Full Text



Subject Politics
Literature » Nineteenth Century Literature, Victorian Literature

Key-Topics nationalism, revolution, social change

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781118405383.2015.x


Liberalism upholds individual freedom as the highest political value. When John Locke (1632–1704) first proposed this, it was an outlandish theory; today it constitutes the modern moral order ( Taylor 2004 ). In this way liberalism is the premier political theory of modernity. After a century of theorizing the institutions that would best promote individual freedom, liberals in western Europe and North America began to forge them during the age of revolution (1775–1848). With all the usual caveats, the history of liberalism can thus be understood as a succession of periods characterized by specific debates about the nature of individual freedom and the institutions necessary to promote it. From the first Reform Act of 1832 through the third (1884–85), the period known as Victorian liberalism is the special focus here. Liberalism's periods are not entirely discrete, of course, for the continuity of concern with freedom and its institutions over the last three and a half centuries comprises the tradition as a whole. Still, to understand an earlier period's distinctiveness means acknowledging how successive periods can also skew our interpretations. In the case of Victorian liberalism, no successor has more distorted our interpretation than the Cold War liberalism dominating political thought in the second half of the twentieth century. Locked in a fierce ideological battle with communism, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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