22 3 mins 11 yrs

Jonathan Pearce at samizdata resurrects that AJP Taylor quote. It bears repeating, both as a reminder of the subsequent and truly revolutionary takeover of British civil society by the state and as a rebuke to those who cannot imagine life other than as they have lived it:

“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 could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13. Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment. This tendency towards more state action was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.”

Before “that type” of accusation is levelled, Taylor was a socialist who greatly sympathised with the Soviet Union. He had no incentive paint a false picture of life in the recent past.

I remain a 1910 man in a 2011 world.

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22 thoughts on “THE WAY WE WERE

  1. In 1910 there was hunger and malnutrition, terrible working conditions, workhouses, poor medical care and disease, limited class mobility, no sufferage for women, child labor, minimal education opportunity, little compensation for injured workers, difficult access to Courts, less freedom of speech, dentistry in its infancy, etc. Enjoy your time travel.

  2. True Mahons, but remember that’s all nothing compared to the blissfull joy that there was no TV licence.

  3. Mahons –

    They might have existed somewhere, but your description doesn’t apply to England.

    However in 1910 we were the richest and most free people on the planet and becoming richer still.

  4. Pete

    Of course you are right. In Pre-1911 times each and every Englishman man had his castle and his moat and his carraige and thought nothing of spending the summer dallying through Europe unhindered by poverty, passports or petty officials. Bliss was it to be alive in your fantasy ‘My fair lady’ England.

  5. Colm,

    Well, for all its drawbacks, it had to be a lot better than where you hail from, – other wise why would you be here? …

  6. Pete – It is an apt description of both Britain and such places as the USA. We’ve had many improvements since those times.

  7. Ernest

    I was born in London. That’s where I hail from. But if you want to make a sneering stupid dig at my Irish parentage go right ahead.

  8. AJP Taylor was a brilliant writer and an original thinker. Without doubt my favourite socialist author.

    He was also ferociously anti-German- to the point where a series of lectures he gave on BBC radio was cancelled because listeners complained- in 1944. How anti-German you have to be to considered to extreme by listeners who had at that point been at war with Germany for 5 years I don’t know.

  9. Mahons –

    How did the English people have less freedom of speech in 1910 compared to now?

  10. You still can be arrested in the UK for blasphemy can’t you? Not to mention the offence of “relgious hatred” which is blasphemy rebranded.

  11. And I should add some of the changes of course in our societies have not been for the better. For instance, Reality Television, the existence of Ice Capades, and the decline in horse riding.

  12. Peter Moore,
    I am of the opinion that you are extremely selective in the material you use to support your arguments..

    “The year 1911 saw the greatest industrial unrest in Britain’s history. Nationwide strikes of dock workers, railway men and miners brought the country to a standstill. The government was forced to respond. The National Insurance Act was passed to ensure that the worker, the employer and the government all contributed to a general fund to pay for free medical treatment, sick pay, disability and maternity benefits. It also introduced a measure of unemployment benefits, free meals for school children as well as periodic medical exams. Through the efforts of Winston Churchill there had been the setting up of Labour Exchanges where the unemployed worker could sign on for vacant jobs. Foundations were being laid for a veritable sea of change in the way the state was to assume responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.


    My family are from the North East, Jarrow, Hebburn, Newcastle and surrounds. Life was damn tough up and down the country, and I doubt very much that most ordinary “law abiding Englishmen” would identify with AJP Taylor…
    In the quote above Peter, which agency is improving things for people?

  13. Agit8ed –

    So what?

    AJP Taylor’s contention that “until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state” is undoubtedly correct.

    In that quote from you no agency is improving things for people. All of those things existed already through very many organsiations. You act like a dimwit who believes the NHS created health care in Britain instead of collectivising what was already an elaborate, local arrangement. Ask yourself if those who would come to find themselves robbed to pay for the government’s generosity found their lives improved.

    You do believe the plainest bullshit.

  14. Yes Pete the NHS and all of those things mentioned by Agit8ed definitely did improve the lives of many people… vastly. The bullshit on this thread is only coming from you with your fanatical obsession with hating anything eminating from Government

  15. Sigh …

    FO –

    We have a century of economic growth since then. What do you expect to happen to life expectancy? That it would decline as we become richer?

    You (unwittingly) make the point that we want to become richer. Therefore we want to move towards a more 1911 size of government than where it’s going now.

  16. Yes Pete, We’ve had a century of economic growth and measurable progress on virtually every level of quality of life indices, and all achieved succesfully with the participation and activities of both government and private enterprise. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

  17. “You act like a dimwit who believes the NHS created health care in Britain instead of collectivising what was already an elaborate, local arrangement. Ask yourself if those who would come to find themselves robbed to pay for the government’s generosity found their lives improved.”

    “You do believe the plainest bullshit.”

    Interesting charcter traits, Peter Moore.
    I have noticed that when anyone asks for your take or futher explanation of a topic,
    you are Mr. Nicey, kindness itself.
    However, when anyone disagrees with or questions you, Mr Grumpy appears and starts hurling insults at the poor wretch.

    “You VILL understand that I am always right! NEVER quvestion mein authority!!
    It’s not a trait a decent, law abiding Englishman should cultivate, Peter…

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