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The Victorian Legacy in Political Thought


Catherine Marshall and Stéphane Guy

The Victorian era was one that teemed with multitudinous and sometimes opposing visions of polity yet rarely questioned the very existence of the State. What might be called the pragmatism of the elite gave rise to a form of democratic compromise, allowing the growth of political ideas that may still be found in contemporary political thought.
Have reformist, socialist, liberal or utilitarian ideas avoided the dogmatism of twentieth century politics or paved the way to other forms of ideology? To what extent has the organization or gradual obliteration of the State been influenced by evolutionary theories, the quest for effective government and expertise or, more generally, refusal of the past? What was the impact of Victorian thinkers and ideas on the mutation of contemporary political ideas? Have we reached a post-Victorian period or are we still using a Victorian rhetoric as well as Victorian theories? Have we not, also, reached a stage in which retrieving some of those ideas might help to solve some of our contemporary political problems? The essays presented in this book all attempt to answer some of these questions and try to show how nineteenth century thought and culture have shaped British modern political debate and, for some, still continue to do so. It will prove useful to academics and the general public interested in contemporary politics as well as the history of ideas and political philosophy.
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The Legacy of British Idealism in Political Thought and Today’s Problems of State Building: Michael Henkel



The Legacy of British Idealism in Political Thought and Today’s Problems of State Building

Introduction: The Fate of British Idealism from the Time of Queen Victoria up to the Present Day

In the latter years of the Victorian era, philosophical life in Great Britain was characterized to a large extent by the proponents of British Idealism. Although this philosophical trend met with various reservations and much criticism, its proponents dominated philosophical discussion in the United Kingdom from about 1870 to 19201. Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882), Edward Caird (1835–1908), Francis Herbert Bradley (1846–1924), Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923), William Wallace (1843–1897) and James H. Sterling (1820–1909) in particular are considered to be the founders of British Idealism. This first generation of British Idealists can be distinguished from a second generation, namely that represented by Henry Jones (1852–1922), John Henry Muirhead (1855–1940), David George Ritchie (1853–1903), Richard Burdon Haldane (1856–1928), Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison (1856–1931) and John E. McTaggart (1866–1925)2.

The philosophical school of thought propagated by the British Idealists was closely connected to the questions and problems that were raised by the sciences and by the social, political, religious, educational and artistic developments of that epoch, and so British Idealism most certainly represented an attempt to apprehend this period of time in thoughts ← 123 | 124 → and philosophical concepts. Viewed from this perspective, it is not surprising that with the end of...

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