The Liberal Response to Socialism, 1918–29

  • Michael Bentley


Contemporary liberal judgements about the impact of the First World War on British society were marked by a certain ethereality. They reflected a conviction that the world was changed after 1918 but the marrow of the transformation seemed to be located in a number of intangible areas which beggared precise description. When Eleanor Acland saw a man returning from the front, he was ‘incredibly like his old self only somehow a stranger too’.1 When Lloyd George wanted to fool Bonar Law, he played upon ‘the heart, the nerve and the blood of the people’ which the great conflict had in some sense altered.2 For everyone the new world was different because people were different. For politicians the world was different because public life had changed. Where once political activity in England had been marked by decency, fair play and the behaviour of gentlemen, it was now characterised by ‘stunt campaigns, tactical exploitation of ignorant prejudices and appeals to lower motives’.3 It was now part of a debased image dominated by Bottomley, Northcliffe, Birkenhead, above all Lloyd George, embodying ‘opinion and forces’ to which the war had somehow given rise.4 Most of these opinions and forces were faced well enough by the representatives of postwar liberalism; the latter was not without a basic defensive vocabulary which could confront change with equanimity.


Labour Government Labour Party Fair Play Socialist Threat Liberal Party 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1974

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  • Michael Bentley

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