlelight (London: Merlin, 1980).

29 Most explicitly, in A. P. Donajgrodzski, ed., Social Control in Nineteenth Century Britain (London: Kowman & Littlefield, 1977).

'' Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution (Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1985); Mary Langan and Bill Schwarz, eds., Crises in the British State, 1880-1930 (London: Hutchinson, 1985).

the same is quite clear, even if without benefit of an afterword, in

Crises in the British State.

The Great Arch stressed the 1530s over the 1640s (as had Tory historiography), because these years witnessed the decisive step for- ward in the development of the malevolent state; by contrast, the 1640s saw only a sideshow. This dark composition came to a crescendo at the opening of Victoria's reign, with what its authors called "a further 'revolution in government', centring on the 1830s," creating what they characterized as "an enormously augmented and nationally organized system of reg~lation."~' And how to describe the nature of this sys- tem? "'The State' as fiction, as illusory unity-the author of its own representations, the stage-director of all political theatre, investing ev- ery belief and act with moral signification-is formed in the struggle to make this violent 'awful adjustment' [of establishing market relations everywhere and in everything] happen again and again. "32

Crises in the British State took a different stance on when this manipulative state was decisively formed (plumping for the turn of the twentieth century rather than the middle of the nineteenth) but was equally critical of it. The very illustration chosen for its cover, an Edwardian Conservative attack on David Lloyd George, shows social legislation being forced down the throats of a hapless public (fig. I). Quite an ironic reversal, to have this adopted for the cover of an assertively left collection of essays. Its editors argued that the develop- ment of "monopoly capitalism" forced a political transformation and a new statism, in which radical and democratic alternatives were de- feated or marginalized and bureaucrat-shaped collectivism triumphed, as a means for preserving and consolidating capitalist hegemony.

Along the same lines, in a contribution to a collection of essays on "Englishness" in the following year, Robert Colls was at pains to bring out the dark side of Edwardian New Liberalism:

State power grew enormously with the Liberals. After all, it was they . . . who deserted the friendly societies in their national insurance scheme, and had tried to incorporate uniformed male youth into a cadet force under the Territorial Army. After all, it was they . . . who passed an Official Secrets Act which equated the "interests of the State" with the State apparatus (Whitehall-Ministers-Cabinet) rather than with Parlia- ment. The 191 1 Act was intended to go beyond espionage to ensure the ordinary, daily, protection of the State from its own civil servants and whatever perceptions they may have entertained as to their civil duty to

31 Corrigan and Sayer, p. 119.
32 Ibid., p. 118.

Parliament and Crown over State. The government fully intended this blanket covering but did not tell Parliament. In the Official Secrets Act, "Society" becomes "State.""

All shades of opinion joined in repudiating the old Fabian statism. The prestige of the Webbs, and their historical work, went into frec fall, as they stood convicted on all sides of authoritarian elitism. Their embarrassing late book, Soviet Comrnrinism: A New Civilisation,

33 Robert Colls, "Englishness and Political Culture," in Englishness: Politics und Culture, 1880-1920. ed. Robert Colls and Philip Dodd (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

p. 52. In the new fashion, he capitalixed "State."

moved into the spotlight, with their biographer, the labor historian Royden Harrison, arguing that, rather than being an aberration, it was the natural culmination of their disciplinarian statism.34

Popular antistatism began to attract more scholarly attention. Crit- icisms of the contemporary welfare state encouraged rethinking of its history. As Elizabeth Wilson, author of an early feminist critique of the welfare state, observed in 1980, "The left is coming to realize that many working class individuals never experienced the welfare state as other than bureaucratic and repressive."" As early as 1968 Henry Pelling had pointed out just how suspicious the working class had been of the Edwardian New Liberal welfare reforms, a revelation that took some years for labor historians to absorb.36 By the end of the 1980s, a new generation of labor historians had delineated popular suspicion of the state through a wide array of historical situation^.^'

The turn against the state possessed also a positive dimension-a growing interest in ulternutive modes of social connection. This also had its roots in the sixties-most notably, perhaps, in E. P. Thomp- son's landmark The Making of the English Working lass.'^ Reacting against the statism both of Fabianism and of his former Stalinism, Thompson provided in that work an enormously influential saga of working-class "self-fashioning." In this story the dynamic of change came from below, not above; from autonomous, concretely rooted,

'4 Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, Soviet Communism: A Nc.w Civilisution (London: Longrnan, 1935). Also see Koyden Harrison, "Sidney and Beatrice Webb," in Socialism und the> Intc>lligmtsicl, 1880-1914, ed. Carl Levy (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987). As Jose Harris observed, the Webbs "did not believe in moral freedom," "were profoundly ill at ease in an atmosphere of diversity and conflict," and, partly because of this, were "naively indifferent to the fact that concen- trated state power could be used in many different ways" (Jose Harris, "The Webbs," in qf'the Welfare State, ed. Paul Barker [London: Heinemann, 19841, p. 59).

'5 Elizabeth Wilson, "Marxism and the 'Welfare State,'" Nc.w Lefi Review, no. 122 (July-August 1980), p. 86. Also see her Women und the Weware State (London: Tavistock, 1977).

36 Henry Pelling, "The Working Class and the Origins of the Welfare State," in Populur Politics und Societ.y in Lute Victorian Britain (London: Macmillan, 1968).

"See Patrick Joyce, Visions of the People: Indu.striu1 Englund und the Question qf' Cluss, 1840-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), esp. p. 72 ("the state was looked upon with deep distrust"); Eugenio F. Biagini, Liberty, Retrenchment and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone, 1860-1880 (Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press, 1992), esp. pp. 84-85; and many of the essays in Currents of Rudiculism: Populur Rudiculism, Orgunised 1,uhour and Purty Politics in Brituin, 1850-1914, ed. Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 1991).

3X E. P. Thompson, ?'he Muking of the English Working Cluss (New York: Pan- theon, 1963).

popular culture and struggle. lnspired by Thompson, a new working- class history developed, focusing less on national institutions like the Trades Union Congress and the Labour party or on organized efforts to influence and make use of the central state and more on independent "grassroots" popular activity, everyday, local and "participatory. " Instances of unofficial popular "associationism" began to be examined with greater interest and re~pect,~%nd autonomous working-class cul- ture and "lifestyles" at work, at home, in religion, and in recreation all received more serious study.40 This trend was given an extra push by the rise of feminism, which challenged preoccupation with the over- whelmingly male state, bureaucracy, and formal political institutions, as well as neglect of more "informal" institutions and areas of life-

like family, neighborhood, religion, charity, even much economic ac- tivity (especially consumption, but also the less visible areas of produc- tion and tradebin which women's role had traditionally been much greater.41 In principle, all this new attention to nonstate activity was compatible with continued belief in the virtue and the efficacy of the institutions of the central state, but in practice the more these new subjects were explored, the more vital and democratic they seemed in comparison with the state (perceived increasingly as a mechanism for control). Subject matter and ideology proved to be joined in a subtle


This shift of mental climate was also operating among non-Left historians, in two forms: first, and least important, the themes of left "social control" hostility were of course not at all incompatible with the emerging "neoliberal" critique of statism-after all, "the road to serfdom" had been first mapped out by the free-market theorist Friedrich Hayek in the 1940s. However, since such explicit capitalist ideology has been less influential among professional historians in Rrit- ain (and even the United States) than its left counterpart, Marxism,42

'9 For an example specifically linked to antistatism, see Stephen Yeo, "Socialism, the State, and Some Oppositional Englishness," in Colls and Dodd, eds. 40 As in the "History Workshop" movement, displayed in the History Workshop Journal from 1967 on.

4' See, for example, Jane Lewis, ed., Labour and Love: Women's Experience yf Home and Family, 1850-1940 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); and Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780- 1850 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

"It is illuminating to note the reception given E. G. West. Education and the State (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1965), which questioned the necessity or beneficence of the rise of state education by arguing for the ability of the market to fill the need. West supported his argument with evidence, rescued from oblivion, of the flourishing nineteenth-century private market in schooling. Much of this work was his-

actively tarring the historical reputation of the state has been generally the province of the Left. Much more significant has been the growing interest outside, as inside, the Left in nonstate activity-in local, vol- untary, informal and "private" life-and, with it, a diminishing sympa- thy for statism.

These general trends had very specific consequences in the areas of criminal justice and welfare history. In the freshly contentious atmo- sphere surrounding the institutions of criminal justice,43 the most in- fluential new writing in the field of criminal justice history replaced earlier themes of democratization and "humanization" with disillu- sioned themes of manipulation and control.44 From two directions: first, Marxist and Marxisant scholars-particularly the "Warwick School" that developed around Thompson-highlighted the class uses of policing, prosecution, and punishment. Originally focused on the eighteenth century,45 this critique soon extended into the nineteenth century, as "new model" police and prisons were examined as politi- cal instruments of a newly ambitious state, engaged in establishing an unprecedented power over society and specifically in remaking the working class into a form more suitable for ~apitalism.~~

torical, yet its discussion of the nineteenth century was completely ignored by profes- sional historians. Indeed, the book was ridiculed even by that famous bastion of the Left, the Economist. "There is no point," it announced, "in trying to argue against a nineteenth-century thesis in twentieth-century terms, nor against a metaphysical one in economic terms. Behind Dr. West's often inchoate theorising seems to lie the notion that it is for parents to choose how their children are to be educated," which the Economist simply labeled "odd" ("Adam Smith, Creeping Socialist," 217 [November 27, 19651: 967).

43 On the 1970s and 1980s "crisis of confidence" in the police, see "From Local Bobby to State Lackey?" chap. 8 of Emsley, The English Police (n. 18 above). On a similar crisis of confidence in the penal system and the courts, see Terence Morris, "From Consensus to Division," chap. 11 of Crime and Criminal .lu.stice since 1945 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989).

44 Highly influential theoretically was the work of Ian Taylor, P. Walton, and

J. Young, The New Criminology (London: Routledge, 1973), and Critical Criminology (London: Routledge, 1975). 45 See Douglas Hay et al., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England (London: Allen Lane, 1975).

46 On police, the most important works along these lines are R. D. Storch, "The Plague of the Blue Locusts: Police Reform and Popular Resistance in Northern England, 1840-1857," Inrernational Review of Social History 20 (1975): 61-90, and "The Police- man as Domestic Missionary: Urban Discipline and Popular Culture in North England, 1830-1880," Journal of Social History 9 (1976): 481-509; John Stevenson, "Social Con- trol and the Prevention of Riots in England, 1789-1829," in Donajgrodzski, ed. (n. 29 above), pp. 27-50; David Philips, "'A New Engine of Power and Authority': The Institutionaliration of Law-Enforcement in England, 1780-1830," in Crime and the Law: The Social Histofy (of Crime in Western Europe since 1500, ed. V. A. C. Gatrell, B. Lenman, and G. Parker (London: Europa, 1980), pp. 155-89. Increasingly, the roots of

Even more conceptually radical was the "anarchist" critique of state power in itself underlying Michel Foucault's celebrated work, Discipline and Punish.47 From this perspective, all state power was essentially illegitimate, and all statist reform, however "humanitarian" in garb, was a project of deep social control-control not simply for the benefit of dominant interests, such as the propertied, or even capi- talism as a system, but control for itself, a self-perpetuation and self- expansion of the state apparatus. Such a project stood out most clearly in the rise of the prison, on which Foucault trained his powerful gaze. Here there was an ironic-and largely unacknowledged-convergence of left and right reaction against Fabianism. For before Foucault, Ger- trude Himmelfarb-that fierce warrior of U.S. neoconservatism-had vigorously pointed out the latent totalitarianism in Bentham, concen- trating her fire on his panopticon scheme. In 1965 she had revived the panopticon from obscurity and argued for its typicality and significance in the Renthamite project of ever-expanding control.48 Foucault and his followers were, in a sense, simply generalizing this critique from Benthamism to the modern state it~elf.~'

These two lines of attack-the Marxisant and the "Anarchist"- were melded in Michael Ignatieff 's A Just Measure of Pain."' Igna- tieff here portrayed the birth of the modern prison as a fundamental redrawing of what he called the "moral boundaries of social authority

Sir Robert Peel's new police in Ireland, and the explicit system of political repression there, have been emphasized; see, e.g., Stanley H. Palmer, Police clnd Proresr in W-gland and Ireland, 1780-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). On pris- ons, see Rod Morgan, "Divine Philanthropy: John Howard Reconsidered," Histofy 62 (1977): 388-4 10; Robin Evans, The Fabrication qf Virtue: English Prison Architecture, 1750-1840 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

47 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977), originally published as Surveiller et punir: Nais- sance de la prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975). This theme was foreshadowed in Foucault's earlier Madness and Civilization, trans. Richard Howard (1965; reprint, New York: Pantheon, 1967). See also "Prison Talk: An Interview with Michel Foucault by J. J. Brochier," Radical Philosophy 16 (Spring 1977): 10-15.

48 Gertrude Himmelfarb, "The Haunted House of Jeremy Bentham," in Ideas in Histofy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1965), rev. in Victorian Minds (New York: Knopf, 1968), pp. 32-81.

49 Not surprisingly, Bentham's fall in prestige has spilled over onto the image of his chief practical disciple, Chadwick. His most recent biographer, Anthony Brundage, England's "Prussian" Minister: Edwin Chadwick and the Politics of Government Growth, 1832-1854 (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1988), highlights his subject's personal ambitiousness, authoritarian tendencies, and political ineptness, providing a far less "heroic" picture than the earlier biographies of Lewis and Finer

(n. 19 above).

Michael Ignatieff, A Jusr Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in rhe Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

in a society undergoing capitalist tran~formation."~' HIS vivid picture of life in Pentonville Model Prison conveyed a Foucauldian sense of a "total institution," one tied closely to the new demands of a capitalist labor market. For Ignatieff, the new total prison became the repellent emblem of capitalist-statist "reform.""

In the years following, this critique was extended to the next era of reform, the Edwardian "New Liberal" peri~d,'~

and generalized for the entire modern period in The Cambridge Social History ($Britain, 1750-1950. There V. A. C. Gatrell described the entire modern period since 1750 as one of the rise of the "policeman-state," in which a process of increasing state control of criminal justice "generated its own momentum . . . as 'experts' accumulated evidence that more and yet more bureaucratic control was needed to solve 'problems.' " Indeed, his essay concluded with a burst of true inverse-Whig gloom, finding "no reason . . . to expect that the ongoing expansion, centrali- sation and specialisation of the policeman-state will ever now lose its momentum." '4

Most positively, increasing attention turned to the reappraisal of lost alternatives-more voluntary, communal, local, and pluralist-to this "policeman-state." In particular, earlier institutions and practices of "community justice," swept away or eroded in the rise of modern "statc ju~tice,"'~ began to be given newly sympathetic study. Ironi- cally, in reaction against centralism and professionalism, the much- maligned squirearchical justices (and their counterparts in the ruling groups of the towns) seem to be undergoing something of a rehabilita- tion. In criminal justice history, thc nonprofcssional magistrates have recently been portrayed less as benighted and self-interested obstruc- tionists to progress and more as responsive to their communities and providing valuable checks on the dangerous disciplinary innovations

51 Ibid., p. xiii.

r2 In similar fashion, Jennifer Davis described how a criminal class was iniagina- tively constructed in the 1860s to justify the expansion of state power: "The London Garrotting Panic of 1862: A Moral Panic and the Creation of a Criminal Class in Mid- Victorian England," in Gatrell et al., eds., pp. 190-213.

'' See John Clarke, "Managing the Delinquent: 'The Children's Branch of the Home Office, 1913-30," in Langan and Schwarz, eds. (n. 30 above), pp. 240-255; and, most powerfully, David Garland, Punishment and WeU;zre: A Hisrory of Penal Srraregies (Aldershot: Gower, 1985).

'4 V. A. C. Catrell, "Crime, Authority and the Policeman-State," in The Carnhridge Social t-listory oj'flrituit~, 1750-1050 (hereafter ('SH), ed. F. M. L. Thompson (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 3:244, 310.

" On this distinction, see B. Lcnman and G. Parker, '"The State, the Community, and the Criminal in Early Modern Europe," in Gatrell et al., eds., pp. 11-48.

of centralist modernizer^.^^ There has also emerged a new appreciation of formerly derided "unreformed" jails and, even more, of the hith- erto-ignored voluntary prosecution associations that rapidly developed in the late eighteenth century, in both cases for their flexibility, open- ness, and closeness to popular ~entiment.'~

Similarly, the presumed incapacity of local government to deal with crime and disorder has undergone reassessment. B. J. Davey showed how one country town used the permissive provisions of the Lighting and Watch Act of 1833 to dramatically diminish crime, thus questioning the necessity of later Police acts of 1839 and 1856.58 The same sort of locally generated improvements have been found else- where, in the metropolis and around the country .59 In place of a binary polarity of no policing versus new policing, attention has turned to the great variety of solutions to the problem of crime being tried out in

If'See, for example, Clive Emsley, "The English Magistracy, 1700-1850," Bulletin, no. 15 (February 1992), pp. 28-38. The still comparatively unprofessional Victorian magistrates have also risen in scholarly esteem; see Jennifer Davis, "'A Poor Man's System of Justice': The London Police Courts in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century," Historical Journal 27 (1984): 309-35. On magisterial resistance to incarcera- tive expansionism, see Janet Saunders, "Magistrates and Madmen: Segregating the Criminally Insane in Late-Nineteenth-Century Warwickshire," in Policing and Punish- ment in Nineteenth Century Britain, ed. Victor Bailey (London: Croom Helm, 1981), pp. 217-41; Leon Radzinowicz and Roger Hood, A History of English Criminal Law and Its Administrution, vol. 5, The Emergence of Penal Policy (London; Stevens & Sons, 1986), pt. 4; W. J. Forsythe, Penal Discipline, Refortnutory Projects and the English Prison Commission, 1895-1939 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1991), chap. 6; Lucid Zedner, Wotnen, Crime and Custody in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon, 199 I), chap. 6.

" On prereform jails, see W. J. Sheehan, "Finding Solace in Eighteenth-Century Newgate," in Critne in England, 1550-1800, ed. J. S. Cockburn (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 229-45; Joanna Innes, "The King's Bench Prison in the Later Eighteenth Century: Law, Authority and Order in a London Debtors' IJrison," in An Ungovernable People: The English and Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. John Brewer and John Styles (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1980), pp. 250-98; on private prosecution associations, see Adrian Schubert, "Private Initiative in Law Enforcement: Associations for the IJrosecu- tions of Felons, 1744-1856," in Bailey, ed., pp. 25-41; and David Philips, " 'Good Men to Associate and Bad Men to Conspire': Associations for the Prosecution of Felons in England, 1760-1860," and Peter King, "Prosecution Associations and Their Impact in Essex," both in Policing and Prosecl~tion in Britain, 1750-1850, ed. Douglas Hay and Francis Snyder (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), pp. 113-70, 171-207.

" B. J. Davey, Lawless and Immoral: Policing a Country Town, 1838-1857 (Leices- ter: Leicester University Press; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983). Davey emphasized that, contra the lasting impression created by Chadwick, "policing in rural areas was much more widespread and much more effective before the County IJolice Act than is usually thought" (p. 7).

" See Roger Swift, "Urban Policing in Early Victorian England, 1835-56: A Keap- praisal," Hi.story 773 (1988): 211-37; and Ruth Paley, "'An Imperfect, Inadequate and Wretched System"? Policing London before Peel," Criminal Justice IIistory 10 (1989): 95-130.

the first half of the century-ranging from private acts of Parliament to permissive Lighting and Watch acts to voluntary subscription police to the hiring of police by Poor Law Unions-a variety aborted by the triumph of the "new police" model.60 Chadwick's alarmist Constabu- lary Report, which ignored or derided most existing efforts to control crime, seems to be ripe for the sort of skeptical reappraisal Mark Blaug applied in the 1960s to his Poor Law Commission Report.61

Meanwhile, doubts have also been raised as to whether the drastic reconstruction of the administration of civil law in the nineteenth cen- tury was completely necessary or all for the good. H. W. Arthurs has described a nineteenth-century struggle between centralism and pluralism in civil justice as well as in criminal, in which the direction of "progress" is not easy to discern. He has argued that a wide variety of customary, communal, and informal modes of dispute resolution, much neglected by historians fixated on "reform" from the Center, were working in early Victorian England. In Arthurs's account, the nineteenth century saw the imposition of centralism and professional- ism (allied together) on the English civil adjudication system-not necessarily to the public benefit-through the abolition of customary, lo- cal, and special courts, as well as the "invasion" of private and corporate arbitrati~n.~~

Virtually across the spectrum of legal history, then, the Fabian story of progress through professionalization and cen- tralization has been discarded, and if no other similarly coherent story has filled its place, alternative values of pluralism and "community" have gained a new prominence and prestige.

In the historiography of welfare policy, as in that of criminal policy and law enforcement, there has also been a notable turn away from the

For example, see Robert Storch, "Policing Rural Southern England before the Police," in Hay and Snyder, eds.; Robert Storch and David Philips, "'Community' and Private Policing in Early Nineteenth Century Provincial England" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Social Science History Association, November 1991).

6' Mark Blaug, "The Myth of the Old Poor Law and the Making of the New," Journal of Economic History 23 (1963): 151-84, and "The Poor Law Report Re- examined," Journal of Economic History 24 (1964): 229-45. Such revisionist tendencies have been reinforced from across the Atlantic. In his prize-winning book on Philadelphia in this period, Allen Steinberg has provided an even more direct critique of the rise of "state justice." The Transformation of' Critninul Justice: Philadelphia, 1800-1880 highlights the attractions of the "community justice" (many of whose characteristics were English legacies) prevailing in early nineteenth-century Philadelphia-in particular, its closeness to the people, especially the working classes (Allen Steinberg, The Trans- fornzation of Criminal Justice: Philadelphia, 1800-1880 [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 19891).

''H. W. Arthurs, "Without the Law": Administrative Ju.stice and Legal Pluralism in Nineteenth Century England (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1985).

narrative of progress through centralization and professionalization. In the 1970s conservative historians roused themselves to point out the wide extent of nonstate Victorian welfare provision,63 at the same time that most new writing from the Left and Center on the history of the welfare state increasingly came to highlight its disciplinary aspects.64 Bentham's welfare scheme was subjected to the same sort of skeptical scrutiny that had been applied to his penal scheme and was found similarly wanting. After pointing out the many "repressive" and "ex- ploitative" features of Bentham's proposed replacement for the old Poor Law, its closest student concluded that "to call it historically 'progressive' mocks any notion of progress worthy of the name."65 Early efforts to promote state education were now interpreted as at- tempts by self-styled "experts" at large-scale "moral engineering" which conveniently served the interests of capitali~m.~~

Even the chronicler of the welfare state's humanitarian-utilitarian origins, Rob- erts, in this altered climate took for the theme of his next book the "remarkable extent" to which "the bureaucrats [of the early Victorian period] held the standard of a paternal g~vernment."~~

In a like fash- ion, explanations of later welfare state building gave ever larger roles to conservative and disciplinarian motives.68 By this time, feminism was beginning to reinforce the social control interpretation, extending the concept from class to gender. It was discovered that most forms of

See Norman McCord on the extent of private charity and C. G. Hanson on the friendly societies in The Long Debate on Poverty: Eight Essays on Ind~nstrialisation and 'the Condition of England' (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1972).

"See, for example, several of the essays in Donajgrodzski, ed. (n. 29 above); Anne Digby, Pauper Palaces (London: Routledge, 1978); M. A. Crowther, The Workhouse System, 1834-1929 (London: Batsford, 1981); David Vincent, Poor Citizens: The State and the Poor in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Longman, 1991).

Charles F. Bahmueller, The National Charity Company: Jeremy Benthum's Silent Revolution (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), p. 213.

66 Richard Johnson, "Educating the Educators: 'Experts' and the State, 1833-9," in Donajgrodzski, ed., p. 89. Johnson was at pains to challenge, very much from the Left, "the assumption . . .that the development of state educational systems has been an unambiguously progressive process consisting of the provision, in stages, of a self- evidently necessary service" (p. 77). See most of the other essays in this collection, particularly the editor's introduction and his own contribution, "'Social Police' and the Bureaucratic Elite: A Vision of Order in the Age of Reform."

"David Roberts, Paternalism in Early Victorian England (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1979), p. 206.

See John Brown, "Social Control and the Modernisation of Social Policy, 1890- 1929," J. R. Hay, "Employers' Attitudes to Social Policy and the Concept of Social Control," P. A. Ryan, "Poplarism," and John Macnicol, "Family Allowances and Less Eligibility," in The Origins of British Social Policy, ed. Pat Thane (London: Croom Helm; Totowa, N.J.: Kowman & Littlefield, 1978).

Victorian "protective" legislation were designed to control women's behavior, from the regulation of female working conditions that began with the 1842 Mines Act6"o "health" measures like the Contagious Diseases Acts to sexual protection like the raising of the age of con- sent.7" The provision of new state services, like schooling, was de- scribed as perpetuating or even extending gender control~.~'

Even the supposedly more enlightened twentieth-century welfare state was shown to be riddled with sexist presuppositions that perpetuated the dependence of women.72 "Masculine ~fficialism"~'was seen to be a deep-rooted ailment.74 All this left the earlier assumption that the state's growth naturally promoted equality in much doubt.

It also encouraged a new appreciation of localism. Whereas local control had previously been seen as obstructing effective administra- tion of welfare,75 it was increasingly suggested that local authorities could be more sympathetic to ordinary people, men and women, than could Whitehall bureaucrat^.^^ In the 1980s, perhaps helped by Thatch-

''See Angela V. John, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Women Workers at Victorian Coal Mines (London: Routledge, 1980); Jane Lewis, "The Working Class Mother, State Intervention and the Bourgeois Fanlily Model, 1870-1918" (paper presented at the So- cial History Society Conference on the Roots of Welfare, December 1983); Mary Lyndon Shanley, Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian Englcrnd (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 93-101.

70 See Judith Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); Deborah Gorham, "'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon' Re-examined: Child Prostitution and the Idea of Childhood in Late Victorian England," Victorian Studies 21 (1977-1978): 353-79; Lucy Bland, "'Cleansing the Portals of Life': The Venereal Disease Campaign in the Early Twentieth Century," in Langan and Schwarz, eds. (n. 30 above), pp. 192-208.

71 See Carol Dyhouse, Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981); Deborah Gorham, The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982).

72 A pioneering critique was Elizabeth Wilson, Women and the Welfare State (n. 35 above). Much scholarly work is now being done on this question; a leading example is Susan Pedersen, "Gender, Welfare, and Citizenship in Britain during the Great War," Atnerican Historical Review 95, no. 4 (October 1990): 983-1006.

7' A phrase coined by a late Victorian female philanthropist, quoted in Frank Pro- chaska, The Voluntary Impulse: Philanthropy in Modern Britain (London: Faber, 1988),

p. 74. 74 See ihid., pp. xiv, 52-58; Jane Lewis, Wotnen and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 199 1).

75 A fairly late example is M. W. Finn's argument concerning health services that local guardians fairly consistently restrained development, held back resources, and overemphasized deterrence. In the end, he concluded, the central authority of Parlia- ment was required to "prod the dinosaur of the Poor Law into movement" ("Medical Services and the New Poor Law," in The New Poor Law in the Nineteenth Century, ed. D. Fraser [New York: St. Martin's, 19761, pp. 45-66).

76 See, for example, Pat Thane, "Women and the Poor Law in Victorian and Edwar- dian England," History Workshop Journal, no. 6 (August 1978), pp. 29-51.

erite attacks on present-day local authorities, the scholarly reputation of nineteenth-century local government steadily rose.77

As in legal history, perhaps more telling in the long run has been the shift of historical interest in welfare away from the state altogether, toward voluntarist modes of provision in the widest sense. Welfare history's traditional orientation to the "suppliers" of welfare has been yielding to a "consumer" orientation. The study of official policies has been making room for the elucidation of poor people's coping ~trategies;'~more generally, welfare historians have turned to explore, in Paul Johnson's phrase, nonstate "responses to social risk," both individual and ~ollective.~~ndeed, picture British history

the of emerging from the impressive three-volume work summing up much scholarship of the 1970s and 1980s, The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950, is one in which the state and its policy makers (with the significant exception of Gatrell's denunciatory "policeman- state" essay) play a rather minor part. In both essays devoted to rela- tions between society and state, the central government's very small role before World War I was insisted on; through most of the other

77 Like Davey on the control of crime, John Prest has shown early and mid-Victorian local government to have been more effective in addressing new social needs than once thought (John Prest, Liberty and Locality: Parliament, Permissive Legislation, and Ratepayers' Democracies in the Nineteenth Century [Oxford: Clarendon, 19901). Along with a new willingness to entertain the virtues of localism often came an upward revaluation of preeminently local pre-Victorian welfare arrangements. Such a reappraisal was pioneered in Blaug, "The Myth of the Old Poor Law and the Making of the New"

(n. 61 above), followed up by J. D. Marshall in 1968, arguing for the superiority of the old Poor Law to the new in "flexibility and sensitivity to human need, adjustment to local circumstances, comprehensiveness and local participation" (The Old Poor Law, 1795-1834 [London: Macmillan, 19681, p. 46). More recently, the "fundamentally popular" character of early nineteenth-century rural society has been argued (Kuscombe Foster, The Politics of County Power [Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990]), and "the will and the capacity" of the "unreformed" political system to "carry substantial measures of social reform" has been asserted (David Eastwood, "Men, Morals and the Machinery of Social Legislation, 1790-1830" [Pembroke College, Ox- ford, 19921). Similar arguments, as we have seen, have been made for "unreformed" law enforcement.

78 Vincent (n. 64 above) sums up much of this recent work in regard to post-1900 history.

79 Paul Johnson, "Social Risk and Social Welfare in Britain, 1870-1939" (Working Paper in Economic History no. 3/92, London School of Economics, April 1992), p. 3. This paper was prepared for a conference on "public-private relations in the shaping of social welfare in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States," one of several at the opening of the nineties attempting to widen welfare history beyond its former preoccupation with state policy making; see also the proceedings of conferences on "Community, Locality and Welfare: The History of the Welfare State from Below," Queen Mary College, University of London, April 1990; and "Poverty, Self-Help and Welfare," conference of the Social History Society of the United Kingdom, January


essays, it was simply left in the shadows, while the spotlight played on a wide range of associational activity.

In "Government and Society in England and Wales, 1750- 1914," Pat Thane highlighted H. C. G. Matthew's observation that "no indus- trial society can ever have existed in which the state played a smaller role than that of the United Kingdom in the 1860s."~" This minimal state expressed not a vacancy but a deliberate social policy: to rely "upon the capacity of a vast network of voluntary organisations, in co-operation with local government, to superintend most moral, chari- table, education and welfare services."" Indeed, it was this depen- dence on "vigorous [citizen] involvement" that appeared in Thane's account, and throughout the Cambridge SocialHi~tory,to most clearly distinguish Victorian Britain both from other nineteenth-century soci- eties and from late twentieth-century Britain. Although the central state's role was minimal, Victorian society, she insisted, was not atom- istic, but highly associational and communal. Even though Thane's essay concluded by discussing the limits of this minimal state system to deal with a rapidly developing society's needs, the overall impres- sion left was much more a new appreciation of the attractions of volun- tarism than any yearning for a more active state.82

The same picture of an attractively associational and communal Victorian Britain emerged from Jose Harris's account of twentieth- century government growth. Harris too was impressed by Victorian voluntarism: "Most of the functions performed by government in other societies," she noted, "were in Britain performed by coteries of citi- zens governing themsel~es."~' She regretted the twentieth-century de- cline of this voluntarism, done in by a nefarious alliance of collectivism and capitalism. The state and the free market, she observed, often "advanced in tandem at the expense of other more traditional social arrangements, such as philanthropy, the family and the local com- m~nit~."~~

'O Pat Thane, "Government and Society in England and Wales, 1750-1914," in CSH, 3:32, quoting H. C.G. Matthew, C;lrrd.~rone,1809-1874 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986),

p. 169. See also H. C. G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Uiuries, vol. 10, 1881-8.3 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), p. xxxv. While Matthew rather disapproved of this minimalism, such disapproval was less noticeable in Thane's essay or elsewhere in the CSH.

CSII 3:33.

82 Already in a 1984 essay, Thane had significantly departed from the state focus ot earlier work to acknowledge the importance of working-class antistatism and the welfare role of friendly societies, embracing many more people than did trade unions ("The Working Class and State 'Welfare' in Britain, 1880-1914," Historical Journal 27 (19841: 877-900).

"Jose Harris, "Society and the State in Twentieth-Century Britain," CSH 3:68. 84 Ibid., p. 113.

Thesc other social arrangements were the focus of attention in most of the rest of the Cambridge Social Hi,\lory. In his contribution on towns, as in hls rclatcd 71ze Rite of Re~pectable Society, F. M. I,. Thompson stressed the centrality of informal, nonstatc social bonds In Victorian Brltain, particularly those of extcnded family, neighbor- hood, and voluntary association, and seemed to concur In Harris's regret for their twenticth-century decllne. "In their prime," he ob- served, extended family networks and ncighborhood social cells wcre "the main sinews givlng the social fabric of thc towns some stability, cohcslon, and orderliness. . . . After 1950 they virtually collapsed, in thc towcr block and new towns phase of massive decanting of popula- tion from the old inner clty areas, alded and abetted by many other factors among which thc role of the wclfarc statc as a substitute for familics and nelghbours must bc recogn~zed."~~

In 7hc Ri~c of Re.\peelable Socret?~,~'he made a point of thc lack of 4tate influence on working-class life or consciousness bcforc 1914, even insisting on the "nearly total [working-class] alicnation from the statc and all its offi- cial~."~'Thompson even had many favorable things to say about the markct (particularly its fostering of a popular culture independent of thc clitc). He described the commercialization of popular entertain- mcnt and leisure in the second half of thc century as a highly positive developmcnt, in whlch "thc capitalist system Itself . . . opcrating through the openings which thc entertainment markct prcscntcd to entreprencurs, emerged as the guarantor of popular sovereignty over the use of popular leisure."88

Thc ubiquity, vitality, and creativity of clubs and associations was vigorously dcmonstrated by R. J. orris,^' and 1;. K. Prochaska did the same for charitable activity. Prochaska's essay provided much raw materlal for thc anti-Fabian argument of his parallcl book, Thc Voluntary Impul~c, which challenged the long-dom~nant tendcncy to see philanthropy merely as an early stagc in the dcvelopment of statu-

"Y. M. I,. l'hompson, "Town and City," CSH 1:57. '%s in his "Social Control in Nineteenth-Century Britain," E(,onor?lic History Revic~w,ser. 2, 34 (1981): 189-208. ''F. M. L,. Thompson, The Kisc~ ~f'Respecitiblr Society: Bvittiitr, 1830-1900 (London: Fontana, 1988), p. 356. Ibid., p. 289.

" K.J. Morris noted enthusiastically that "voluntary societies have an enormous potential for enabling a society experiencing rapid and disturbing change to adapt to that change, to experiment with and devise new values" ("Clubs, Societies and Associa- tions," CSH 3:400). This claim is elucidated in R. J. Morris, Class, Sect oird Purty: The Mukit~gof tt~eBritish Middle Class: Lreds, 1820-18.50 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990).

tory social services." Even in the Cambridge Social History essay on housing, which, if written a decade earlier, would have becn almost exclusively about state provision, Martin Daunton gave great attention to the private markct and portrayed thc decline of privatc and thc risc of public rcntal housing as very mixed developments rather than as part of a natural march of progress."

On education, Gillian Suthcrland-despitc hcr long and rathcr Whiggish background in central administrative history-acknowledged lost alternatives to state schooling: the "private adventure" schools that flourished bcforc 1870. Whcrcas her 1971 Historical As- sociation pamphlct on nineteenth-century elementary education dis- missed these schools in a few lines, noting that "many of thcm wcrc no more than child-minder~,"'~ since then they had becn rcdiscovcred as working-class institutions," meriting more respect. "The numbers and persistencc," Suthcrland now remarkcd, "of what middle-class contemporaries [and she herself some years earlier] disparagingly called dame or private adventure schools is ~triking."'~

'YO Prochaska (n. 73 above). p. xiii. While "rehabilitating" upper- and middle-class charity, Prochaska even more strikingly emphasized the prevalence and persistence of working-class charity, an important form of collective self-help.

" M. J. Daunton, "Housing," CSW 2:195-250.

''Gillian Sutherland, I:'letnenttrt.y Kdncution in tlle Nineteenth Cc~ntnry (London: Historical Association, 1971), p. 12. For another such disn~issal, citing Jlickens's Niclloltrs NicXIc~hy and referring to dames' schools in "squalid hasements," see Eric Midwin- ter, Ninetc~entlz Cc~nt~~ry

Edrrccltion, Longman Seminar Studies in History (Harlow, 1970), pp. 18-19. Both dismissals ignored West's 1965 book (n. 42 above), which cited much evidence of their ubiquity (but described them as market rather than class institu- tions).

" Phil Gardner, Tllc Lost Elr~rzrtrttrry Sc,hools of' Vic.tovitrtz I<n,qlund: The Peop1c~'s Edrrcution (London: Croom Helm, 1984). But see also E. G. West's follow-up, more thoroughly historical volume, Edrcc,trtion L I Ithe Indu.striu1 Revolution (New York:

~ ~

Barnes & Noble, 1975).

'4 Gillian Sutherland, "Education," CSII 3:128. An early and influential example of the new "consunlerist" approach to popular educational history was J. S. Hurt, Elenrentury Schooling und the Working Cln.ssr.s, 1860-1918 ([.ondon: Routledge, 1979). Hurt stressed that "historians have tended to neglect one important way in which the 1870s mark a great divide for the parcntal consumer. Up to 1870 thc voluntary systcm was a voluntary one for both principal parties. Not only was the establishment of schools a matter of individual choice for local persons, the sense in which the system is usually seen as a voluntary one, it was also a voluntary one for parent and child alike. Before this date the majority of parents could decide how much, if any, formal schooling their children should receivc. After the decade of the 1870s they lost the frecdom of choicc. The statc decrccd a minimum that all had to rcccivc. Parental choicc was, and still is. limited to deciding the maximum" (p. 25). David Vincent has since provided a history of "inforn~al" education, in the proccss de~nonstrating how hostility to working-class family strategies and choices was embedded in the imposition of cornpulsory elementary education by the late Victorian state (David Vinccnt, 1,itcruc.y trnd Pol~ular Culturc~: Englund, 1750-1914 [Cambridge: Cambridgc linivcrsity Prcss, 19891, esp. pp. 73-94). The convergence of these left "alternative histories" of education with a right "rational

Running through the new social policy history examined hereys can be perceived a distinct political inclination that fits into neither Left nor Right as they have been defined in Britain for the past century: that is, the joining of a hostility to elites and an identification with the mass of "ordinary people" to a deep wariness about coercive "re- form" from above. Perhaps for this social policy history the term em- ployed by some new political historiansy6-"populist"-is also useful, however much it may appear to have inappropriate American connota- tion~.'~In populist thinking, the state occupies an uneasy position, necessary but distrusted as too easily manipulated by elites (both con- servative and reformist) and too readily employed in tasks of conde- scending interference with ordinary people. This outlook tends to favor social policy initiatives that would, in the language that became com- mon in the eighties, "empower" the citizen-consumer and promote a "pluralist, decentralized and participatory pattern of service^."'^ In this sense, much of the recent historiography of social policy may well have a political dimension, but one best understood not in terms of either neoconservatism or "revisionist" socialism, but rather of a "new populism." Indeed, in carrying out a reappraisal of the nine- teenth-century state, historians of Britain may have played a role in the efforts to "humanize" and "pluralize" the late twentieth-century state.

choice" economic model can be seen in David F. Mitch, The Rise of Popular Literacy in Victorian England: The Influence of Private Choice and Public Policy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992). Scc Richard Johnson, "'l'hatcherism and En- glish Education: Breaking the Mould, or Confirming the Pattern?" History yfEducution 18 (1989): 96: "Labour leaders did not see education as a popular activity to stimulate and guide, but as state institutions for the professionals to run."

95 Other areas of social policy have produced similar recent revisionist work to that discussed above; for health, see David G. Green, Working-Class Patients and the Medi- cal Establishment: Self-Help in Britain.from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to 1948 (Aldcr- shot: Gower, 1985); W. P. Bynum and Roy Porter, eds., Living and Dying in London (London: Wcllcomc Institute for the History of Medicine, 1991); and P. K. Prochaska, Philanthropy and the Hospitals of London: The King's Fund, 1897-1990 (Oxford: Clarcndon, 1992). As Bynum and Porter observed (p. xiii), the contributors to thcir collection "demonstratc that individual citizens, private enterprise initiatives, and paro- chial action should not be ignored" in the history of public health.

9"ee, most notably, Joyce (n. 37 above).

'7 "Populism" of course bears very specific associations from U.S. history, but despite that may be illuminating of rcccnt British history. Indeed, this may be one aspect of the "Amcricanization of Britain" passed over by rcccnt commentators on that phenomenon.

''K.Hadley and S. Hatch, Social Welfare and the Failure of the State: Centralised Social Services and Participatory Alternatives (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981), p. 3. See also Drew Clodc ct al., Towards the Sensitive Bureaucracy: Consumers, Welfare and the New Pluralism (Aldcrshot: Gower, 1987).

  • Recommend Us