Transforming Britain From Brutality to Gentleness

HIGH MINDSThe Victorians and the Birth of Modern BritainBy Simon HefferWriting during World War II, George Orwell remarked upon the contrast between the “gentleness” that defined modern English civilization and the “cruelty” that had identified English life a hundred years earlier. Although Orwell goes unmentioned in “High Minds,” the improvement he apprehended types the focal point of this baggy however astute political and intellectual history of Britain, mostly England, from the 1830s to 1870. The journalist and historian Simon Heffer begins his chronicle in 1838, the very first year of what was likely the most relentless financial depression in British history (a reality he neither explicitly acknowledges nor sufficiently checks out). He describes a society defined by “prevalent inhumanity, primitiveness and barbarism” and afflicted, owing to the shocks of industrialization and urbanization, “by awful, and destabilizing, social problems.” By 1870, he states, “although poverty, disease, lack of knowledge, injustice and squalor were far from removed, they were repelled more in those 40 or two years than at any previous time in the history of Britain.” His is a story of a civilizing transformation, in which Britain moved ever closer to a humane and decent society.The change that Heffer relates can be challenged; even if accepted, it can be variously interpreted and described. Some historians gotten rid of to materialist explanations would argue that whatever civilizational and social development Britain attained in those years was mostly an outcome of the smoothing out of the inescapable interruptions industrialization developed, to changes in economic and political power and for that reason in social mindsets, and to the growing and dispersed prosperity that a maturing industrialized economy engendered.Heffer, in contrast, recognizes ideas and sentiment as the driving force of this transformation. Here he is inspired by G. M. Youngs sophisticated, allusive, impressionistic “Portrait of an Age: Victorian Britain” (which remains the most permeating book ever discussed the Victorians). Intellectuals, politicians and mostly upper and upper-middle-class activists, he argues, moved by “a sense of earnest, disinterested ethical function,” looked for “to enhance the condition of the whole of society.” This high-minded effort was made manifest in “the procedures informed government took,” measures that unfolded in a series of landmark parliamentary acts and administrative developments in the 40-odd years Heffer inspects. These produced and improved the regulation and oversight of working conditions in industry and mining, while improving kid welfare, schools, real estate, sanitation and public health. They likewise extended the franchise to all adult males and bigger the legal defenses and independence of women. Such policies and the state of mind that produced them, Heffer asserts in event, “laid the very first structures of a welfare state.”

Related Post