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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 Victorian Prison Revisited? The Antecedents of British Penal Policy, 1993–2010*: Neil Davie



The Victorian Prison Revisited? The Antecedents of British Penal Policy, 1993–2010*

The Victorian prison has cast a long and dense shadow over 20th – and 21st century penal policy in Britain, in terms both of emulation and rejection. In this as in other fields of public policy, however, it is not always clear exactly what was being emulated or rejected. As we shall see, descriptions of “the Victorian prison” or of “Victorian penal policy” by government ministers and policy-makers often tell us more about contemporary preoccupations and priorities than they do about the realities of 19th century imprisonment. This paper will be concentrating on the years from 1993 to 2010, a period which has been characterised by criminologists as marking, in Britain as elsewhere, the onset of what they term “the new punitiveness”1, with criminal justice policy placing greater emphasis than hitherto on the need for the more effective identification of actual and potential criminals, and their more severe punishment once caught. This emphasis has tended to be accompanied by an individualising discourse with regard to criminal aetiology, in which offenders are encouraged to take personal responsibility for their acts, while efforts to address the social causes of crime are given correspondingly less attention both in terms of legislative time and public money2. As criminologist David Garland put it in 2001, Crime came to be seen as a problem of indiscipline, a lack of self-control or social control, a matter of wicked individuals...

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