Features January 2011
Britain, benign & proud
On public virtue in the Victorian era.
A. J. P. Taylor’s famous book English History 1914–1945 begins:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. . . . He had no official number or identity card.
This was written in 1965. Exactly forty years later, another Oxford historian, Jose Harris, wrote in her Private Lives, Public Spirit: A Social History of Britain 1870–1914:
Nothing in the sociological theories of the period (or indeed of subsequent periods) quite prepares one for the extraordinary coexistence of extreme social inequality with respect for and observance of the law, of growing public order and defence of civil liberties.
I doubt that anyone will be writing anything similar to either Taylor or Harris in the years 2060 or 2100 about contemporary...
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