The Strange Death of Liberal England

Painting by Walter Paget

(by George Dangerfield) (1935)

The 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising reminds us of the eternal marriage of hope and disappointment.

Ah, the Edwardian period, and its hopeful ripples beyond, a Golden Age, when the British Empire enjoyed a seemingy endless decade of tea and scones, village cricket, sensible novels and the White Man’s Burden.  By the time the Liberals had been shredded by militant unions, suffragettes, Irish nationalists, the rise of militants, the Great War and the nation state, it became clear that the fruits of Queen Victoria had been maggotted by the worms of extremism, never to ripen cleanly again.

Dangerfield’s book is audacious in selecting key exhibits and presenting them in support of his thesis, bolstered by keen common sense and robust, limpid prose.  It is a pleasure to return to this book, even if (pace Gatsby) you can’t return to the past.  Liberal values of free trade, world peace and evolutionary reform could never compete with the coming firestorm, leaving it in ashes.  From then on, England swung between the polarities of Tory and Labour.


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