ccording to J. Kitson Clark, the Victorian years have “been called often enough ‘the age of laissez-faire’,” but “the description is inaccurate if it implies that a coherent economic doctrine was generally accepted by every man, or if it implies that the great classical economists were so rigid or so uncompromising in their objections to State intervention in economic and social matters as the phrase is sometimes held to imply.” It was not that writers and economics and politics subscribed to a belief in governmental non-intervention. Rather “there was nevertheless a very widespread objection to all Government interference and all necessary Government expenditure, not only founded on theory but also on a belief that Government interference was likely to be interested and incompetent and Government expenditure likely to be corrupt, which was one of the natural legacies of the eighteenth century.” In addition “there was a dislike of paying rates and taxes which is common to humanity and a profound reverence for the rights of private property.” Finally, the was a widespread, near universal, dislike of “what was called ‘centralization’, that is, the assumption by some central organ in the State of the power to meddle and fuss and to impose common standards on the whole country” (97). Throughout much of the nineteenth century such attitudes made difficult establishing standards or passing laws affecting everything from education and environmental pollution to safety in factories and mines. Two centuries later this dislike of centralization played an important part in the movement to have Great Britain leave the European Union.
Clark, G. Kitson. The Making of Victorian England Being the Ford Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford. New York: Atheneum, 1971.
Last modified 26 May 2018