EACH of the Liberal reforms had its own specific origins and prehistory. Some historians prefer to see them as individual solutions to particular social problems, not as part of a wider movement. At one level of analysis this is perfectly reasonable. The failure of previous social measures, or the lack of them, combined with exposure and analysis of each social problem, led to the proposal and adoption of new solutions. But ‘failure’ implies standards against which it is measured, and a political will to achieve success. As Tawney put it, ‘the continuance of social evils is not due to the fact that we do not know what is right, but to the fact that we prefer to continue doing what is wrong’ [quoted in Rose, 1972, 52].


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© The Economic History Society 1983

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  • J. R. Hay

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