Its not often that you get a film which provides a survey of a fundamental intellectual distinction in English law: nor is it often that such a film is set in a Japanese prison camp during World War Two. Bridge on the River Kwai however is the first and is set in the latter locale. It is about the distinction between equity- the law of right reason- and law. The film is suffused with law. Its basic situation is legal. Colonel Nicholson leads a detatchment of British soldiers into a Japanese prison camp- there Colonel Saito the Japanese commander orders the men to start buildiing a bridge across the River Kwai. Saito tells Nicholson that he must work alongside his men, Nicholson cites the Geneva Convention and resists this order. Eventually Saito desperate as he cannot command Nicholson's men brings the British colonel back to command his troops, conceding that no officer need work on the bridge. Secondly Nicholson now makes his decision to build the bridge- he makes the decision to relocate the bridge to a more secure point, to put his better engineers in charge and to drive the British soldiers on to work on the bridge. In that he is successful and he produces a bridge for the Japanese which excells the bridge that they might have built themselves.
The plot therefore is dual- but both plots are based around a conflict of laws, a conflict between legality and equity. In the first case Saito is legally entitled to do what he does. He does not believe in the Geneva Convention but in the cult of Bushido. For him Nicholson and his British officers are cowards who do not merit any consideration- they have led their men to defeat and so must suffer alongside the men the humiliation of defeat. The Geneva Convention for him is no law- just as it was not for the Japanese who did not sign the convention until after World War Two. However during the course of the project he comes to realise that building the bridge will be impossible without Nicholson's cooperation. The Colonel manages to outlast Saito's tortures, manages to cope with them and survive. Furthermore his men are demoralised and will not work for Japanese officers, they mar more than they make and whilst Saito cannot discipline them, if they die there will be no bridge, he also must get them to work more efficiently. It is reason rather than legality therefore which suggests to him the milder treatment for the Colonel and his officers: Saito gets what he wants through following a rule of equity, showing sympathy rather than cruelty and motivating the men to work properly.
Colonel Nicholson faces the other side of this dilemma. From the first moment we see him talk in the camp, we see that he is an enthusiast for law. He will not escape, he tells Commodore Sheers, an American in the base, because his superiors ordered him to surrender: to escape would be to disobey their order. The Colonel believes fundamentally that he is there to make sure that his men obey their duty as narrowly and legally considered. They are prisoners of the Japanese, prisoners are supposed to work for their keep and therefore he makes even the sick work. He raises the bar that they have to work towards- raising the levels of their output. He reccomends more effective methods to the Japanese, partly because he wants to be seen to be obeying them and wants it to be seen that British methods are better than Japanese ones. Partly though Nicholson believes that without law there is no civilisation: it is not for him to question the law merely for him to implement it. What that ends up doing is constructing a bridge that will take Japanese trains forwards to reinforce the frontier. Nicholson ends up, as his physician tells him he is, as a collaborator.
Saito and Nicholson go through the same journey in the film. You can see this in their attitude to men: both of them compel the sick to work, both of them compel men to work harder than they might, both of them believe in discipline, both of them are officers. There are illuminating conversations midway through the film in which we sense that they are both frustrated that the ultimate result of their efforts has not been greatness or tangible success but mid ranking mediocrity. Neither can see why. Saito and Nicholson only realise towards the end that their fatal flaw is to exchange judgement for a rule: in Saito's case the rule of what he is allowed to do brutally to his prisoners, in Nicholson's the rule of what prisoners are expected to do for their commanders. Both of them are task orientated: Saito wants the bridge done, to hell with the prisoners. Nicholson wants to demonstrate the bridge will be finished quicker, to hell with the ultimate aim that the bridge is there for. Both of them have their heads down scanning the ground in such a way that they lose sight of the ways that their actions are counter productive. When Nicholson's physician derides them as mad, this is what he means- they have lost sight of their direction in the world, focussed as they are on an immediate goal.
As I said above what this ressembles is the debate about equity and legality in law- whether the important thing about law is what it is designed to do- justice- or what it is- law. Neither Nicholson or Saito realise what the equity of their own situation is before they lose control of it: one of them loses his life, the other loses his camp and both lose what they lose because ultimately they forgot the real purpose of their activity and concentrated on the quickest way to acheive their duty.
December 23, 2009
December 22, 2009
John Adamson's most recent book fulfils several of the criteria to be a good history book. Firstly it is well written. Adamson's style is filled with verve and confidence. Secondly it is about an important subject. The years 1640-1642 are amongst the most important and exciting to study in English history. They saw the first rebellion in England since the Essex rebellion of 1602, the first large scale rebellion since the rising of the Northern Earls under Elizabeth in 1569. Charles's rule broke down first in Scotland, then Adamson argues in England and finally in Ireland. The final breakdown led immediatly to civil war in England- a civil war that eventually consumed the entire three Kingdoms that Charles ruled and ended with the deaths of many thousands of his subjects, including in 1649 the death of the King himself. By that point the originators of that revolution had been replaced themselves- some had died, some had fallen away politically from the centre of power and others had even defected to the King. John Adamson's book does not focus on how the revolution developed until the execution of 1649 (I presume that this is what his next volume will do), it focusses on the original problem- why between 1640 and 1642 did Charles's rule break down, particularly in England?
This is unusually for modern histories of the period an anglocentric approach. Ireland and Scotland are interesting to Adamson as they illuminate a central English story. The central English story that Adamson wants to tell us is about the way that a small group of nobles coordinated from the House of Lords opposition to the King. This started before Charles had summoned the Short Parliament- a Parliament that these nobles had forced him to call- and it continued right up until the outbreak of civil war in 1642. The opposition to Charles was led by a small group of nobles (the Earls of Warwick, Northumberland, Bedford, Holland, Bristol, Leicester, Essex, Viscount Saye and Sele, Viscount Mandeville and more) and assisted by a semi-autonomous group of 'clients' in the House of Commons (John Pym, Sir John Clotworthy, Oliver St John, Sir Walter Erle and others). This group did not always agree- some even like Lord Bristol ended up as royalists, others like Bedford sought for a peace deal with the King and died before they could decide which side of the civil war they would have fought on, others like the Earl of Warwick became stalwart Parliamentarians and of course there were some minor figures around the outside (Oliver Cromwell, John Lilburne).
Adamson stresses that this group came to negotiate with the King for a particular type of settlement. That settlement was what Adamson calls a Venetian oligarchy- we could describe it to borrow Patrick Collinson's words as a monarchical Republic. What these men wanted was a state in which Charles had lost the power of the executing or making policy, choosing his own ministers or using his own finances: Parliament led by the natural councillers of the realm- the nobility- should be in the position to govern the Kingdom. Adamson suggests that this ideology had with it theological baggage- noticably ideas about purifying the church and divesting it of what were seen as Laudian innovations. Adamson in my view underplays this aspect of the story because he makes it secondary- he underplays how crucial religion was to the outlook of these men. They wanted a constitutional settlement not merely for its own sake but for the sake of religion. Obviously there were some who did not believe this- Henry Marten is a good example. But many, in England or Scotland, would desert the cause if it seemed to desert the divine, they could accept politically it was not always a priority and reading Adamson one should be careful to distinguish between the political and the principle. Oliver Cromwell may have accepted in the Parliament of late 1641 that root and branch reform was not going to happen immediatly, that did not stop him believing later that the subject of the war was 'our Civil Liberties as men, our Spiritual liberties as Christians' (Carlyle Lomas Volume 3 151).
Adamson underplays religion in part because of his concentration. He has always been interested in the politics of courts and peers rather than the commons. This creates a vibrant narrative of high politics- but misses the Tolstoyan question, why did people follow the Earl of Warwick and Earl of Essex to fight against the King. We know some of the reasons for that and they are much less Venetian than the aspirations of the peers. Adamson refers to the crowd but only as an instrument of the peers and commoners without reference to their own aspirations. These limitations to Adamson's thesis are not criticisms- a book cannot do what it does not set out to do but amidst the torrent of Adamson's prose it is easy to imagine that he has proved what he has not. This book is not a complete explanation of the English civil war- it is a fairly complete narrative of the high politics surrounding the civil war's beggining. Within his narrative there are points he needs to explain more or refine: for example on p. 184 without explanation he refers to Nathaniel Fiennes as a loose cannon, we need a reason why Fiennes is such but neither the footnote nor the text make it clear. Furthermore Adamson appears unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the work of other historians that might substantiate his picture: so he ignores Jason Peacey who shows how the pamphlets of the early ideological struggles linked to their sponsors in the nobility. Such an understanding is key if we are to grapple with what the nobility wanted out of the war and what appeal they made to others.
Disregarding these flaws though, does Adamson offer us a plausible answer to the question of why during the early 1640s war came to England. That question is probably too complicated for a single historian to ever answer properly. There were longterm and short term factors which led to war. What Adamson offers us is a very good, well documented account of how the actors within high politics decided that there was no alternative to civil war. He shows us that Charles I reacted out of hauteur and pride- this is not neccessarily new. He shows us the way that the great lords coordinated opposition to the King- again this is not a neccessarily novel position- but Adamson shows us its mechanics. He takes us through the cycle of accident and fortune that led to the point at which Charles's subjects took up arms and he leaves us in no doubt that the outcome was contingent upon a series of events. There were good reasons for believing in 1640 that England was on the brink of civil war, but equally war was not inevitable. In that sense Dr Adamson's work is truly post revisionist: incorporating the insight of the revisionists that the coming of war was confusing and accidental, but showing us the deep anger and resentment that war helped assuage.
A final verdict will take a while to come in on this book which is incredibly long- but it is worth reading. For a general reader I would reccomend reading a survey like Blair Worden's first in order to orientate yourself in the period: Adamson does only cover two years but he does write well and this is definitely a book worth reading if you have the time and enough interest to read 500 pages about 18 months.
December 21, 2009
The Spanish film Fermat's Room was one I missed at the cinema when it came out. It intrigued me however. The basic premise is that four very bright mathematicians are invited by 'Fermat' out to a deserted warehouse in the countryside to solve the most fundemental mathematical problem ever set. One of them is an inventor. Another a mathematical genius who has solved Goldbach's theorem about prime numbers. The third and fourth have no specific accomplishments named in the film but both give off an aura of impenetrable intellectual power- we learn later that both of them are phenomenal chess players. All these characters are invited out into the midst of the countryside and come through a series of mathematical problems to sit in a room, waiting for 'Fermat'. All of them have been given the names of illustrious mathematicians- Pascal, Oliva, Hilbert and Galois. Fermat himself comes and leaves- and then the phone goes. It appears that they have minutes to solve certain puzzles and mathematical problems, every time a minute passes without them having solved a particular issue, the walls begin to close in. Slowly the group realise that they face impending doom and catastrophe- that even genius grows tired and that then they will be crushed to death.
I do not want to give away the reason that they are all there- nor the kinds of clues that you get through the film to that reason- suffice it to say that nothing is quite as it seems. The film succeeds in doing the first thing that any film like this has to do- it is full of suspense. I found it both exciting and stimulating. The scenario is psychologically terrifying- there is almost no blood spilt in this film, you do not see a dab of ketchup upon any character's face. Nor are there any moments where you see the supernatural. What the film does is make you imagine terror and fear- make you imagine the crushing of the group together. The acting is good as well with several veterans of Spanish film making their appearance. Lluis Homar is very good as Hilbert, playing a complicated part. Elena Ballesteros dominates the screen as Oliva and grapples with a character who slowly is revealed- humiliatingly is revealed as the film goes on. Santi Millan is also good as Pascal. The only one that did not perfectly convince me as a character was Alejo Sauras as Galois- too cocky and too shallow for his part, he is the only actor who did not convey enough depth to me to make me believe in his character. Consideration in one part of life often overlaps into consideration and deep thought about the rest of life- and whereas Galois seemed to think deeply about maths, he did not seem to think deeply about life.
That is a prejudice. In general though the film succeeds in its first objective- creating a narrative you want to stick with to find out what happens. But does it have anything more to it- or is it like Donnie Darko say, a good story dressed up in intellectual sophistication that ultimately means nothing. If we are looking for meaning, the first thing to emphasize is that Fermat's Room is not about mathematics- there is precious little here that is complicated mathematics and there is almost no discussion of the fascinating philosophy of maths- the ways that numbers reflect or do not reflect the real world. What Fermat's Room is about is mathematics- and in particular about approaches to mathematics. There are two issues here which are related which the film takes us through. The first is to do with the ways that mathematicians and intellectuals in general can end up thinking. Intellectual activity is naturally combative and competitive. Often whether in academia or outside, it takes the form of an argument, a dialectic process of investigation of the truth. This Socratic method can become bundled up with the egos of those involved- and this is as true in Fermat's Room as anywhere else. The second clash that happens within the film is between mathematics as a practical subject and as a theoretical subject. In a sense the clash is an illusion- consider Fractals for example. In a deeper sense though there is an issue: is truth important because it is true or because it is useful. If there is a truth that is useless but true- does it matter if we do not know it- it will still be true and our lives will not be changed by finding it out.
I'm not going to delve into the ways that the film answers or does not answer those issues- I think it is fairly obvious from my writing that the film argues against obsession and for utility- but without giving away the ending it is impossible for me to illustrate the ways it does so. This is a good effort- it is not flawless- and there are problems but three of the four central performances are wonderful and it will keep your attention for its entire course. This is the kind of horror film that I personally enjoy: psychologically stimulating, not gorily tiring.
(This is Gracchi again- incidentally I've been neglecting film posts recently through lots of pressure at work, but I'm hoping to get going on them again alongside everything else on the site)
December 20, 2009
The term “Diehard” is of used in histories or e of the interwar Conservative party. They tended treated as figures who often emerged to assail Tory leaders particularly Baldwin on issues as varied as India and trade union reform.
Definitions on the other hand are rather fewer. This (generally excellent) book of Stuart Ball's which enormously informs this post, for example suggests they were not really ideologically different from the Conservative party as a who but concerned with the “maintenance of standards” and “not intellectual rightwing” and “out of touch with the modern world”.
This does have some truth . As Ball rightly argues it’s very difficult to trace the Diehards back as a group to the origin of their name-those who rejected the acceptance of the Parliament act by the House of Lords preferring to “die” in the ditch ( have the House of Lord’s Conservative majority broken by hundreds of liberal peers who would then pass the act anyway).
Very few prominent interwar diehards had even been in the house of commons in that era- and diehards of that era were not necessarily “diehards” on issues such as government spending or India which split the interwar Conservative party.
Like most Conservative factions ( probably most factions in democratic parties) the edges of such a faction are rather blurry and it was in many ways a tendency rather htan a faction. Churchill after his switch to the conservative party rapidly displayed real “diehard” tendencies for example over India and over the creation of London transport (which he led the opposition to) but historians have been wary- perhaps in part because he was one of the very Conservative mp’s to basically be pro free trade. The diehards were the factional tendency (and like Baldwin proto- “one nationers” they were more a tendency than a faction ) that wanted to take stances further from the other main party-the Labour party. Thus in a certain sense what set aside a diehard –at least in many cases was not necessarily ideological differences with other Conservatives but either a belief the party should be willing to go to the stake for such principles. This was most notable on the issue of free trade as discussed below – where the party was united in principle. However it can also be seen on other issues-Ball has a point.
Nonetheless a fairly coherent ideological framework can be seen for most diehard policies of this era- that is the opposition to meant opposition to the ideology of the British Labour party. If the Labour party’s ideology was based on an ideology of equality of equality and cooperation “diehardism” was even more positively hostile to the form it took than the average Conservative as a whole. Or to put it another way the general Conservative “defence” of traditional institutions among the Diehards took the form of an aggressive offensive against any aspects of “Socialism”. Thus far from being a relic past they were based on a considered reaction to as opposed to ignoring of) the ideological currents of the era. One can see this is one compares their stance to the rest of the Conservative party across a wide range of areas.
On economic policy (broadly defined) they were more opposed to redistribution and the high spending and welfare expenditure that led to both enormous numbers of dole recipients (“scroungers” in the eyes of many diehards or at least including many such) and more fiercl.y opposed to of the taxes and deficits thius caused. They had a fuller opposition to any form of centralised control of industry with the aim of promoting some supposed common good, even more intense dislike of nationalization of the existing Conservative ( a “diehard” dominated Conservative party would not have nationalised manual revenues as Chamberlain did and "diehards" led by Churchill opposed the creation of London Transport)They re also more likely to be opposed to the powers and privileges of trade unions- it was “diehards” (in this case very much including Churchill) who took the hardest stand in the general strike for example.
On foreign and imperial policy they rejected the Labour’s internationalism anti-imperialism and neo-pacificism more than the average Conservative . It was Diehards by and large who objected to the creation of the Irish republic (in violation of the treaty under which the Irish Free state had been creation) and denounced the inaction of the Conservative government. It was diehards who led by Winston Churchill virulently opposed the concessions to self rule of the India act. And it was diehards who by the early 1930’s were the loudest voices for rearmament. Indeed Churchill’s earlier stress on the issue was seen possibly rightly as part of his embrace of diehard positions on a wide variety of issues in that period most of all but not exclusively India .
This changed of course in the late 1930’s when policy towards Germany became the central issue- an issue that cut across not just factional lines in the Conservative party but party lines as well. Indeed it led to the slightly bewildering spectacle of the diehard Duchess of Atholl fighting and losing a by-election on a platform of anti-appeasement backed even by members of the radical left -because she now saw "facism" (broadly defined) as an even greater threat than Communism.
Constitutionally there was arguably also a distinctive “diehard” stance though again it was a stance most opposed to the Labour party. In particular it was the right of the conservative party who were most keen on the constitutional innovation an elected house of Lords. This partly represented a belief both that a working constitution needed to be fully bi-cameral –that the Parliament act by allowing the House of Commons to ultimately get it’s way on virtually all issues had disrupted the constitution. But it can also be seen as a desire probably shrewd to provide a powerful new obstacle to socialist measures- particularly if the House of Lords was elected on a system (say a county basis or a property franchise) that would hurt the Labour party.
The hardest cause to see as the result of anti-Socialism (including a foreign policy that rejected the idea that force could be superseded by cooperation) was the diehard opposition to the abdication of Edward VIII over his marriage to a divorcee (again including Churchill). In many ways this represented a highly tradition view of kingship- the King’s sovereignty and status came from god or at least was a settled piece of property regardless of his personal behaviour . Baldwin, Chamberlain and Halifax on the other hand thought the monarchy had to at least to a certain degree model bourgeois and Christian values. The Labour party insofar as it was monarchist again preferred Baldwin’s model . This even incidentally also underlined the truth that the diehards were not necessarily particularly puritanical on sexual matters or even necessarily pious.
So ultimately the diehards did have a form of ideological coherence- in the aggressive rejection of Socialism. Just as the Labour party’s ideological core was fairly coherent- so were the diehards based on rejecting the assumptions about society domestic and international the Labour party’s was built
It’s also worth noting what the diehards were not.
As already suggested on Protectionism they were not necessarily different on principle from the party’s left – it would be hard to think of a leading Conservative moderate who was a free trader in this era . However their disillusionment with other aspects of Conservative support and greater belief in an aggressive foreign policy meant they tended to be for taking a more aggressive line.
They were not necessarily believers in lassire faire. Many of them were quite supportive of government action to support as opposed to transform existing institutions particularly business and agriculture-one reason why most of them were Protectionists- and many also expressed interest in agricultural subsidies or other forms. To be strongly opposed to the agenda of socialism including centralised planning was not the same as being even on economics a Gladstonian liberal.
They were not an electoral irrelevance even if one defines diehard strictly enough to exclude Churchill or the first Lord Halisham (probably the most important law officer) of this era. Perhaps the greatest proof of this was that this was the golden age of rightwing third parties (generally ) very brief. There were numerous “anti-waste” candidates in the early 1920’s who precipitated the massive spending cuts of that era. The Empire Free Trade candidates are more notorious-and tended to be on Protectionism where the difference between diehard and moderate was more tactical. But the last such candidate- in the famous by election of ST Georges was not really. Baldwin had essentially committed the conservative party to a fairly protectionist policy. Thus Rotheremere (the press baron who controlled the St georges campaign) ran instead mostly on the issue of India. This has often been condemned tactically and as a colossal failure. I’m rather dubious on the former and even the latter. Given the Tories had adopted a very radical policy protectionism it’d be absurd to have made that the main issue – thus te slogan . Even in the result the candidate got a vote equivlant to half the tory vote at the previous general election and 40% of the votes cast in the byelection. This was a very good result a third party suggesting the slogan “Gandhi is watching St Georges” could make a large minority of Conservative voters support a third party. Diehard themes when tried in general elections had a reasonable record-the 1931 election was the one fought on cuts in spending (including nominal cuts in benefits and public sector pay) and tariffs- and ended in the biggest conservative victory of the era. It’s very difficult to see how a more “diehard” or less “diehard” Conservative party would have done- but one should not assume “diehardism” simply meant electoral oblivion.
Unsurprisingly they were not an irrelevance in policy either . The industrial relations act of the mid 1920’s, and the moves to spending cuts, Protectionism and rearmament in the early 1930’s. Nor on the other hand is it true that the Conservative party of the inter-war era should be seen –ultimately Baldwin and Chamberlain were far removed from their stance and so diehard desires for a return to pre-war domestic spending, an uncompromising line on Germany in the 1920’s, an elected House of Lords or the repeal of the India act got nowhere.
I think the most unfair notion of Diehard’s is that were simply lost in the past. ON the contrary many of their policies were to be pursued by future conservative governments often many decades latter. This is most obvious in the case of trade union reform. In other areas their policies whatever their merits or demerits would become obsolete. Obviously after 1947 an attempt to hold on to India no longer had such relevance- and even the diehard successors’ in the Monday Club’s imperialism started to become irrelevant in the 1960’s. But the terms of the interwar debate are often forgotten- Baldwin and Irvin (later Halifax) argued on behalf of their Indian policy that these concession would prevent a move to actual independence. It’s dubious the diehard policy would have stopped it- could Indian indepe3nce have been stopped after World War 2? But it’s unquestionable that Baldwin and Irwin’s policy failed!
Here is a picture of a famous figure who a liberal imperialist,and quite a leftwing one before World War I but in this era on issues from India to rearmament to union reform to nationalisation was if not a diehard at least a fellow traveller-Winston Spencer Churchill.
We have thus seen that not only is it very dubious seeing Disreali as the founder of one nation conservatism but that it’s dubious whether there was a distinctive “moderate” faction or tradition in the party at all-the differences in the Conservative part before World War I being rather different in nature.
By “one nation” I mean not in a generic or nationalist sense but as a force and faction on the leftwing of the conservative party with an emphasis on such ideas as the desire to stand in the middle ground, an emphasis on the virtues of consensus and the use of government to help the poor.
I would see the inter-war era as being the one where such a distinctive tradition and faction can be seen as having developed some kind of coherence. One nation” even in such a relatively specific sense is probably best thought of as a tendency rather than necessarily a distinct faction.
It had strong roots in the coalition government of 1916-1922 particularly during it’s peace time era (with the "Llyod George liberals". This government made massive concessions from Conservative positions on a huge number of issues. Government spending and taxes stayed very high-much higher than the levels which had been regarded as dangerous by Conservatives before the war-it was not until the end of the coalition that large scale spending cuts in peacetime expenditure were engendered in large measure a response to electoral pressure and there was no increase in tariffs- the measure Conservatives had supported before World War I as a source of revenue. A large system of economic controls was retained (this was mostly dropped towards the end of the war under large scale electoral pressure) and there was actually some substantial measures to Social Reform. Not only was home rule conceded for Southern Ireland (with an Ulster exception) a compromise achieved during World War I but so was actual independence or “Free Statehood” for Southern Ireland. Tight new restrictions on the alcohol industry were introduced.
The “conservatism” of the coalition and the betrayal of supposedly widespread hopes for much greater social reform are often emphasised in the history but these were far from Conservative policies! These all represented big concessions for Conservative given their pre war ideology. Now of course this was in a coalition –but it was one where Conservatives actually had a narrow majority in Parliament after 1918. Even the partial acceptance of such policies represented at least a willingness to a accept leftwing status quo and even reform- if only as the painfull preferable to a more radical coalition. There was also a group (including the young Edward Wood latter a key moderate himself as Lord Irwin and Lord Halifax) of tory mp’s that made a great deal of their moderation and support for more lefitsh policies– for example sympathy for the control of alcohol and new welfare provisions.
It’s an irony that the second coalition of this period the “national” government of the 1930’s (very much a coalition in more htan a nominal sense at least before 1935) was run by figures like Baldwin who had loathed the first one- given the remarkable similarities between the two (though the National one arguably had a less leftwing record).
Baldwin was indeed one of the figures who brought the coalition down in 1922. He was to become tory leader from 1923-1937, holding the premiership from 1922-1923, 1924-1929 and 1935-1937. From 1931 to 1935 he held cabinet office (lord President0 and combined this with being the leader of a party that held a majority-indeed the largest of any party in the twentieth century! This represented enormous electoral dominance for the Conservative party-Baldwin was in the interwar era the dominant figure of the dominant party. Baldwin is often associated rather simplistically with the policy of “appeasement” and this has cast something of a cloud over the seminal role of his leadership- for a start it alienated a figures who were to become the most successful post war “one nation” tory Harold Macmillan . Though he certainly had his faults (a certain lethargy when he did not consider a great clash of principle was at stake) he combined great personal integrity with shrewd political instincts. Many of the leading one nation Conservatives of the post war era-for example Anthony Eden and “RAB” Butler were massively inspired by him and regarded themselves in the in interwar era as very much “Baldwin men”. Indeed Baldwin was to have continuous clashes with leading Conservatives who wanted to take a “harder line” further removed from Labour party.
IT is thus worth examining what was distinctive in Baldwin’s positions and that of other moderates in this era and to what degree they can be seen as prefiguring post wawr "one nation" Conservatism.
One was what might be called electoralism-the belief that the Conservatives could only win generally on a moderate version of their policies and needed to win by moving to the center. Now it’s unclear how much this was true of Baldwin (though he tended to believe that only if an election had been won on a new policy could it be introduced) and it’s scarcely a unique feature of the twentiet century Conservative party. However it does seem to have been unusually strong in this era – even the first leader Andrew Bonar Law was convinced the post war era would see very formidable socialism –one reason why he long supported an alliance with Llyod George A classic case was Protectionism in the 1929-1930 era . Then the leadership resisted strongly efforts to run on it despite enormous pressure in the “Empire Free Trade” candidates who actually beat official conservative candidates in some by-elections though they did more or less conceded . And yet very few Tories were anything but strongly protectionist- and the few who were not (notably Salisbury and Churchill) were not particularly moderate on other issues.
Un surprinsgly those who argued the Tories needed to moderate to win and probably those who were most concerned with the tory party winning at all costs tended to be on Baldwin’s side in internal struggles.
In fact one reason why the biggest challenge to Baldwin’s leadership was in the 1929-1931 period was that a disproportionate number of moderate pro Baldwin mp’s represented marginal seats- so anti-Baldwin “diehards” were stronger in the 1929-1931 era. It’s probably unnecessary to underline the continuity with post war one nation Conservatims- indeed the belief that electoral victory was imperative and won ground could arguably be said to be its most definitive belief.
This was closely linked to linked strategies of “killing Socialism with kindness” and “social reform”. This did not just take the form of concern for the poor which is scarcely the preserve of any part of the tory party or political spectrum. This was a belief in positive (that is coercive and t) government action to help the interest of the poor and for that matter the non poor-for example by expanding old age pensions and regulating the health insurance market to make it harder to drop applicants for insurance-both policies of the tory party of this era.
Neville Chamberlain was perhaps the most important supporter and advocate of such policies n the Tory Party in this era Innded even while Prime Minister he had a series of importatn measures understandably neglected by historians. Chamberlain was in part motivated by a desire to stem the tide of Socialism which he concluded nearly . But he sincerely believed in extensive social reform as did other party moderates such as Lord Halifax. The belief in postive welfare and regulatory programmes to benefit the poor was again to be a distinctive aspect of post-war “one nation” Conservatism from the expansions of the NHS by the Tories in the 1950’s to Michael Heseltine’s attempts to set up zones to revive the inner cities in the 1980’s and beyond. At the same time one nation conservatives both in the inter-war and post war era had very limited belief in redistribunary motivated welfare-that is arguments for and policies that about redistricting income rather than the subtly but importantly different “alleviating the condition of the people”. Again this was to continue after World War II (though arguably in the inter-war era Conservatives placed more emphasis on the “contributory principle”).
A third emphasis was on what might be called flexibility on Constitutional and Imperialist matters. This was partly based on a rejection of a clear cut British Imperalist Nationalism (not the same as embracing a version of internationalism like the Labour party). Partly it was based on drawing a particular lesson from the failure to keep most of Ireland in the Union-that the parties needed to prevent disaster to keep a consensus on matters of imperial issues (and to some degree foreign policy as a whole- it was a factor in moving cautiously on reanarment as well). ]
In the Baldwin era perhaps the most important such issue was India-which strained party unity a great deal with many years of conflict untill the passage of the India act in 1935. Yet Baldwin was able to defend unprecedented moves towards self government and the weaking of British control of India and administer that policy- a policy moreover that was t a large degree the work of another Conservative Lord Irwin latter Lord Halifax (describe) . The ability to pass the policy owed a lot loyalty to party leadership-in fact it’d almost certainaly have been a lot easier for Baldwin to take a policy on this position the “diehard” position was probably actually more popular in the conservative party and possibly the country. But the very willingness to take such risks represented a principled position . IN the post-war era the “one nation” tradition was to be identified with a greater willingness to reduce and end the British empire and (more ambiguously) a greater sympathy for the European Union and other transnational organisations. In the willingness to moderate the more straightforward nationalism of Conservatives before World War I this can very easily be seen as reflecting the tradition of Baldwin and his allies over the India bill. IN that can be seen the distinct but recognisable ancestry of Margaret Thatcher’s gibe that too often a better term would be "no nation Conservatives".
This obsession with consensus on imperial and constitutional matters can be seen as part of a wider preoccupation with concord in politics including economics a desire not to “divide” the nation. For example Baldwin was very wary of aggressive moves away from “socialist” economics for example tough trade union reform. After the 1929 election a group of pro Baldwin young mp’s including hte young Anthony Eden blamed the industrial relations act of the previous goverment for the Conservative loss of a majority-probably with some justice. Again a wariness about polarising economic policies (though not necessarily so much rof estrictions of trade union power0 was to be a defining feature of post war Conservativism . Indeed the popularity of the term “one nation” probably reflects this very use!
Finally Baldwin himself was also keen on one nation in another sense- he went out of his way to be respectful to the Labour party to treat them as a legitimate part of the political system. Indeed the sacrifices he made to keep the tiny “national labour” party fraction in the coalition in the 1930’s are remarkable- after all McDonald the leader of a party splinter with 14 mp’s was Prime Minster while Baldwin was not with his over 500 (admittedly this may partly have represented a lack of deep personal interest in the premiership). . McDonald as “national Labour” had more control of the government’s agenda not least in blocking moves to the right as supporting international disarmament than is generally realised.
I think this kind of bi-partisanship is dubiously part of “one nation toryism” – Michael Heseltine for example was a famously partisan orator. Even in the inter-war era another moderate model is available- probably the second most important figure Neville chamberlain. The great architect of social reform was one of the most partisan figures of the age. At one poiont Baldwin suggested to him he stop treating the Labour party like dirt to his sisters he stated the problemwas “intellectually..“ they mostly were! . Understandly he was not much loved by the Labour party in return.
So there was a distinctive moderate tradition which was extremely important and arguably dominated the Conservative party in this era. It’s important to realize this did not mean the likes of Chamberlain and Baldwin merely supported a more moderate version of Labour party ideology- they had very little time for the core ideas of the Labour party whether economic equality , collective ownership or radical internationalism. At the same time they had enormous support the conseration of existing institutions values from the Church of England to property. This meant there were sharp differences with the Labour party whether on defence spending or nationalisation of privately owned companies . Harold Macmillan as a minor tory mp in this era ( when he was much more leftwing than he was as Prime Minister) is that rare case an exception that proves the rule. He in his “third way” did argue for comprehensive government planning of the economy- but was regarded as a marginal figure on the extreme left of the conservative party not a mainstream moderate like Eden or Halifax.
However there were still a broad range of issues where they took a genuine moderate stance.It’s perhaps no coincidence that the strands of moderation identified above can also be seen as rooted in an ideology of defence.
Having discussed the origin of one nation supporters in the broadly moderate faction and tendencies of the pre war Conservative party it remains only to look at the other side- the Diehards.
The picture of course is appropriately of Stanley Baldwin.