G. Kitson Clark, whose The Making of Victorian England emphasizes the large degree to which blind forces, such as the large increase in population, played a part in major changes that characterize the reign of Victoria, here explains how a nation deeply suspicious of centralized governmental power nonetheless evolved into the modern centralized state. — George P. Landow

Decorated initial I

f the demands of humanity were to be attended to, it was not going to suffice to rely on the fortuitous development of increasing prosperity, or, for that matter, on voluntary service however devoted, or on private benevolence however munificent. Englishman of the nineteenth century would have to learn this lesson which many of them work so extremely reluctant to learn. To master the forces which their society engendered, to do something for the myriads who thronged their streets, to respond at all effectively to the demands of justice and humanity, they had to use increasingly the coercive power of the State and the resources that could only be made available by taxation; only so could conditions in factories be regulated and the more helpless types of labor protected, only so the towns of England be sewered, scavenged, partially rebuilt and prevented from becoming, or remaining, mere suppurating middens, the breeding-places of misery, degradation and infectious disease, only so could schools be provided for all and all children made to attend school.

It was hard for English who believed that they have learned from their history the importance of freedom in the dangers of the powers of the State to accept the teaching of these necessities, perhaps it was fortunate for them that they did not see the full import of what they had to learn. . . . The general public must not only surrender its freedom, but surrender it to the control of servants whose actions it cannot understand. . . . It is also worthwhile to recognize this movement for what it was, for it was the beginning of the modern State controlled by civil servants, acting by means of administrative regulations and assuming ever-increasing power. This development started in a liberal society that believed itself to be pledged to the policy of laissez-faire, it was largely unwanted, altogether unplanned and in many cases to a curious extent not noticed, and, this fact seems significant, unless that society was to commit moral, or even literal, suicide, it was also inevitable. [280-81; emphasis added]

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Last modified 12 April 2017