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The Victorian Legacy in Political Thought

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Edited By 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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Margaret Thatcher’s “Victorian values”: A Reappraisal: Christian Auer

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CHRISTIAN AUER

Margaret Thatcher’s “Victorian values”: A Reappraisal

Any historian, researcher or political observer who proposes to discuss Margaret Thatcher’s personality, set of beliefs, politics or ideology will necessarily find it difficult to remain neutral or to leave aside their subjectivity. Indeed a political figure who won three consecutive general elections and who took momentous political decisions can leave no one indifferent. Writing about Margaret Thatcher in a dispassionate and neutral way is like trying to “nail jelly to a wall”1, to quote the expression the American historian Peter Novick has used to refer to the writing of history. Politicians, political commentators and historians have written extensively and are still writing on all the aspects of what is known as Thatcherism and one must admit that the conclusions of such studies diverge radically depending on whether they are put forward by proselytizers of the conservative cause or die hard leftists. Thus my purpose in this paper will not be to assess the success or failure of Margaret Thatcher’s policies or to discuss the validity of the concept of Thatcherism as a whole. As the title of the paper explicitly indicates my aim will not only be to analyse (postmodernists would perhaps use the word to deconstruct) the notion of Victorian values but also to question whether the notion can be applied to describe the type of values Margaret Thatcher believed in.

The association of the two words “Victorian” and “values” is highly problematic...

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