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The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy: Maurice Cowling and Conservatism
 9781848852266, 9781848855, 9781845119768, 1845119762

Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Contents......Page 6
Acronyms and Abbreviations......Page 8
Acknowledgements......Page 9
Introduction: The Significance of Cowling -- Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting......Page 10
1. Maurice Cowling: A Brief Life -- Jonathan Parry......Page 22
PART I - THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY......Page 34
2. Liberalism, Conservatism and Oakeshott in Cowling’s Account of Public Doctrine -- Kenneth Minogue......Page 36
3. Subjectivity, Civility, Ecclesiasticality -- James Alexander......Page 51
4. Cowling and Liberalism -- Michael Grenfell......Page 74
PART II - THE PRACTICE OF POLITICAL HISTORY......Page 92
5. Herbert Butterfield and Maurice Cowling -- Michael Bentley......Page 94
6. Maurice Cowling and Modern British Political History -- Philip Williamson......Page 117
7. ‘High Politics’, Political Practice and the Labour Party -- Robert Crowcroft......Page 162
PART III - RELIGION IN THE AGE OF SECULARIZATION......Page 196
8. As if Religion Mattered: An Alternative Reading of English Intellectual History since c.1840 -- S. J. D. Green......Page 198
9. The Anglican Mind of Maurice Cowling -- Ian Harris......Page 232
10. Conclusion: The Impact of Cowling -- Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green, Richard Whiting......Page 279
Bibliography......Page 306
Notes on Contributors......Page 326
Index......Page 328

Citation preview

Robert Crowcroft completed his Ph.D. at the University of Leeds in 2007, and currently teaches in the School of History. He is the author of Attlee’s War, forthcoming with I.B.Tauris, and has published several articles and essays, including ‘The “High Politics” of Labour Party factionalism, 1950–55’, in Historical Research (2008). S. J. D. Green is Reader in Modern British History at Leeds and fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is author of Religion in the Age of Decline: Organization and Experience in Industrial Yorkshire c.1870–1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1996) and The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change c.1920–1960 (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). Richard Whiting is Professor of Modern British History at the University of Leeds and the author of The Labour Party and Taxation (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY Mauric e Cow lin g and Conservatism

EDITED

BY

ROBERT CROWCROFT, S. J. D. GREEN AND

RICHARD WHITING

TAURIS ACADEMIC STUDIES an imprint of

I.B.Tauris Publishers LO N D O N

·

NEW YORK

Published in 2010 by Tauris Academic Studies, an imprint of I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010 www.ibtauris.com Distributed in the United States and Canada Exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010 Editorial matter and selection copyright © 2010 Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting. Individual chapters copyright © 2010 the contributors. The rights of Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting to be identified as the editors of this work has been asserted by the editors in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. International Library of Political Studies 32 ISBN: 978 1 84511 976 8 A full CIP record for this book is available from the British Library A full CIP record for this book is available from the Library of Congress Library of Congress catalog card: available Camera-ready copy edited and supplied by Oxford Publishing Services, Oxford Printed and bound in India by Replika Press Pvt. Ltd.

Contents

Acronyms and Abbreviations Acknowledgements

vii viii

Introduction: The Significance of Cowling Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting 1.

Maurice Cowling: A Brief Life Jonathan Parry

PART I

2.

3. 4.

6. 7.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

27

Subjectivity, Civility, Ecclesiasticality James Alexander

42

Cowling and Liberalism Michael Grenfell

65

THE PRACTICE OF POLITICAL HISTORY

Herbert Butterfield and Maurice Cowling Michael Bentley

85

Maurice Cowling and Modern British Political History Philip Williamson

108

‘High Politics’, Political Practice and the Labour Party Robert Crowcroft

153

PART III

8.

13

Liberalism, Conservatism and Oakeshott in Cowling’s Account of Public Doctrine Kenneth Minogue

PART II

5.

1

RELIGION IN THE AGE OF SECULARIZATION

‘As if Religion Mattered’: An Alternative Reading of English Intellectual History since c.1840 S. J. D. Green v

189

CONTENTS

9. 10.

The Anglican Mind of Maurice Cowling Ian Harris

223

Conclusion: The Impact of Cowling Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting

270

Bibliography Notes on Contributors Index

297 317 319

vi

Acronyms and Abbreviations

1867 BSSLH CE IH IHR IL LSE Mill NLPS ODNB OSB PPD RPD I RPD II RPD III SPCK TLS

Maurice Cowling 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1967) Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978) Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (Cambridge University Press, 1975) Institute of Historical Research Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1971) London School of Economics and Political Science Maurice Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edn, 1990) Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science (Cambridge University Press, 1963) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Order of St Benedict Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge University Press, 1993) Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 1980) Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Assaults (Cambridge University Press, 1985) Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Accommodations (Cambridge University Press, 2001) Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge Times Literary Supplement vii

Acknowledgements

This collection of essays arose from a conference held at the University of Leeds in January 2007, which explored the work of Maurice Cowling. At that gathering we were provided with valuable insights into the publishing of Cowling’s work from Richard Fisher of Cambridge University Press, and we are indebted to him. We also wish to thank the School of History and its then chairman, Professor John Gooch, for the encouragement and financial support without which the conference could not have taken place.

viii

Introduction: The Significance of Cowling Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting

The aim of this book is to introduce a new audience to the ideas of one of the most significant British thinkers of the last half century. Maurice Cowling, Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, was rightly famous – even infamous – in his lifetime as a gadfly political and intellectual historian. But such notoriety ensured that his most serious thoughts remained, at best, poorly understood and, at worst, unjustly maligned. This is a pity. For in addition to his particular findings, he was one of the most powerful critics of the most basic assumptions that underpin modern British scholarship more widely. That fact inevitably set him at odds with his profession. It has also undoubtedly contributed to the subsequent neglect of his conclusions. Yet the bold – and original – theses that he developed over many years, whether about English history particularly or historiography more generally, ought to be considered afresh. Indeed, there is a duty to consider them afresh. Ensconced in academe for more than three decades, Cowling forged a new and complex, conservative, framework for thinking both about modern Britain and modern historical scholarship. To be sure, he wrapped each of its layers in nuance so thick that they sometimes seem impenetrable. However, the labour of discovery amply repays the effort required. To be intellectually exposed to Cowling is to be introduced to one of the great teachers of history. His challenges to the prevailing – that is, liberal – intellectual consensus, to the way in which modern politics is interpreted, and to the place of religion in contemporary public life, were always provocative and remain radical. 1

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This is because he was a true critic: an unrelenting enemy of pieties; and the breadth of his concerns was vast. Reviving, criticizing, and extending the ideas of important but neglected scholars is both an old and necessary exercise. In the case of at least some of England’s other conservative historians that task has already begun. But Cowling has still to be accorded the appropriate treatment.1 This is odd. For his work was as far-reaching as any other practitioner of the genre.2 It included an Oakeshottian book about politics; an idiosyncratic attack on modern liberalism and J. S. Mill; a multi-volume incursion into nineteenth- and twentieth-century British political history; and a second trilogy on English intellectual history that has been compared – and not only by its author – to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. These were supplemented by a foray into diplomatic history, a study of the linkages between domestic politics and imperial policy, a collection of essays on conservatism prepared in the atmosphere of Thatcherism, and a wealth of literary journalism.3 All were unapologetic assaults: whether on academic certainties or on liberal pieties. That made them instantly and irrevocably controversial. But they were also positive contributions to the serious consideration of precisely that problem which these certainties and those pieties characteristically neglected. To put it simply, what Cowling was doing was grappling with the distinctive difficulties of the democratic regime.4 These difficulties were – and remain – of enduring interest because, unlike in earlier and alternative systems, democratic leaders have to look to ‘the people’ for support, public doctrines have to be formulated, and mass persuasion has to be attempted on a hitherto unprecedented scale. Moreover, the democratic regime, and the intellectual ‘clerisy’ that feeds off it, together generate certain kinds of moral conundra that make it the most intriguing form of social phenomenon. That is what Cowling explored throughout his work. What emerged from these writings was nothing less than a challenge to the core precepts, and defining mythologies, of democratic Britain: its national politics, its various public doctrines, even its emerging selfimage; and finally the connection of all this to Britain as a nation. No less importantly, Cowling also located the proper boundaries within which he thought all serious historical analysis about such develop2

INTRODUCTION: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COWLING

ments ought to be conducted. This was the world of the elites – whether political, social or intellectual. Concentrating attention elsewhere was, he insisted, a diversion into ‘soft’ subjects that had little real impact on what really mattered. Drawing such severe defining lines constituted in itself a systematic challenge to what was generally deemed appropriate by the contemporary academic mind. In essence – and in all of its implications – Cowling’s doctrine turned the conventional wisdom of the 1960s and 1970s, and perhaps modern England as a whole, on its head. It remains timely because the assumptions that underpinned that thought remain every bit the orthodoxy of the twenty-first century too.5 We believe that Cowling’s challenge to the modern British mind – and that is what, in his view, he was arguing against – should be taken seriously. We shall also suggest that those still disinclined to do so will, on more careful consideration, discover that they need to mount a rather more sophisticated defence of their own position than they have done hitherto. Perhaps philosophers are best left to take care of themselves. And, to be fair, political scientists have become more aware of the essentially problematic nature of their discipline than was once the case.6 But historians still rather less so; certainly the near-ubiquitous sneer – for that is all it ever was – that Cowling somehow failed to understand the historical process as commonly conceived since the enlightenment – does not cut much ice.7 To the contrary, Cowling attempted a sustained critique of the fundamental assumptions that hide beneath the surface of all modern thought. He deployed the discipline of historical writing as a highly effective instrument to carry out that task. There could have been others.8 But history suited Cowling’s deepest instincts and made sense of his temperamental idiosyncrasies. Above all, it revealed something of real importance to him. Cowling believed that the conventional view of the development of Britain since the mid nineteenth-century was hopelessly mistaken; specifically, that the advance of democracy did not have the kind of impact on public life that is usually thought. At no stage was the country governed from below. Instead, it was captured by a democratic elite, one that was in turn heavily influenced by the secular clerisy. These two then combined together to run the country for their 3

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own ends. The contrast between this model and the mainstream alternatives, namely those that stressed the advance of ‘class’, or ‘the people’, or even ‘ideas’, was powerful and drew clear dividing lines. Lurking beneath these arguments was a series of critical views on political rationalism that he had absorbed from Oakeshott. Scepticism about reason, that is, the force of reason as presumed in this context, would have been quite sufficient to have put Cowling in diametric opposition to much modern thought. It was only exacerbated when supplemented by Cowling’s rebarbative opinions on the nature of man. This view, conceived in the round, reflected a distinctly conservative supposition in its refusal to believe that an ideal society can be moulded by the application of prior political ideals; that man is deeply susceptible to moral depravity; and that the expression of selfconsciously liberated ‘ideas’ more often represented exhibitionism than enlightenment. All this made for a distinctly limited hearing to what he had to say. It also contributed to much of the characteristic misunderstanding of his ideas, common even among those who first pretended to have heard. True, Cowling’s students and others who admired him became some of the most prominent historians of modern Britain, extending and even adding to the insights of the ‘Cowling version’. But, for the most part, his approach was doomed to remain rara avis; initially neglected in an academy dominated by Marxist and other class-based assumptions; now forgotten in the general preoccupation with ‘culture’, gender, and sex.9 To be sure, others have focused and still focus on various aspects of our new elites, often without really knowing why. Some even imagine that Cowling’s contribution to their proper understanding was long ago absorbed into the mainstream. This is simply not so. His ideas continue to be as distinctive as chalk from cheese in British academic life. Even to mention Cowling is still to elicit raised eyebrows or a suspicious glare. The essays collected here constitute a conscious effort to address that problem. Put another way: they are offered in the hope of demonstrating that, for all his avowed anti-rationalism, what Cowling had to say was eminently reasonable; for all its apparent conservatism, strikingly up to date; even, in its seeming obscurity, limpidly clear.10 4

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To that end, the book seeks to tease out some of the central themes that lie beneath the complex surface of Cowling’s work – about the nature of man, and the doctrines that he has lived by, similarly, the regimes by which he has been ruled – and present them, centre stage. This is envisaged as an exercise directed at an audience that will in all likelihood be wholly unaccustomed to conceiving of such ideas as explanatory instruments in modern British history. As such, it aims first to unpack these ideas and then consider them afresh. In so doing, it hopes to explore the viewpoint not only of an individual scholar, but the strengths of an entire way of thinking. It is, after all, a way of thinking that is still sorely underdeveloped. If the essays range widely and their contents differ significantly, that is merely indicative of the fact that Cowling’s thought still sends the unwary off in a dozen different directions. But there was (and is) a unifying dimension to it all. As time passes, it becomes ever clearer that what was perhaps most important about Cowling was that he was a leading contemporary practitioner of the ‘conservative’ intellectual orientation.11 It is a disposition that is – like Cowling – now largely ignored in the academy. What follows is an attempt to consider what it might add up to. In that way, we hope to introduce important new themes into learned debate and stimulate others into taking up these arguments. This project arose following Cowling’s death in August 2005. One of the editors was then a doctoral student, immersed in a study utilizing Cowling’s view of politics; another was then supervising him and much interested in Cowling’s challenge to his own field of labour history; and the third was a longstanding admirer of Cowling with sympathetic interests in his views about religion and public thought. The three shared only the conviction that Cowling was one of the more important thinkers of recent times. So they decided to hold a conference to reassess Cowling and his work. Their purpose was not – still is not – to ‘rehabilitate’ Cowling. They would not have been able to agree even on whether he needed any such treatment. It was instead something broader, partly retrospective, partly prospective: driven by a desire to analyse not just what Cowling initially ‘meant’ but also to consider where the ideas that he advanced might be taken in the 5

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

future. The conference took place in Leeds in January 2007.12 Most of the speakers were Cowlingites. But the audience represented a range of people united by no more than the belief that Cowling had something to say, even if they did not agree with him. Indeed, labour history, about which Cowling was once so critical, was well represented, especially since it no longer seems so hostile towards him. It was as if as he had become an elder statesman of British history – a notion from which Cowling himself would no doubt have recoiled in horror. What soon became clear was that his ideas, dark and reactionary as they were once allegedly supposed to be, are now seen to be contributing something significant and, prejudice aside, that they should be mined afresh. With three exceptions, the essays assembled here arise from the papers given at the conference. The result is not a festschrift. Cowling received that honour in 1993.13 It is instead a serious attempt to reexamine his ideas about key aspects of British history, and also about the history of ideas and modern thought. Finally, it considers the nature of history – as an intellectual exercise – itself. It consists of a number of pieces on various subjects that engaged Cowling’s mind, and seeks to get to grips with his arguments about them. These range across philosophy, politics and religion. Such latitude may seem daunting. Yet, despite the difficulties of his prose style, the problems that he grappled with were surprisingly simple. Cowling was that rarest kind of scholar, one who not only advanced original arguments but also proposed a fundamentally different historical framework within which to consider them. Our hope is to elucidate a set of seemingly unconnected instincts and propositions that – once the reader knows how to link them – actually display remarkable intellectual coherence, and to see what further use can be made of them. The central assumption of the book is that a very great deal can be made of them. By extension and by implication several of the essays also consider Cowling as a specifically conservative thinker. By this, we mean not Conservative in any sense of partisan advocacy, still less institutional affiliation, but rather how Cowling used conservatism as a tool of enquiry, in the manner of a Michael Oakeshott or, by way of a later example, Elie Kedourie.14 As an interpretative disposition, conservatism has a distinctive texture and feel; it is also the antithesis of conventional 6

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inclinations. Further, its unique topography is consistently neglected by the mainstream of contemporary thought. In consequence, it too is badly in need of exploration, both directly and circuitously. The varying directions and contrasting tones of the essays speak to the importance of that task. In the first, Jonathan Parry both details Cowling’s life from a biographical perspective and introduces the reader to his body of work and the ideas that underpinned it. Kenneth Minogue and James Alexander then set about breaking down Cowling’s vast and labyrinthine intellectual framework into a clearer, more digestible set of propositions. Their essays suggest much about not only what Cowling was up to, but also, perhaps, about how the framework within which he worked might be deployed again. Next, Michael Grenfell considers Cowling’s famous assault on Mill and, placing Cowling alongside both classical and modern liberalism, considers whether he, and the intellectual position he defended, might in fact have been rather more ‘liberal’ than is usually thought. The tension between Grenfell’s view and Minogue’s observations about how far Cowling was indeed anti-liberal, or whether Cowling was himself a liberal while attempting to destroy its subversive effects, raises serious questions. In the second section of the book, Michael Bentley dwells on Cowling’s connections with, and thinking about, Herbert Butterfield. Butterfield’s work on the writing of history made an indelible impression on Cowling that provides a key to his subsequent work. But to what end? Some answers emerge from these pages. Philip Williamson examines Cowling’s impact on the study of British political history, and the influence of his so-called ‘high politics’ approach on the genre. Robert Crowcroft seeks to analyse how that approach might be extended in the future to revivify the field, stressing its applicability to an ‘ideological’ and ‘sociological’ entity in the Labour Party. He also locates this analysis as part of a broader conservative tradition and calls for attention to be returned to the classical theme of ‘the elite’. Next, Simon Green explores the implications of Cowling’s various investigations of religion, public doctrine and intellectual history, and how they gave rise to a masterpiece of modern thought. He dwells on what this radically different framework means for English intellectual life 7

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and its future development. Ian Harris examines the Anglican character of Cowling’s mind and argues that this is an essential part of the understanding of his historical writings. Finally, a conclusion by Crowcroft, Green and Richard Whiting examines whether or not Cowling was truly ‘original’, locates him within wider strands of contemporary thought, and considers what a ‘conservative’ mind might actually be like. Despite its engagement with a conservative intellectual tradition, no ideological position is assumed in the book. Given that the editors – not to mention the other contributors – hold very different views in these matters, it is anyway doubtful whether any common, doctrinal, position could have been fudged to unite it (and them). Anyway, no attempt was made to do so. What follows is, rather, an analysis both of Cowling himself and a broader interpretative ‘school’ conducted through the process of observing, expanding and criticizing the arguments of one of its more prominent proponents. Cowling’s own point of view might have been self-consciously reactionary. But the book hopes to reclaim it from stale rancour and present its findings, coolly and afresh. One final point: Cowling never explicitly set out a ‘model’ that linked together the three strands of his work. A recognizable synthesis always eluded him. The book does not seek to extrapolate an otherwise elusive coherence on his behalf. But it does attempt to enhance our understanding of his perspective. There is a broader point to all of this. Cowling’s legacy could richly influence the study of our island story. Some will take from it a clearer articulation of a distinctive intellectual mindset; others will be interested less in the totality than in specific themes. Many will continue simply, and sincerely, to disagree. But some might also begin to reconsider their views of Cowling. Our objective is simply to suggest that those who study both modern Britain, and the modern mind itself, would do well to dwell on the challenge that Cowling posed. Notes 1. See, inter alia, Julia Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth Century Britain (Lanham: Lexington Books) and Reba N. Soffer, History, Historians and Conservatism in Britain and America: From the Great War to Thatcher and Reagan (Oxford: Oxford University Press) especially parts 2 and 3. Soffer 8

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treats Butterfield as a conservative historian, which is a moot point. For his conservative legacy, see Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: High Politics and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, pp. 943–54. Cowling’s work has not been entirely ignored in the critical literature. Two important, if interim, studies can be found in Charles Covell, The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986) chapter 5, ‘Two Oakeshottians: Maurice Cowling and Shirley Robin Letwin’; and Ian Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics: The Thought of Maurice Cowling’, Political Science Reviewer, vol. 26, (1997), pp. 434–81. For all that, it is the dearth of serious consideration of his writings that is most noticeable; not their plenitude. 2. Surpassed among those of his own generation perhaps only by that of (fellow Oakeshottian) Elie Kedourie. His, complementary, contribution is best followed through key works such as Elie Kedourie, England and the Middle East: The Vital Years, 1914–1921 (London: Macmillan, 1956); Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1960); The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies, New York: Praeger, 1970); In the Anglo-Arab Labyrinth: The McMahon-Husayn Correspondence and Its Interpretations, 1914–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); The Crossman Confessions and Other Essays in Politics, History and Religion (London: Mansell, 1984); and Hegel and Marx: Introductory Lectures (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995). Important recent appreciations of Kedourie’s work (to which the present study is much indebted) include Sylvia Kedourie (ed.) Elie Kedourie, 1926–1992: History, Philosophy, Politics (London: Frank Cass, 1998); and Sylvia Kedourie (ed.) Elie Kedourie’s Approach to History and Political Theory: ‘The Thoughts and Actions of Living Men’ (London: Routledge, 2006). There are numerous references to Cowling scattered through the latter work. His own, important and illuminating, appreciation of Kedourie can be found in RPD I, chapter 10. The extent to which Kedourie was ever really an English historian is, of course, debatable. 3. Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963, henceforth NLPS); Maurice Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963, henceforth Mill); also Maurice Cowling, 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967, henceforth 1867); Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971, henceforth IL); Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933– 1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, henceforth IH); and Maurice Cowling (1980) Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. 1, henceforth RPD I ); Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Assaults (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, vol. 2, henceforth RPD II ); Maurice 9

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Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Accommodations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, vol. 3, henceforth RPD III ). The, ironic (?), comparison between this last work and earlier classics can be found on the dustwrapper of volume 3; a more serious consideration of its possibilities is outlined in Part III of this volume in Chapter 8 by S. J. D. Green, ‘As If Religion Mattered: An Alternative Reading of English Intellectual History Since c. 1840’. Another, edited work, Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978, henceforth CE) is considered elsewhere in this volume. Maurice Cowling, ‘Lytton, the Cabinet, and the Russians, August to November 1878’, The English Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 298, 1961, pp. 59–79. For Cowling’s literary journalism, consult the bibliography compiled by Peter Ghosh, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, henceforth PPD), pp. 345–51. 4. Precisely what Cowling meant by ‘the democratic régime’ is best followed through his own works, above all NLPS, pp. 189–202, and the ‘Introduction’ to IL, pp. 1–12. It is also considered in many of the articles that follow. Suffice to note here that it constituted something more than the ‘ultrademocratic theory’ envisaged by Bagehot and that altogether broader ‘equality of conditions’, described by Tocqueville. See Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, edited by Paul Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) especially chapter 6, pp. 104–5, 187–91; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delbra Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 3–10, 480–4, 535–9, 567– 76, 607–15. 5. For something approaching a general context, see chapters 34 to 39 of Michael Bentley (ed.) Companion to Historiography (London: Routledge, 1997). The general drift is admirably captured, and generally corroborated, in Lawrence Stone, The Past and the Present Revisited (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), part II. For a manifesto, see the various essays in Theda Skocpol (ed.) Vision and Method in Historical Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) especially chapters 1, 6, 7, 8 and 11. Some of the results are reflected upon in Victoria E. Bonnell and Lynn Hunt (eds) Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture (California: University of California Press, 1999) especially chapters 1, 2, 5 and 7. But this could go on forever. 6. For the beginnings of a – contemporary – philosophical attempt to come to terms with history, see Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002) chapter 10, especially pp. 241 ff; also Bernard Williams (edited by Myles Burnyeat) The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), especially chapter 24 at pp. 345–51; the legendary bad blood between 10

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Cowling and Williams need act as no bar to a sympathetic consideration of their (curiously shared) concerns. On the self-conscious re-evaluation of political science since the 1960s, it is interesting to compare Cowling’s NLPS first: with the essays contemporaneously collected in Herbert J. Storing (ed.) Essays on the Scientific Study of Politics (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1962), see especially Leo Strauss, ‘An Epilogue’, pp. 305–27; and then with the later reflections of Nevil Johnson, The Limits of Political Science (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); see especially chapters 1, 4 and 7. The overriding – and continuing – influence of Oakeshott is perhaps best now captured in studies collected and edited by Luke Sullivan, in Michael Oakeshott, What is History? And Other Essays (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2004), see especially chapters 1, 4, 5, 9, 11, 22 and 25. 7. For the most brazen statement of this bizarre argument, see Peter Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History: Mr Cowling’s Doctrine (1992)’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 273–321, especially pp. 300ff. Among those determined at least to remain polite, if not necessarily respectful, Norman Gash’s review of 1867, in ‘Reviews and Short Notices’, History, vol. 53, 1968, pp. 151–3, especially 151–2, furnishes a common example of conventional historians’ bafflement at Cowling’s (seemingly) ulterior purposes. Yet, even at the time, sympathetic and comprehending criticism was possible. For a rather more intelligent response to IL, see J. P. D. Dunbabin, ‘Review of Books’, English Historical Review, vol. 88, 1973, pp. 144–6. 8. In this respect, career options of philosopher, theologian and literary critic were all considered and dismissed; see Cowling interview recorded in the Institute of Historical Research Interviews with Historians DVD series. The real extent, and genuine limitations, of Cowling’s commitment to the academic vocation generally, and the historical profession particularly, was eloquently set out in Maurice Cowling, ‘Two Tiers for the Universities’, Spectator, vol. 222, no. 7353, 30 May 1969, pp. 716–17. 9. See, above all, Bentley, Companion to Historiography, especially chapters 35 and 36; Bonnell and Lynn, Beyond the Cultural Turn, especially chapters 1, 2 and 5. For a sample of the new, see the essays collected in Joseph Melling and Jonathan Barry (eds) Culture in History: Production, Consumption and Values in Historical Perspective (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1992); or, more bizarrely still, Michael Pickering, History, Experience and Cultural Studies (Houndsmills: Macmillan, 1997). This is not to argue against cultural history, tout court. For a striking example of what can be achieved, one that might even have won Cowling’s approval, see David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways to America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), especially his ‘Preface: An Idea of Cultural History’, pp. vii–xi, and 11

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10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

‘Conclusion’, pp. 783–898. And for the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel, David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), pp. 8–10. He is, indeed, a strikingly absent figure in those historiographical places where he might otherwise have been thought properly present. See, inter alia, Bentley, Companion to Historiography, op. cit.; G. R. Elton, Return to Essentials: Some Reflections on the Present State of Historical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); or even Jonathan Clark, Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History (London: Atlantic Books, 2003). Some of the reasons why are identified in a brilliant article by Richard Brent, ‘The Religion of Liberalism’, Cambridge Review, vol. 39, June 1985, p. 126. In the present volume, see the contributions of Minogue, ‘Liberalism, Conservatism and Oakeshott in Cowling’s Account of Public Doctrine’, and Bentley, ‘Butterfield, Cowling and Religion’, below on pp. 27–41 and 85–101, respectively. Soffer attempts a partial definition in History, Historians and Conservatism, chapter 1; her volume contains fleeting references to Cowling on pp. 181, 191 and 216. Much can be gained from the more closely related consideration of Covell in The Redefinition of Conservatism, pp. 209ff. The whole theme is discussed at greater length in Crowcroft, Green and Whiting, ‘Conclusion: The Impact of Cowling’ below, pp. 270–95. The event took place at the Weetwood Conference Centre in Leeds. The editors are grateful to many discussants for their informed contributions; most notably, Dr Owen Hartley. Bentley, PPD; in addition to the above-mentioned essay by Ghosh, it also included contributions from Bentley, Green, Harris, Parry and Williamson among those assembled here. The German for memorial volume is gedenkschrift. But this is not that kind of work either. On Cowling and Oakeshott, see Minogue, ‘Liberalism, Conservatism and Oakeshott in Cowling’s Account of Public Doctrine’, below. Oakeshott’s philosophy of history is developed at length in Michael Oakeshott, On History and Other Essays (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), chapters 1–3; also Oakeshott, What is History? chapters 1, 4, 5, 9, 11 and 22. For Kedourie, see note 2 above.

12

Chapter 1

Maurice Cowling: A Brief Life Jonathan Parry

A visitor to Maurice Cowling’s rooms in Peterhouse at any point in his last 20 years there would have been confronted with alarming towers of envelopes and plastic bags, each labelled with a name. These collections of photocopies and scribbled notes were the raw material for the individual essays that made up the three volumes of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. ‘I’m doing X’, was invariably how he described this task, usually followed by an unprintable epithet about the unfortunate writer in question. It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached the task of ‘doing’ Maurice for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This essay is a slightly revised version of that entry, reprinted by the kind permission of Oxford University Press. It is not, therefore, a personal memoir, though it seems most appropriate here to refer to him as ‘Maurice’, since everyone in his world always did.1 Maurice was born in the London suburb of West Norwood on 6 September 1926. His father Reginald (1901–62), who had left school at 15, was technical assistant to a patent agent. Industrious and keen on detail, he was ‘rational, socially uneasy, [and] politically Conservative’.2 Qualifying as a patent agent in 1929, he worked with the same firm until, in 1944, he set up in practice on his own, with his wife as bookkeeper. Reginald and his wife May also had a younger daughter. The family soon moved to Streatham and in 1937 Maurice won a place at Battersea Grammar School, being evacuated with it in wartime to Worthing and then Hertford. In August 1943 he gained a major scholarship to read history at Jesus College Cambridge. After his firstyear exams in 1944 he was called up for war service. Attached to the 13

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Queen’s Royal Regiment, he was sent to Bangalore as an officer-cadet in 1945. In 1946 he was assigned to the Kumaon regiment and travelled to various garrisons across India; the following year he was redeployed to Egypt as a camp adjutant and then to Libya as a captain. He saw no military action. He returned to Cambridge in January 1948 and completed his history degree in 18 months, taking Firsts in Part I in 1948 and in Part II in 1949. He also rowed enthusiastically for the college, including at Henley, aided by a strong physique which he maintained well into later life. These early experiences shaped him permanently. The ferociously hard-working grammar-school boy never lost his respect for the respectable, aspirational values of the lower-middle-class suburbs. Then, arriving in Cambridge in mid-war, he fell under the spell of ‘three Anglican reactionaries’, the history dons Kenneth Pickthorn, Edward Welbourne and Charles Smyth, who reinforced his disdain for self-righteous liberal-left values. Smyth introduced him to the views of E. C. Hoskyns, that reason could not grasp, or effectively attack, the mystical core of the Christian religion, and also impressed on Maurice – who was already fascinated by power – the historical importance of religion in upholding intellectual and political regimes. He developed a ‘strong polemical Christianity’ and briefly considered ordination.3 Finally, his years in the army broadened his social experience, deepened his admiration for and curiosity about the processes of imperial rule, and loosened his vocabulary (to permanent effect – four-letter Anglo-Saxonisms were to be important and sometimes disconcerting elements in his academic self-presentation). After graduation he registered to write a Ph.D. on the policy and politics of British India 1860–90, and spent time in 1950–1 studying in Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay. With the support of his college mentor Charles Wilson and on the basis of a paper about the economic policy of Bartle Frere as governor of Bombay in the 1860s, he was elected to a research fellowship at Jesus, which he held until 1953. But he abandoned the doctorate, though some of the research appeared in a Manchester Guardian feature of July 1954 and an academic article of 1961 on the origins of the Afghan war of 1878, which emphasized the intrigues of key individuals such as Salisbury and Lytton.4 Instead, he 14

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started to read widely in nineteenth-century thought and began to write a trenchant critique of the liberal historian Lord Acton. He fell in with a faction in the university that sought to challenge the developing liberal-left postwar consensus, becoming influenced particularly by Herbert Butterfield of Peterhouse and Michael Oakeshott of Caius. Maurice adored the idea and reality of Cambridge and was bitterly disappointed at having to leave in 1953. Having attended Jesus College chapel regularly, he now ceased to be a practising Anglican, though he later claimed to experience ‘no recession in certainty about Christianity’.5 A research fellowship at Reading (1953–4) convinced him that he did not want to lecture in a ‘provincial’ university. He won late entry to the Foreign Office, working for six months on the Jordan desk. In 1955 he became a leader writer on The Times for a year before being sacked. Later he worked more briefly and no more successfully on the Daily Express and Daily Telegraph, since he would not compromise on either the rebarbativeness of his views or the complexity of his prose style. However, he made close friendships with hard-hitting conservative minded journalists such as Peregrine Worsthorne, Colin Welch, Henry Fairlie and T. E. Utley, as well as his undergraduate contemporary George Gale, and these helped to shape his conception of politics. At the 1959 election he sought a political career, as Conservative candidate for the Labour seat of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, but was again a failure, finding the blandness and small-talk required especially challenging. Throughout these years he returned frequently to Cambridge and began to supervise undergraduates at the weekends, with great success. Eventually, convinced that he should write books, he moved back to the city permanently, teaching at one stage for 40 hours a week. In 1960 Wilson arranged for him to be director of studies in economics and politics at Jesus, and in 1961 he became university assistant lecturer in history. In 1963 he moved from Jesus to Peterhouse at the invitation of Butterfield, the master there. He remained in the history faculty until he took early retirement in 1988 (being promoted to reader in 1975) and a fellow of Peterhouse until he retired in 1993. In two short books of 1963 he worked out his major intellectual concerns since the late 1940s. Mill and Liberalism was less a scholarly 15

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study of John Stuart Mill than a polemic against ‘liberalism’ and ‘the liberal mind’. Maurice’s most fundamental hostility was to liberal writers who argued that reason and abstract secular good intentions could create a more beneficent society. He thought them ignorant of human behaviour, unwilling to admit the self-interestedness of their own prejudices, and self-deceiving about their ability to smooth away the conflicts that would always remain inherent in society and politics. They could not see that their views were no more authoritative, no more tolerant of alternatives and no more likely to ensure social stability than traditional (usually Christian) attitudes that they dismissed as blinkered but that had underpinned national solidarity for centuries. His resentment of the naïveté and power of the liberal intelligentsia remained lifelong: a key event for him had been its fervent opposition to the use of force, and its faith in the United Nations, during the Suez crisis of 1956. A contributing factor to this hostility may have been an outsider’s anger at the ease with which well-connected but less rigorous minds secured plum jobs in academe and journalism and then paraded idealistic views that seemed to be influenced more by guilt at their own privileges than by real-life knowledge. His critics, however, considered that anger misplaced, believing that he was his own worst enemy. He certainly relished plain speaking, and though he later mellowed, his standard conversational technique was well captured by the advice that he once gave, to use ‘irony, geniality and malice as solvents of enthusiasm, virtue and political elevation’.6 The Nature and Limits of Political Science, published a few months earlier, was an Oakeshottian critique of the disciplines of political science and political philosophy. It argued that social science’s claim to offer accurate analysis of human behaviour was bogus, and that the political process was far too complex and fluid to be rationalized by theorists and was fully intelligible only to those within the system. Though he later dismissed much of the book as crude, his subsequent work owed a lot to the central insight that the art of politics could not be reduced to the shorthand formulae that politicians themselves, and most historians, used to explain motivation. For the next 12 years he worked very hard to produce three books on British history, which set out to challenge the notion that politicians 16

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responded straightforwardly to either electoral opinion or rational principles. The Impact of Labour: 1920–1924 (1971) and The Impact of Hitler: 1933–1940 (1975) followed 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (1967). The books emphasized contingency and complexity, arguing that political ‘actors’ acted ‘situationally’. Politicians should be seen as responding creatively to the opportunities and constraints produced by day-to-day events, much more than to long-term planning or external pressures. His 1867, particularly, was a landmark in the writing of Victorian political history, one of a number of big books of the mid1960s that significantly professionalized the subject. In his case this was done by close attention to numerous archival collections of letters and diaries, on the grounds that these were the best guides to politicians’ motives. More contentiously, the volumes challenged established liberal-left readings of key moments in modern British history, such as the assumption that popular agitation prompted the major extension of the franchise in 1867, or that it was inevitable that a Labour government would emerge shortly after the First World War. The Impact of Hitler suggested that the guarantee to Poland in March 1939 was the result of a high-political calculation swayed by illinformed intelligentsia indignation, and that it led Britain to fight a war on unsuitable terms that permanently weakened its power. Maurice’s seriousness as a historian was often underestimated, since one element of his assault on the solemnity of bien-pensant academics was to insist that professional history was an illusion since all history reflected authorial bias. But this did not mean – as his detractors suggested – that writing was just a game. Rather, proper history should involve significant personal reflection on some major problem of human society. Serious academics embarked on a never-ending journey to tackle such questions; certainly he saw himself in that light. By the 1970s he conceived his task as understanding the interrelationship of practical politics and ideas, his two lifelong fascinations. Conscious that social stability could never be taken for granted, he became more aware of the difficulties and challenges of political leadership. As the trilogy developed, there was more emphasis on politicians’ public language and the role played by a ‘clerisy’ of writers and newspaper editors in shaping the dominant mood. He became irritated by 17

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frequent criticisms that his work, and that of a small number of pupils and colleagues who followed his techniques and who were dubbed the ‘Peterhouse’ or ‘high political’ school, ignored the role of ideas in politics. In response to one such critique, by Peter Clarke in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977, he claimed that it was because ‘I attach the greatest significance to the “role of ideas” that I have been so greatly obsessed by the problem of finding an accurate way of showing how they operate in practice’. He announced that, having made his points about the complexity of political practice, the way to shed the most light on ‘the development of public policy, political action and the public mind’ was now by an ‘investigation on the broadest front possible of the complicated relationship between politics, religion, scholarship, art, literature and morality which has been the basis for all public doctrine in England in the past century and a quarter’.7 That was a manifesto for the rest of his life’s work. To this end, he toyed with a number of book ideas, but the only output was a three-volume enquiry into the significance of views about religion for that public doctrine. Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England occupied 25 years, and the last volume had to be reduced from 700,000 words before publication in 2001. It became all-engrossing because Maurice found the process of studying for it much more congenial than the tiring archival visits of the previous 15 years. He spent his days in his college rooms, muscularly grappling with books, indeed often physically ripping them apart. Made up of hundreds of essays on the thought of individuals, the work neither engaged with other scholarship nor developed an interpretive model for understanding modern Britain. However, it asserted the centrality of religion to post1840 English culture, sought to rescue unfashionable approaches, demonstrated that opponents of traditional Christianity usually retained crucial religious assumptions and prejudices, and suggested that secularization had been neither straightforward, rapid nor complete. It reflected his conception of intellectual life as a relentless conflict between individual minds, most of which were less coherent, original and effective than they supposed themselves to be. He had long lost his adolescent Christian mysticism, and defenders of orthodoxy as well as their assailants were subjected to pithy provocative 18

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irony. He made clear that his admiration of the former was based mainly on the quality of their enmity towards the latter. His day-to-day life reflected his belief that the academy was an arena for the development, assertion and clash of opinions. That was the point of his undergraduate teaching style over 35 years, which was charismatic but never dogmatic. Indeed, it is possible, in retrospect, that his opinions on many issues were less fully developed than his forthright criticism of other writers suggested. He usually conducted supervisions after dinner, in an ageing green dressing gown. Inspired by whisky, and deploying an amused squint to devastating effect, he swore at priggishness and naive solemnity, but by example led undergraduates to think and talk properly about ideas. He ridiculed all attempts to parrot the views of established authorities, making it clear that ‘the great and the good’ were usually neither. But he also prescribed an extraordinary variety of books, including much Marxist and postmodernist criticism. For all the stage groaning at his pupils’ inanities, his impish playfulness revealed an unusual tolerance for and interest in their own opinions. His approach offended some of the more arrogant and panicked some of the less imaginative, but generated great affection in those willing to examine their illusions and look at the world through keener eyes. He thus became a guru to receptive young men throughout the university. Peterhouse was already a strong college for history but he made it the most intellectually serious in Cambridge. Though his approach was very different from that of Neil McKendrick, who turned Caius into the unrivalled First factory for history, Maurice had considerable respect for McKendrick as a teacher, as he did for Geoffrey Elton at Clare as a no-nonsense scholar of polemical seriousness. However J. H. Plumb at Christ’s, who won money and fame from the subject, was someone whom he could not take seriously. Though he had no objection to doing so, Maurice for his part never made money from history, or indeed from anything else. He had little time for the solemnities of professional academic life. He never went to conferences and hardly to seminars. He delivered his lectures in a monotone. Believing that colleges were the core institutions of Oxbridge, he intervened in Faculty politics only if he could find a foolish reform to oppose. Promotion, therefore, was not 19

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rapid. He was neither very willing nor very competent as a Ph.D. supervisor. Telling students to ignore secondary work except if it could be ridiculed, to head straight for the archives in search of inspiration, and to complicate the narrative as much as possible was an unsuccessful strategy: few of those he advised completed a thesis. His taste for conflict greatly increased divisiveness within the Peterhouse governing body, to the alarm of Butterfield, who had governed more effectively as an autocrat. Maurice was addicted to schemes, and his artless openness about them, his tendency to overplay them, and his sheepish amusement when they misfired, were endearingly Hancockian. For 12 years after Butterfield’s retirement in 1968 his conservative party dominated the college, mainly by preventing almost all new permanent appointments. Key to this strategy was the election of two aged and conservative masters, and in an attempt to pull off the same trick Maurice secured the post for Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre, in 1980. Ideologically, this was not the error that was often alleged. Dacre was not a natural reformer, and when he left Peterhouse in 1987 it was more out of touch with the Cambridge mainstream than it had been in 1980. The admission of women in 1984 was not his initiative but the result of a volte-face by the Cowling party undertaken for academic reasons, and on their own terms, once the intellectual quality of arts undergraduates began to decline (now that most other colleges had gone mixed). The difficulties between Cowling and Dacre stemmed instead from Maurice’s assumption that Dacre was as addicted to conspiracy and oppositional politics as he was – a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially once Dacre became bored with the social and cultural insularity of the college. The result was a long-running and increasingly public slanging-match, which both men found immensely life-enhancing.8 Throughout these years Maurice retained his interest in politics and journalism. He sat as a Conservative on Cambridgeshire County Council from 1966 to 1970. When Gale became editor of the Spectator in 1970 Maurice became literary editor, writing several pieces critical of the Conservative leader Edward Heath and his pro-EEC policy. However, he resigned in 1971 after an internal office row, when the acting editor, in Gale’s absence, refused to publish Maurice’s protest against 20

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his publication of an article by Tony Palmer that claimed that the significant question about Princess Anne was whether she had had sex. At this time Maurice was broadly a Powellite, opposed to extra government expenditure, taxation and European entry. He wanted a blunt defence of the social order, social inequality and the traditional ‘stabilities and decencies of English political life’ against government interference.9 Maurice was often stated to have considerable influence on the direction of Conservative thought in the 1970s and 1980s, either personally or in association with academic and political co-conspirators in and beyond Peterhouse. The college was widely regarded as a conservative seminary, partly because several of Maurice’s pupils went to work for the Conservative Research Department or for Conservative newspapers. Maurice himself became a more active propagandist in the late 1970s, helping to found the Salisbury Group, which aimed to provide a forum for serious discussion of Conservative political philosophy, and editing a collection of Conservative Essays (1978). He approved of the general direction and tone of the Thatcher governments, but Conservative Essays was in part a warning to the party not to place too much emphasis on rigorous laissez-faire doctrines, which he called ‘Jacobin’ and which he felt were likely to be expressed in too unrestrained and socially divisive a manner. He saw Hayek, and many of the philosophical converts to Thatcherism, as painfully earnest and doctrinaire social scientists with narrowly economic preoccupations who lacked perspective, worldly wisdom and tactical skill. On Mrs Thatcher’s only visit to Peterhouse, to address a Conservative gathering in 1977, she allegedly waved his intervention aside with the remark that ‘we don’t want pessimists in our party’.10 Later, still anxious to prick illusions, pomposity and earnestness, he denied that the ‘New Right’ had been very original or that Mrs Thatcher had transformed Britain, since governments could achieve little. He also denied intellectual influence for himself, claiming instead that his various political interventions over 30 years had merely reflected the ‘suburban, backwoods and provincial opinion’ that was ‘the core and heart of English Conservatism’.11 Maurice’s academic and other writings helped to make newspaper 21

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commentary on politics much more sophisticated during his lifetime, an achievement that he shared with his like-minded journalist friends – Frank Johnson, Patrick Cosgrave and Charles Moore as well as Gale, Worsthorne, Welch and Utley. Though in term-time he maintained a bachelor lifestyle in Peterhouse rooms, in the vacations he lived with Gale and his wife in their houses in Wivenhoe, Essex, and then Tattingstone, Suffolk. He also rented a flat in Albany, London, from Peterhouse, the landlord. The main attractions of Wivenhoe and Tattingstone were political gossip, poker and the salon run by Gale’s wife Pat. She and Gale were divorced in 1983. Maurice married her in 1996, though they had been lovers for decades previously; he was always particularly close to her youngest son. On leaving Peterhouse, he and Pat retired to Caswell Bay on the Gower Peninsula, and he hardly set foot in the college again, reflecting his iron will and lack of nostalgia. On becoming Olin Visiting Professor of Religion at Columbia University in 1989, he discovered the ideological and financial attractiveness of parts of the American university system. In 1993 his admirer Hilton Kramer arranged for him to be Distinguished Service Professor at Adelphi University. Unfortunately a heart attack at Adelphi in 1996 led to retirement from Adelphi and a triple bypass operation in 1997. From this point he lived almost entirely in Wales, especially after a second bout of illness in 2002 which left him weak. Quiet domestic life was no hardship to him, for though always willing to be sociable he was at his most content in a room with lots of books, the telephone and whisky for the evenings. He died in Swansea on 24 August 2005.12 How should Maurice’s legacy be assessed? He would have made fun of the question, partly because he would have thought it pompous, but also because he often said that no historical book worth writing could hope to ‘last’ for more than ten years. This judgement reflected his belief that books were interesting for their opinions and that the process of academic disputation would quickly undermine them. Moreover, as noted above, he had no time for the technicalities of what is now called postgraduate ‘training’, and much less interest in a ‘school’ of followers than his critics imagined. In fact he was much more pleased when his protégés showed real signs of intellectual independence. 22

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Though he encouraged some of the students whom he influenced, including me, to tackle the relationship between politics and ideas, and though he was extremely loyal to us, I have always wondered whether Maurice entirely approved of the outcomes. Perhaps they moved a little too far away from the muddled realities of day-to-day politics to satisfy his sceptical mind. The grand synthesis that at one stage he wanted to construct proved elusive, and perhaps unattainable. Maurice’s genius as a teacher was as a critic: in showing the young that the pieties that were trotted out by most undergraduates, and most scholars, were inane. That was why he appealed to the subversive element in any self-respecting 19-year-old. Ultimately the same is true of his history: though a good deal of the scholarship is highly professional and of lasting significance, its most valuable trait is to provoke us and to make us question lazy and comfortable assumptions. I suspect that, if he were in the prime of life today, he would react against the increasing focus of so much modern historical research on ‘soft’ themes such as culture and representation. Instead, he would stress the brutal truth that most political passions – and many political ideas – are motivated by feelings of class, resentment, insecurity and disapproval, and probably motivated by these things more than by the simple ambition that so many of his critics charge him with stressing. Maurice, at root, was a Tory Marxist jester with a sharp eye for absurdities and pretensions. With age one realizes how valuable and rare such figures are, in a world where both politicians and academics take themselves so very seriously. Notes 1. The entry for Maurice Cowling in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was published online in January 2009. I was an undergraduate and graduate student at Peterhouse from 1975 to 1981 and a Fellow from 1981 to 1989. In fact I was never actually taught by Maurice, though he took me under his wing when I started to express an interest in postgraduate work and gave me enormous support over the next decade. Over the years, many people have shared their recollections of Maurice with me; for help in writing this piece I am particularly grateful to Richard Brent, Richard Fisher, Ian Harris, Boyd Hilton, Patrick Higgins, Andrew Jones, John Vincent and Philip Williamson, as well as to Lawrence Goldman at the ODNB. 2. Cowling, RPD I, p. xviii. 23

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3. Naim Attallah (ed.) Singular Encounters (London: Quartet Books, 1990), p. 129. For the ‘three Anglican reactionaries’, see RPD I, pp. 47–96. 4. Maurice Cowling, ‘War against Russia: A Suppressed Episode of 1876–7’, Manchester Guardian, 16 July 1954; Cowling (1961) ‘Lytton, the Cabinet, and the Russians, August to November 1878’, The English Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 298, pp. 59–79. 5. Cowling, RPD I, p. xvii. 6. Cowling, Mill, p. xxx. 7. Times Literary Supplement, 3 June 1977, p. 680, reprinted in PPD, p. 343. 8. Dacre’s anonymous obituary in The Times pointed out that the supporters of his election to the mastership ‘expected his rancorousness to add to the gaiety of the SCR’ (The Times, 27 January 2003). It was possibly no coincidence that Maurice – who was well-connected in The Times obituary department – complimented Dacre on the ‘goads and spurs’ produced by ‘the brilliance of his rancorousness’ in the proof copy of the Foreword to RPD II. Cambridge University Press, fearing legal consequences, then decided to replace the word ‘rancorousness’ at considerable expense, when the book was already bound, and Maurice compromised on the slightly more emollient ‘enmities’. 9. Letter, The Times, 14 June 1968. 10. PPD, p. 288 n. 78. 11. Letter, Independent on Sunday, 10 October 1993. 12. Obituaries appeared in The Times, 26 August 2005, Daily Telegraph, 26 August 2005, and Independent, 6 September 2005.

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PART I THE PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

Chapter 2

Liberalism, Conservatism and Oakeshott in Cowling’s Account of Public Doctrine Kenneth Minogue

Maurice Cowling’s three volumes on Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England are a somewhat eccentric exercise in intellectual history – eccentric because of a very large component of autobiography and personal judgement, things which are part of their charm. The work is certainly an epic contribution to the genre. More importantly, it is a contribution to the analysis of our civilization. Let me begin, then, by the rather perilous expedient of summarizing what I take this analysis to be. The expedient is perilous because Cowling was a subtle and allusive character, and would commonly jeer at any version of what he was saying advanced by others. His ghost is already at my shoulder, muttering: ‘what flat-footed stuff!’ Until recent times, discussion of public issues and social life in Britain1 took its bearings from the Christian convictions of our civilization. Christianity was thus ‘doctrine’ in the Cowlingite sense of belief accorded a certain public authority. Doctrine in this special meaning was to be contrasted with ‘opinion’, which covered any other set of beliefs about human action. In earlier times, these opinions would be judged in terms of, and as peripheral to, the central Christian understanding of English life. Underlying this distinction between doctrine and opinion was Cowling’s more abstract view that religion lies at the heart of any civilization. Religion is central because it is the set of beliefs and practices that locate any particular society such as England 27

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both as one society among similar others, and as subject to the laws and powers that make it whatever it is. Yet, in the course of the nineteenth century, Christian doctrine lost its central role in British public life, and the result was that discussion of public affairs became an unfocused competition between, almost an anarchy of, opinions on political and social issues. This is what Cowling, following Carlyle, calls ‘public doctrine’. It was the creation of politicians, journalists and, more recently, of university teachers. Such an efflorescence of opinion was part of a wider movement of ‘secularization’ of British society, in which Christian belief first mediated into ‘Morality’ (with the Victorians) and much more generally into Unbelief among many in the twentieth century. This outpouring of general views was an object of self-congratulation among most publicists as expressing the freedom of ‘liberal values’. Cowling had no time for liberal values, and particularly disliked the way in which university teachers under the banner of freedom of expression tried to influence the public mind. ‘A society’, he observed about what he more generally called ‘doctrine’, ‘ought to have opinions about which there is no fundamental disagreement and in relation to which it is not the business of universities to adopt a liberalizing or questioning attitude’.2 Quite what this means is the broad question that I am addressing, but we may immediately suggest that Cowling is, among other things, distinguishing between whatever opinions we happen to hold at any given time on the one hand, and the basic thoughts and feelings that constitute our identity on the other. Beliefs come and go; they are creatures of the moment, but doctrine is commitment and allegiance. It emerges from a past that predates the individual and will outlast him. One might well invoke Burke’s contrast between the contented cattle of a society and the quarrelsome self-important grasshoppers. If a society is nothing else but a jumble of grasshopper opinions tumbling forth, then it would seem to lack communal unity, and without some sharing of thoughts and feelings constituting (in this case) Englishness, the individuals of whom it is constituted do not participate in a real public world. In such a public world, individuals talk to each other, form associations, share in a range of pleasures and activities, quarrel, sustain 28

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a political life and engage in all the other activities we associate with modern states. But this cannot really happen unless the members of this national association take a considerable number of things for granted. No doubt much of this common ground is so implicit that people seldom give it much attention, but it must certainly exist, and if it is eroded, then so too is the viability of the nation. The set of things taken for granted is in part what Cowling means by ‘religion’. Ideally, people should also admire, and perhaps despise, many of the same things. In being English, in particular, they must share in a kind of Burkean romance constructed out of their national past as a historical society. They are links in a chain connecting past with the future. It is this contrast that Cowling seems to invoke in his contempt for ‘liberal values’, and the contrast between liberalism and conservatism will later become central to my ‘take’ on him. But first I want to focus on Cowling’s treatment of Michael Oakeshott in the first volume of the trilogy. Oakeshott is one of the ‘recession’ figures in this most autobiographical part of the trilogy. Cowling knew Oakeshott well, and admired him, so that Cowling’s critical stance is more than a mere clash of opinions. It is a matter of temperaments and methods colliding.

ŒŒ Oakeshott was a man who, to a fault, found most things in the world amusing. He valued all individualities as intelligent responses to some interpretation of the world. Always considerate and helpful in character, he was nonetheless splendidly insensitive to the anxieties and neuroses of those he encountered, of whose often insecure grip on reality he was little aware. He shared with Cowling a certain indifference to the way the world thought of him, and the reason was that he was not only a philosopher, but philosophical to his finger tips. And it was this emphasis on philosophy that ultimately made him a disappointment to Cowling. By contrast, Cowling was someone who delighted in discovering what people were ‘up to’. The ‘placid malice’ of the academic world thus gave him a perfect field of action for his propensity to expose, 29

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debunk and deride. He was impatient of the parade of rationality and the self-importance exhibited by many of his colleagues in the donnish arena. Above all, he deplored their weakness for uplift, and the concealment of what they were actually trying to do, which was usually to have some kind of political influence. It was for this reason that he was impatient with the anti-totalitarian response to communism throughout the cold war period. For one thing, it was obvious what Marxists were up to, and this made them absurd rather than threatening figures. For another, Cowling took the view that in one sense, Marx was right about class war in the modern world; the point was merely how one ought to conduct it. Marxism, he often said, was true, but trivial. And we may well suspect that Cowling was also averse to waging an intellectual cold war because he did not want to join anyone else’s ‘gang’. What the communists did to the Russians was not, in his view, any of our business. The only real question was whether, and how, the Soviets might be a threat to the national interest of the British. The conventional academic logic of Cowling’s time was the distinction between facts and values, as supposedly revealing the logical difference between theory and practice. In fact, of course, you don’t need explicit value proposition to influence thought and action. Statements of fact can convey a pretty clear message about what ought to be done. The shout of ‘fire!’ in a public building is not at all evaluative, but people instantly know what they had better do. It is particularly true of history that an assemblage of material about past times may constitute a practical argument feeding into current controversies. The moral and emotional attitudes of the reader will do the rest. Cowling believed that history had, in anti-Christian apologetics in recent times, sustained ‘two aggressive opinions’. The first was that biblical hermeneutics had substituted a human for a divine Jesus. The second was that the modern world since the Renaissance was a liberation from the authority of Christianity.3 Cowling insisted on what he often called a ‘subjective’ element in the writing of history. He agreed with Collingwood in affirming the highly ambiguous formula that ‘all history is contemporary history’. But he was also quite likely to turn to the other side of the fact/value distinction, by insisting (as I interpret him) that although conservatism 30

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is an evaluative attitude, its emphasis on how political problems have arisen, along with its possibilities for irony and debunking of radical proposals, was in some degree a form of what the philosophers of science in the mid-twentieth century were calling ‘discovery procedures’. An attention to the ‘historical source’ of something currently construed as a political problem would help one not only to explain it, but also, on occasion, to generate sensible advice about what should be done about it. If we put together what I have so far said about Cowling, then we shall find a historian deeply preoccupied with religion: not merely religion as central to the character of any civilization, but also with Christianity as a specific religion. The problem posed by ‘public doctrine’ in the modern world was thus that in many of the influential writers Cowling discusses, we find a great silence. I may be forgiven for observing that the current cliché to make this general point is to say that religion is the ‘elephant in the room’ of contemporary discussion. Instead of a concern with basic human things, we have a remarkable silence, a kind of vacancy. How do we explain it? There is one explicit reason why religion might have dropped out of public discussion: namely, many people no longer believed it. The process of secularization meant that many people had discarded the sacred half of the secular/sacred distinction on the ground that it was merely a superstitious survival from less enlightened times. That explanation would leave us with two problems. The first is what is left of Cowling’s view that religion is the central core of public discussion. And the second is that if Christianity has disappeared from this scene, has something else taken its place? For the point of religion is that it constitutes the identity of a people. Where, then, has identity gone? Or perhaps, has it just gone? Let us then consider, with these questions in mind, how Cowling treats Oakeshott. As he does with other writers, Cowling begins by restoring what he takes to be a concealed dimension of Oakeshott’s work. Like most academics, Oakeshott was sometimes given to indulging in waspish asides about opinions he thought barely worth taking seriously. His first book Experience and its Modes was admired by Cowling as the source of many ‘learned and subtle provocations’ and 31

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combined ‘explicit philosophy and polemical enmity’. It was Oakeshott’s philosophical idealism that was part of that ‘subtle, bloody apodeictic relentlessness’ that had given him his place among English men of letters. It gave him, wrote Cowling, a ‘licence to say what he thought about anything he “felt obliged” to say about it’, and after 1945, when Oakeshott was editing the Cambridge Journal, his opinions were not merely conservative, but virtually party political. Oakeshott’s philosophy was above all directed against the ‘theoretical innocence’ of public doctrine in the 1920s.4 And what was this ‘theoretical innocence?’ It was the Oxford realist doctrine that scientists, or practical men, or indeed historians could report the world as it actually was. In Oakeshott’s view, this was not a possible way of perceiving the world because the objects the world contained had no essential character, just there, ready to be grasped. We understand the world in terms of the questions we ask of it, or (to put it more in the language of psychology) the drives governing our conduct as we confront the world. ‘A rose is a rose is a rose’ famously asserted Gertrude Stein, but not for Oakeshott, for whom a rose was ‘whatever the object might be understood to be’ – a beautiful thing, a plant, an instances of some universal, an item in a catalogue or a symbol of my love, or indeed many other things. There was no essential thing – the rose – waiting there ready to be understood in a variety of ways; every perception was an interpretation. The world could only be perceived, then, in terms of one ‘modality’ or another. A modality was a logic or discipline governing the way we might think of any particular field, and there might be an indefinite number of them. The ones that Oakeshott himself explored, however, were much more limited: practice, science, history and (a late addition made in The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind) art. Each of these modes was an abstract and therefore limited world, and philosophy was both the study of the conditions of these modalities and the project of making some synoptic sense of the world in terms of what the modalities reveal to us. And where, one might ask, did religion fit into this scheme? The answer was that, although Oakeshott had begun well (as Cowling saw it) by publishing a number of pieces that took religion seriously, by the time he was analysing Experience and its Modes, Oakeshott had 32

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consigned religion to the mode of practice. It was indeed, an especially important part of practice, but it did not have the salience in our civilization that Cowling wanted to accord it. He was disappointed that Oakeshott, in his ‘hostility to liberalism, positivism and highmindedness which [he] shared with Smyth and Butterfield … did not carry their affirmative opinions with it’.5 Interestingly enough, his reaction merely echoed that of Irving Kristol, the godfather of American neo-conservatism. Kristol, as co-editor of Encounter back in 1956, had rejected Oakeshott on rationalism, in spite of greatly admiring it, because Oakeshott’s ‘conservative disposition is real enough but without the religious dimension, it is thin gruel’.6 And what this makes clear, I think, is the disagreement about method found in Cowling’s (and Kristol’s) view of Oakeshott. The latter was a philosopher, putting together the experience of a civilization into a rational form. The question then becomes: what is it that Cowling was up to?

ŒŒ The basic answer is that Cowling was concerned with the practical question of finding a commitment that would restore a sense of national identity to British life. Such a commitment would find expression in the doctrinal centrality that should at least be culturally accorded in European states to Christianity, but which no longer corresponded to the actual beliefs and some current practices of the English. Like many of his contemporaries, Cowling wanted to restore a sense of the romance of the English political and moral tradition. The fact is, I think, that most people lead lives of doomed romance – involving a person, an institution, a movement, sometimes an idea – and sometimes the emotion of an ideal is invested in more than one object. Cowling the realist was also the exponent of an ideal attachment to England and its history. England as an idea had long attracted many people who, in the period after 1945, discovered (as we all commonly do in romance) that the object of their passion did not correspond to the reality of its conduct. So comprehensive an ideal allegiance – to une certaine idée de l’Angleterre, as one might say – could find many exemplars, but the one that appealed most to Cowling was 33

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the Third Marquess of Salisbury who, before first becoming prime minister in 1885 (a position he held intermittently until 1902), had had to write for a living, and expressed many of the anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic opinions with which Cowling enjoyed shocking some of his contemporaries. The problem, however, was a very general one. Britain after 1945 was becoming a different country, partly in response to the power of a socialist romance that came to override for many people the more romantic version of the English past. The result was that the socialized and democratized classlessness of Britain could no longer sustain the dominant moral ideal of the gentleman. The retreat from empire necessitated the abandonment of moral responsibilities and commitments in favour of expediency – something that particularly preoccupied Cowling’s friend Elie Kedourie (who was also one of the subjects of volume I). The immigration of non-Christians to Britain destroyed the homogeneity of a culturally distinct Britain and led to a multicultural society without national identity, a society indistinguishable in this respect from other European states. These new circumstances increasingly justified an extension of state regulatory power that threatened the place of individual integrity in British life. Such virtues as courage, prudence and self-reliance came to be valued rather less than compassion and altruism.7 This was one of the issues that Margaret Thatcher tried to address in the administrations of 1979 and after. These trends, in Cowling’s view, signified the collapse of a national identity that was recognized in the abandonment of much British sovereign authority to what became the European Union. The politician Enoch Powell, whom Cowling admired, immolated himself in a protest against this drift, and it should, I think, be recognized as central to Cowling’s view of the modern world. For Cowling, the large problem was the restoration of national identity to Britain, and he was not very sanguine about solving it, for he understood very well why Oakeshott absorbed religion into the mode of practice. He still regretted Oakeshott’s silence on the very problem that so preoccupied him, observing that this ‘silence was as deafening as in Collingwood, and for the same reason philosophically, that religion had become everything men do’.8 But this silence merely 34

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pushes the more general question about religion to the fore. The secularization process in Britain over the last century and more (to the extent to which we recognize it as a reality) has taken the form of an attack on the abstraction ‘religion’ rather than on the concrete religion of Christianity, allowing rationalist critics to think that in rejecting Christianity, they have disposed of religion in general. But have they? ‘By religion’, Cowling asserts in the introduction to volume III, ‘is meant the attribution of sanctity to existence and a duty to maximize sanctity into practice, whether the practice is personal, liturgical or political’.9 The question Cowling then poses is ‘whether any ratification of belief and practice can avoid being religious … and [can avoid] filling the space filled previously by historic religion.’ And as he earlier puts it: In examining the post-Christian consensus, the argument will be that the intensity of assumption which in England went previously into Christian thought now goes into post-Christian thought and that the normal assumption in very modern England (certainly since the late 1960s) is that public statements should be silently secular, whether the secularism is academic, aesthetic, scientific, political or religious.10 Such is what Cowling describes as ‘the post-Christian consensus’.

ŒŒ The question for Cowling thus becomes: how is it that we have lost this basic structure of public understanding? How do we explain the collapse of focus in modern public life? The broad answer to that question is to be found in the diffusion of the complex thing he calls ‘liberalism’, which is the intellectual engine that has played the role of an anti-religion over the last few centuries.. What, then, is liberalism? The term of course, was an early nineteenth-century import from Spain, and signified an open minded attitude above narrow prejudices. It was thus a way of formulating the basic European, and especially Anglophone, value of freedom. It called on a background of Whiggism 35

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and Enlightenment thought, and came in England particularly to be associated with ideas of free trade. In its narrower sense, it was coordinate with competing ways of conceiving of politics, such as conservatism and socialism, but its association with freedom caused it, in time, to be juxtaposed against any of the coercive ideologies popular in the twentieth century. This particularly happened in the United States, where socialists and communists could usefully describe their views as ‘liberal’, with the suggestion that they were (unlike Republicans) above narrow sectarianism or dogmatic hostility to governmental regulation. As giving a respectable veneer on occasion to left-wing opinions, it was virtually a form of camouflage. Liberals were certainly hostile to Nazis, Fascists and Communists, but this hostility was strikingly asymmetrical. Nazis and Fascists were unambiguously bad, but the evil of communism could be thought merely collateral to its good intentions. Communists at least wanted a better, more equal society. The turning of this rhetorical flank became the basis of a further development of liberalism, so that it came to be identified with any decent moral opinion. Liberalism thus became a movement for spreading what one can only, with unavoidable vagueness, call ‘niceness’. Liberals hated everything that might cause pain or stress, unless such things could be shown as absolutely necessary. One liberalism or another operating in this idiom picked up a hostility to everything from punishment to meat, from sexual repression to academic testing. Liberalism is thus identified in the first instance with the ambiguous virtue of tolerance. It is ambiguous because there are many bad things that ought not to be tolerated. Indeed, it commonly leads on to the stage beyond tolerance, which is acceptance of the tolerated forms of life as legitimate. In this dimension, liberalism is the position Mill advanced in On Liberty, Mill having been a notable target of one of Cowling’s most powerful (and most offensive) polemics. Taking off, then, from a rationalized version of the basic Western value of freedom, liberalism came to be associated, especially among the ‘intelligentsia’, with the idea that sophistication consisted in a critical, and indeed sometimes derisive, attitude to anything that might be construed as orthodox, sectarian, respectable or patriotic. As it has spread throughout our culture, evolving whole departments of moral opinion 36

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such as ‘political correctness’ and ‘multiculturalism’, its limits have become ever harder to define, partly because ‘transgressing’ those limits has become a standard way in liberal societies for self-publicists to claim attention. Liberalism seeks to conquer the world. The reason Cowling hates liberalism particularly is that it has trivialized the Christian distinction between the sacred and the secular. The idea of giving assent to any serious doctrine has been absorbed into the grand cacophany in which every opinion must be solemnly respected as a candidate truth. Nothing in human life as understood by liberals can escape the contingencies of utility, preference and satisfaction, and the odd result has been that the custodianship of truth has moved out of churches and into universities. Dons, as Cowling remarks in volume II, now claim the attention that used to be accorded to priests. Wisdom no longer derives from the ethics of Christian revelation but from experts offering the things called ‘skills’ valued for improving everyday life. In this liberal world, nothing can claim value except what happens to impress other people, and therefore the problem for partisans of all kinds becomes the problem of making an impact. Without Christianity, Cowling argues, there is a loss ‘both of God’s and the Church’s psychological reassurance and an uncertainty in the historic English personality which has made coherent feeling difficult to maintain’.11 Without ‘doctrine’, coherence is lost amidst the chaos of opinion. The common feature of those opinions is that they are abstract. In this, Cowling shares a wariness about facile intellectuality with Oakeshott and many others. Considering in 1978 the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party, for example, he worries about her free market enthusiasm. Is she less a Conservative than an ideologue? In a typically sardonic judgement, he writes that ‘there is nothing particularly wrong about [Adam Smith] but in political respects there is nothing politically right either.’12 Cowling mistrusts Smith and Hayek equally because they promote abstract beliefs. As Oakeshott famously remarked in Rationalism in Politics regarding Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944): ‘A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics.’13 Liberalism, Cowling has written, ‘is never innocent’. He is here 37

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playing against the conspicuous niceness, decency and tolerance of liberalism as a doctrine that has no enemies except nasty people. How can so conspicuously accommodating a doctrine feature in politics, which cannot escape being at times the exercise of power and enmity? Liberalism plays well with democratic electorates because it sentimentally embraces immediate liberations rather than long-term consequences. The basic liberal good is the self-expression of individuals just so long as such self-expression does not (seem to) harm others, where the test of harm was, until recently, some clear invasion of rights. This meant that ‘harm’ did not encompass the indignation of Christians about blasphemy, the respectable about pornography and the patriotic about national self-denigration. Such responses exhibit a mechanical relativization common among academics: that many things shocking to earlier generations no longer shock us today is advanced as a reason for accepting everything. More interestingly perhaps, the things that shock today (abuse in terms of race, for example) were taken for granted in times past. The problem then is how do we find a reliable standard for decency and decorum? And the obvious answer is that no such standard is available. The conclusion is then drawn that no such standard is either necessary or valuable. The effect of liberalism throughout the twentieth century has been to destroy limitations on freedom of belief. Liberal ruthlessness in responding to local sensitivities among Christians reveals that underneath the conspicuous niceness of liberal public relations may be found an element of the iron fist. For the insistent openness to offensive self-expression in European contexts contrasts significantly with the response liberals make to the sensitivities of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims – especially Muslims, who have been active in turning their sensitivities to public protest. That liberalism is part of a disguised civil war in Western states would seem clear from the fact that the thing called ‘religion’, as our own European Christianity, is accorded little respect, while ‘religion’ as the practices of nonEuropean immigrants becomes, as respect for culture, a litmus of liberal sensitivity. Liberalism is not innocent, then, in that much of its niceness and tolerance is superficial, while its actual consequences are highly 38

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destructive of the assents and allegiances on which our open and fatally attractive civilization has been built. It is also guilty of the unthinking toleration of practices whose long-term consequences, such as sexual promiscuity and so-called ‘one parent families’ are not only socially disastrous, but in being disastrous, have the even more serious consequence of inviting governments to play an ever increasingly regulatory role in both social and family life. The fact is that very little in human life does not involve a trade-off. Governments in their electorally profitable compassion have provided accommodation and subsidy for luckless pregnant young girls, and this certainly prevents the pains of adoption or the ‘shotgun’ marriages of past times. But this policy has, in a significant number of cases, created a culture of irresponsibility in which incompetently nurtured young people go on to swell the ranks of delinquency and create an ever larger class of incompetent idlers dependent on crime or on subsidy from the state. Again, the increasing feebleness of the sanctions allowed in schools, and in society at large, has allowed bullying, intimidation and impulsiveness to thrive. A society increasingly inclined to dispense with punishment finds itself left with no other persuasive expedient than paying people to do what the state thinks desirable: paying to encourage people to see doctors regularly, for example, give up smoking, stay on at school, and fulfilling other such duties. One problem is that rewards come to be corruptly seen as bribes; another is that those subjected to such inducements lose the moral capacity to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing. Liberalism is niceness at war with repression, and it is therefore hostile to orthodoxy. Cowling’s idea of a central doctrine in public life is, of course, the embrace of an orthodoxy, of which he remarks: ‘Orthodoxies are valuable when they deepen faith or sustain conduct, and are based on a properly conceived understanding of the nature of existence.’14 But the post-Christian consensus on which liberalism is based does not, he thinks, meet any of these tests. It is irresponsibly problem-centred, and leaves us helpless before the almost inescapable temptation to deal with the surface symptoms rather than enquire into the historical conditions from which a problem has emerged. It is in this sense that Cowling sees Conservatism (along with his other forms 39

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of sardonic aggression) as a discovery procedure. To ask a question is a different act from applying some currently popular procedure. A basic contrast in Cowling’s thought is between a radicalism that poses a problem and then proposes an immediate solution to the problem – welfare payments to pregnant teenagers and supplying them with council accommodation, for example – and, on the other hand, a conservative response, which is always to seek the reason why these apparently outmoded and often painful conventions were abandoned in the first place. What seems to have been the supreme objection to liberalism at the top of Cowling’s mind, however, is its embrace of opinionative pluralism. It is this feature of liberalism that has destroyed the basic doctrinal structure of European Christian society. Here is liberalism in its historic role of promiscuous openness to any opinion, however dotty, with the result that all opinions, lost amid the environing jabber, become, in their banality, fit material for the daily outpouring of the media.

ŒŒ It will be clear, then, that what Cowling wants from sound public doctrine is a defensible conservative position in which the ferment of liberal proposals for reform comes to be recognized as peripheral to national life. He wants, in other words, something that Oakeshott is not in the business of providing. That is why his deconstruction of Oakeshott’s asides as revealing what seems to make Oakeshott ‘tick’ is beside the point. Cowling has turned Oakeshott’s casual asides into the central point of his argument, and that gets the balance precisely wrong. There are also signs, however, that Cowling recognizes this as the heart of the matter. In the actual essay on Oakeshott, for example, the basic argument is that Oakeshott has lost Christianity because he has simply identified everything with religion. His ‘relegation’ of Christianity (as it seemed to Cowling) became that portentous thing for Cowling – ‘a silence’.15 And he assimilates Oakeshott’s silence to the influence of what turns up more universally in vol. III, as the normal assumption in contemporary England that all public statements should be ‘silently secular’. 40

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What we find in Cowling, then, is both a project and a proposal. The point of the idea of public doctrine is to reveal and taxonomize an anarchy of opinion in British public life, in which many writers flounder because they do not understand the real situation, and because each is jostling to become the doctrinal centre in terms of which all the other views gain their significance. The project, then, is to re-establish a recognition of the centrality of religion, and given the cultural condition of European societies, that ‘religion’ must be recognized as ‘the post-Christian consensus’, in which the ‘post’ does not entirely obliterate the ‘Christian’. This is the precondition of restoring the centre and periphery structure, which alone could make sense of public life. Notes 1. Cowling almost invariably talked about the cultural unit of ‘England’ but for practical purposes we may deal with the national unit of Britain. 2. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, in Conservative Essays, p. 8. 3. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxii. 4. Cowling, RPD I, p. 257. 5. Cowling, RPD I, p. 252. 6. Irving Kristol, ‘America’s Exceptional Conservatism’, in Kenneth Minogue (ed.) Conservative Realism: New Essays in Conservatism (London: HarperCollins in association with the Centre for Policy Studies, 1996), p. 9. 7. This was a central argument of Shirley Robin Letwin, The Anatomy of Thatcherism (London: Fontana, 1992), chapter 2. 8. Cowling, RPD I, p. 268. 9. Cowling, RPD III, p. xx. 10. Ibid. 11. Cowling, RPD III, p. 697. 12. Cowling, Conservative Essays, p. 1. 13. Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics (London: Methuen, 1962), p. 21. 14. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxx. 15. Cowling, RPD I, pp. 268–9.

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Chapter 3

Subjectivity, Civility, Ecclesiasticality James Alexander

It is hard to think of any modern philosopher, not to mention historian, whose work reveals such a profound structure. Cowling is usually read as an historian: as an engaging, or dismaying, figure who used episodes in the history of British politics to indicate the insularity of those who make political decisions, who found an adequate conservative style with which he could affront the secular ideals of both liberals and socialists, and who represents one of the late high points of a declining British historical culture. But his thought – although not explicit – was highly ordered: more ordered than anyone’s with which it could reasonably be compared: more than say, to mention those who have also written extensively on the marches between history and philosophy, that of Barker, Oakeshott, MacIntyre or Dunn. Cowling was a trinitarian. Just as Pufendorf distinguished, triadically, our duties to ourselves, our duties to others and our duties to God, and just as Hegel distinguished subjective mind, objective mind and absolute mind, so Cowling distinguished three levels of existential significance, which here are called subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality.1 There is no formal statement of this in Cowling: indeed, he might well have expressed contempt for such a statement, as perhaps deserving everything Kierkegaard had said about Hegel in Concluding Unscientific Postscript.2 Whereas Hegel’s triad was a dialectical one in which subjectivity flowed into objectivity and objectivity flowed into absoluteness, Cowling deliberately avoided the reduction he thought this entailed. Hegel had, in the end, ‘absorbed Christianity into 42

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philosophy’.3 But Cowling did not accept such absorption: he had not only an Oakeshottian sense that philosophy, history and practice should not be reduced to each other or anything else, but also a fully Kierkegaardian sense that Christianity should not be reduced to anything else – not philosophy, not history and not mere practice. And so the three categories distinguished here, subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality, although they can be understood dialectically, should be considered not dialectically or teleologically but as distinctive frames of existence that can be distinguished – much as points, lines and planes can be in geometry – for the purposes of argument or understanding, yet that are always found together, whether consciously or not, in word and thought and deed. Here Cowling’s historical writings are taken to have been one of the more profound attempts of the last century to understand how they have been, are and can be related. The argument is that Cowling’s writings disclose three levels of significance – that of self or soul (subjectivity); that of society or state (civility); and that of conception, commitment, communion or church (ecclesiasticality). Each of these levels of significance was treated as at least conceptually autonomous, throwing off distinctive problems that could not be reduced to problems in any other sphere. Cowling was as determined as Hegel was to emphasize the importance and priority of subjectivity, although he did so in an undialectical manner, which he thought did more justice to the disharmony of existence, refusing to allow subjectivity to be easily resolved into politics or to be isolated into philosophy.4 So there is a second element of the argument, which is that the absolute presupposition of all Cowling’s writings was the priority of subjectivity. His writings about civility were, in the end, dramatizations of crises of decision encountered by subjects in situations of tension, which issued in action, and his writings about ecclesiasticality were dramatizations of crises of contemplation encountered by subjects in situations of doubt, uncertainty or ignorance, which issued in doctrine. In both cases, the emphasis was deliberately on the subject. This is an important observation, for even though subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality were seen as distinct levels of human being or becoming, and had to be understood as such, it was always necessary to explain the enigmas of the second and third in terms of 43

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the first. This was an absolute imperative, we may assume, because of something in the nature of the Christian commandment.5 But it was also a relative imperative in an era of self-conscious, literate and secular modernity, such as ours is – an answer to secularity in terms secularity might understand. It is necessary to begin by distinguishing these three frames of existence. Subjectivity, taken by itself, is the frame of existence in which the individual human life encounters itself and exists in itself. It is that original possibility of the individual, who exists as both infinitude in and finitude for himself, and who has to come to understand how he exists within civility and ecclesiasticality. Such an understanding is of course secondary to the simple fact of his own decisive existence as an individual, no matter how constitutive of him it in fact is. It is a feature of subjectivity that, even though it is the origin and end of consciousness and conscience, it remains at least partly hidden, embedded and intractable – certainly to others, and also to itself, not only because of its own arcanum but also because of the further arcana of civility and ecclesiasticality. Civility is the frame of existence in which the individual human life is transcended, and is understood as the sum of relations, interactions and tensions between individual men and women. It is something relative, although, in its highest manifestations, as the state or culture or civilization, it claims to be absolute. However, it has an authority which, though absolute, is illegitimate when it has no other authority than what it can claim for itself and legitimate only when it is derivative, that is when it is supposed to originate either in the consent of the subject or the command of the divine. But this is a matter of legitimation or justification: as a matter of actuality, neither the state nor any other society has any other authority than what it can claim for itself, a relative authority standing as a necessary surrogate for an absolute impossibility. Civility is something of a paradox, then: it is not an absolute ideal fractured by experience but a relative or fallen state sometimes idealized by those who live in it. The concept of the ‘citizen’ is simply an attempt to elide or blur or identify the subject and the city through what the theorists call obligation, duty or consent. 44

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Nonetheless, civility cannot be explained in terms of the other frames of existence. It is what it is, even though it is relative. For civility is authoritative, an exousia, a power that is; and it is the experience of this by subjects, who have to submit to it whether they conscientiously wish to or not, who can resist it, criticize it and distinguish themselves from it, and who can attempt to seek satisfactions through civil activity either as a means to a further end or, perhaps, as an end in itself. When civility is taken as an end in itself, when it is seduced by political, republican or ideological thought, then it is being elided, blurred or identified with ecclesiasticality. Much modern thought, especially the thought Cowling attempted to deal with in his writings, involves such blurring. But civility is a middle term: it is suspended between the absolute authority of faith, truth or God, and between the absolute actuality of individual human existence. It can be understood either in terms of a partial reflection or derivation or shadow of absolute authority or in terms of a compromise, covenant or contract between consenting subjects who come to think of themselves as citizens. The problem was, or is, how to explain civil existence, social, political and imperial activity, in terms that can adequately describe how it is autonomous – as something more than subjective endeavour and something less than ecclesiastical realization. Ecclesiasticality is the frame of existence in which the individual human life is transcended through its engagement with the absolute ends of existence. It has to be distinguished from subjectivity for, like civility, it is a society conceived in terms of an authority, but an absolute rather than relative authority, and one that ordains a society ek tou kosmou toutou, not of this world. It cannot be conceptualized, without collapse, in terms of mere subjectivity or civility. Subjectivity, when understood in terms of civility, tends towards citizenship; and in the same way subjectivity, when understood in terms of ecclesiasticality, tends towards pilgrimage. The kingdom not of this earth, the heavenly city, the civitas Dei, is, as Augustine suggested, a societas peregrina, an imaginary, or imagined, community; a spiritual, or ideal, or eschatological community: not a community of birth, or inheritance, but a community of life after death, before death, beyond death.6 It is a community constituted not solely in terms of the present, in terms of 45

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justice, ritual or worship, but in terms of the future, in terms of love, hope and expectation. In its simplest manifestation, it generates the kosmopolités, the citizen of the world, idealized by the Cynics and Stoics; and in its most complex, it generates an actual historic church. But, in either case, it is a community that is both of this world and not of it: it is a model of existence in which there is not one city, a mere civility, but two cities, a civility and what is here termed an ecclesiasticality. It is necessary to emphasize that what is being proposed here is not an understanding that a church is necessary as a fact, but that it is necessary as an ordering concept, that, in a sense, every community not only has its state but also its church or, now, a plurality of churches – virtual, fragmented, over the water. This complication of the historic concept of the ecclesia is perhaps Cowling’s chief contribution to understanding modernity. On earth, subjectivity finds its highest manifestation in the individual human, anthropos, and, formally, in rights; civility finds its highest manifestation in the state, polis, and, formally, in right; and ecclesiasticality finds its highest manifestation in the church, ekklesia, and, formally, in righteousness. Philosophy can say something about these, but has not – drifting into narrow considerations of one or the other, and rarely, not even in Oakeshott, achieving totality; it was left to an historian to say something about them, and that historian was Cowling. This is not to say that Cowling theorized subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality, but to say that behind his writings was a structure that can be theorized. To do so is to draw out of Cowling’s writings something that was undoubtedly there but to render it in a form that makes it more coherent than would be evident from the consideration of those writings by someone who was interested only in their subject matter. Subjectivity Cowling recognized that his own writings existed chronologically and conceptually as a triad of two ‘polemical’, three ‘political’ and three ‘religious’ books.7 It would be superficial to say that the first concerned subjectivity, the second civility and the third ecclesiasticality. Cowling did not write in a simplistic, or theoretical, manner: instead, he con46

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sidered problems intensively or dramatically, in terms of the problems that arose because of the interconnectedness of these levels of significance. The simplest way to make sense of his writings is to say that the polemical books were preliminaries – general reflections on making sense of modern approaches to civility apart from ecclesiasticality and in terms of subjectivity; the political books were substantial studies of civility in terms of subjectivity; and the religious books were substantial studies of ecclesiasticality in terms of subjectivity. All the writings were historical, or concerned with history. This was partly just accident, a consequence of the fact that Cowling studied and taught history – although, interestingly, the history of political theory rather than the history of politics itself.8 History was, however, a useful relative or indeterminate form of study – its deliberate, even ostentatious, impartiality since the nineteenth century being both itself a difficulty but also a means by which difficulty could be approached through indirection. History was objectively important because, as he put it, ‘something [had] happened between 1800 and today which [was] important for understanding the present’.9 But it also subjectively enabled Cowling to explore the problem of how to say anything categorical about anything – the ‘problem to know what should be said’.10 At first, he thought that impartiality could be harnessed against those who pretended impartiality; later, when he saw that ‘modern universities [were] pre-eminently institutionalizations of the post-Christian consensus’, he thought partiality was better.11 He recognized that there had been a shift between his early assumption that it was necessary to distinguish between explanation, which was objective, and exhortation, which was subjective, and his later acceptance that, in practice, it was hard finally to distinguish objective explanation and subjective commitment, and that, in the end, primacy had to be given to the subjectivity and partiality of all writing, even historical and philosophical writing. It is a mistake to overemphasize the shift, not least because Cowling himself commented that he ‘still half believe[d]’ in academic objectivity.12 But although an emphasis on objectivity was a useful negative means of exposing the arbitrariness of the partial commitments of other writers, it did not in itself provide an adequate positive account of the nature of reflection in general which, Cowling 47

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realized, was partial, arbitrary and subjective because of the unavoidability of ‘engagement and commitment’. The most important recognition to make of all human reflections on humanity was, therefore, the ubiquity of subjectivity. The problem of subjectivity is a dual problem in the writing of history, as history is written by a subject, the historian, about historical subjects. In his early writings, Cowling – armed with an Oakeshottian doctrine of historical objectivity – dealt only with the subjectivity of the historical subjects. His own subjectivity, and the subjectivities of writers – historians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, theologians, poets, musicians and so on – was not considered in full until the religious books. In later life Cowling insisted on his own subjectivity as an historian. Historians were, like other writers, those who ‘reflect upon the nature of society in general, or religion, thought and politics’: they were historians only because ‘history happens to be the form their reflections are given’. And further, the concern of historians was said to be the present, not the past. ‘Any good historian’s past’, he declared, ‘is an embodiment of what he believes about the present’.13 Even in the political books, where he took himself to be writing chronologically ordered history, he did not respect Collingwood’s view that history was ‘reconstruction’: it was, rather, ‘construction’.14 He took Oakeshott’s conception of history as divided against itself – about the past but written in the present – and denied that this was the problem Oakeshott had taken it to be.15 In his earlier books he had used Oakeshott’s conviction that this was a problem to deny that history could demonstrate anything: but later he abandoned this ‘negative conclusion’ when negativity became less important than positivity, and it became evident to him that history demonstrated whatever the historian wanted it to demonstrate. And so he abandoned any belief in historical ‘objectivity’ completely. I do emphasize [he remarked] in this sense – far too much, no doubt – the subjectivity of truth. All one can do when confronted by historical writing, is to empathise with it and understand it, accept or reject it according to whether or not the historian’s general conception of the nature of social and 48

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human activity is congenial to you. I not only don’t believe in the objectivity of historical truth, I don’t believe there’s a problem about it.16 The insistence on the subjectivity of the historian achieved its full dramatization in Religion and Public Doctrine, where the objective history was framed by the subjective chapters of volume I and of part III of volume III. Cowling explained that the first volume of the work concerned ‘the author’s relation to the events of which the main work [is] a history’.17 And he explained in part III of volume III that the whole work had ‘transpose[d] into critical history the tension between the prejudices, prejudications and experiences of its hundred-and-twenty or so subjects and the prejudices, prejudications and experiences of the numerous thinkers by whom the author’s mind ha[d] been formed’.18 And he went further. This history was no longer ‘reconstruction’ or even ‘construction’: it was, instead, ‘deconstruction’, a ‘conservative deconstruction’ in which the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ histories were brought into coincidence – where, in other words, his own subjectivity was fully acknowledged as an element in the history he had written.19 It was not his own subjectivity, but the subjectivity of historical subjects – mostly politicians, sometimes propagandists, less often philosophers – that was his continual concern in his writings. It was the problem raised in his earliest book, The Nature and Limits of Political Science, in relation to historical explanation. If ‘no man [could] be totally transparent to himself’, and if ‘action in order to be right or rational need not necessarily be self-conscious’, then it was hard enough to explain ‘the achievement by one man of a limited objective’, never mind the achievement by many men of unlimited objectives.20 Cowling rejected the liberal belief in reason, and emphasized instead a conservative belief in the conditions in which reason exists. Men are, then, over very large areas, in the grip of, dependent on, and in one sense determined by, conditions over which they have no means of exercising conscious control. They are not responsible for the families into which they were born, the education they are given or the station in which they live: and 49

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they are less responsible than they sometimes like to pretend for the experience they accumulate, the temperaments they suffer, the ambitions by which they are moved and the choices they make. It may even be that a man is in temperament what he is always likely to be at fifteen or sixteen and will not change significantly thereafter.21 Whether or not this was true, it was true that recovery of this temperament was difficult. Cowling doubted that ‘biography and some sorts of confessional and psychological explanation’ could say much about ‘the complexity of the connection between opportunity and accomplishment’. The merit, character and nature of the reaction each man makes to his world is effected by him and in part known to him and then lost to all time. His character, merit and rationality, and the success he had in developing the possibilities that are open to him, can be grasped so imperfectly by others that the judgements of others are likely to be inadequate.22 It was this problem of subjectivity that gave the political books their distinctive form and content. He wrote about the one part of civility for which there was a lot of evidence – letters, speeches, bills, statutes, parliamentary papers and newspaper reports – but the complexity of the chronological narratives of high-political activity should not conceal the fact that the subjectivity of the actors was fundamental. So what is to be observed is that consequently when Cowling wrote about civility he did two things: he insisted on its autonomy from both subjectivity and ecclesiasticality, but he also explicitly dealt with it, when he came to dramatize it historically, in terms of problems of establishing authority over what had happened subjectively. Civility The problem of civility was, then, a consequence of the fact that subjectivity was a precondition of all action. The difficulty was fundamental. ‘Power’, he declared, ‘is exercised and decisions made, not by 50

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vast movements of opinion, but specifically by individual men’.23 But these individual men, when involved in politics, were reticent ‘about the way they come to their conclusions’, and also probably confused about them. It followed for him that no serious interpretation of a political institution or situation could depend on the ‘metaphysical inventiveness, moral altruism and intellectual impartiality’ of philosophers, politicians or historians. No weight could be put on either the ‘trivial conscientious crises when men flaunt their consciences in selfconscious panic’ or the ‘opinions held by those responsible for exercising power within it’.24 The relation between I and Thou, as Buber saw, was highly enigmatic, arcane and even sacred: it depended, finally, on love and trust, because nothing could easily be explained. And if it were hard to explain the acts of ‘one man’, it was much harder to explain a ‘whole society’ or ‘all the societies which constitute a civilization’.25 In other words, civility, understood as the totality of interactions of men in society, was, for Cowling, a frame of existence to be endured or enjoyed but not fully understood. It was constituted, he declared in the third chapter of The Nature and Limits of Political Science, on the one hand, by ‘luck, chance and accident’ and, on the other, by ‘reticence, deception and arbitrariness’. Civility was an entire system of ‘conflicting ambitions’, which served to keep a ‘political structure in equilibrium’: it was a system in which ‘inventiveness and originality’ ceaselessly responded to ‘circumstance’ and yet remained continually uncertain of the consequences of any decision.26 But for all its indeterminacy, it was, nonetheless, a system – a frame of existence with its own ‘autonomy’ and ‘conventions’ – constituted by the ‘calculation and thoughtlessness, scheming and simplicity, competence and blundering, avarice, ambition and altruism, stupidity, sense and sanctimoniousness’ found ‘amongst men in all other of their dealings with one another’.27 Cowling understood that ‘political activity, like all other activity, is an attempt to make the ceaseless flow of the world yield a moral content and moral consequences by subjecting it to a moral and rational will of whose proper direction we are not altogether certain’.28 It was characterized as much by the inevitability of uncertainty as by the attempt to achieve certainty. This was Cowling’s conception of 51

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what is here called civility and which he studied in its highest form in the three historical books. High politics was, in a sense, civility in miniature; and, just as civility was autonomous in relation to subjectivity and ecclesiasticality, so high politics was ‘an elitist activity in which the elite is autonomous in relation to pressures from below’.29 Explanation [ran the manifesto for the historical books] will probably best be conducted by assuming that Britain is governed by forty or fifty men (not all of them party politicians) whose individual opinions and influence will vary on any particular question not according to formal status but according to chance, individual character and reputation, and personal and public calculation.30 Two autonomies were here asserted: the one that received critical attention was the autonomy of high politics from low politics. The purpose of this limitation was not to suggest that politics was only significant at a high level: the purpose was negative, rather than positive: it was to suggest that a sociology of low politics was of no explanatory value whatsoever until it was related to a sociology of high politics; and, more polemically, it was to suggest that politics in modernity remained as arcane, elitist and hierarchical as it had been in antiquity. The second autonomy was hardly noticed, because the historical books were mostly read by historians who took an emphasis on the centrality of politics for granted, and were always likely to mistake an emphasis on the autonomy of politics for an emphasis on the priority of politics. What Cowling wanted to do was establish that the autonomy of politics was a relative, suspended matter; and he did this by continually insisting on the existence of other levels of significance, those frames of existence identified here as subjectivity and ecclesiasticality. The three historical books were studies of three particular political dramas – one between 1865 and 1867, one between 1920 and 1924 and one between 1933 and 1940 – that were considered to have offered politicians the chance to reconfigure political possibilities in terms of tensions ‘between and within and across party’. Cowling thought 52

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politics should be studied in terms of the entire system and not a part of it.31 It was for this reason that biography was ‘almost always misleading’ in making sense of politics, because ‘its refraction [was] partial in relation to the system’.32 It was instead necessary to consider the role of each politician in the system if the historian were to achieve an adequate sense of ‘movement’. Although we speak of a movement of events which it is the historian’s business to uncover, that movement was the outcome of conflict between the wills and minds of the actors who were responsible for creating it. No one actor was responsible completely. No one actor could know the inwardness of the whole movement. The historian cannot know completely, but he alone has the chance to see what went on over the heads, beneath the feet or despite the intentions of all the actors in the movement.33 Out of subjective interactions, then, emerged an autonomous frame of existence, civility, which had its own arcana. There were ‘conventions’ which were ‘only intelligible from within’ the system.34 And the subjectivity of politicians was, at some fundamental level, constituted by the conventions of civility.35 This paradox, of the inextricable binding of self and system found in all successful politicians, was the paradox that led Cowling to write histories that are almost unique in the power with which they convey the indeterminacy, the enigma and the mystery of politics as it happens. Nonetheless Cowling defended neither the history he had written – ‘the author has little confidence that the narrative structure could not be reversed’ – nor the assumptions on which it had been written – ‘no antecedent reason exists why they should [be] more useful than others in understanding the politics of mid-nineteenth-century Britain’.36 His emphasis on the ‘negative’ nature of his historical findings was ironical or even satirical against other historians: for it was evident that the political books were more formidably complete than any yet written. And yet he disdained the possibility of saying anything categorically about this frame of existence: civility was simply itself, and writing 53

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about the history of politics would eventually only prove that to the writing of historical books about politics there is no end. This may be one reason why Cowling abandoned his initial intention to continue writing about other eras of political tension in order to write about ecclesiasticality. He was aware early on of the tendency of civility to become confused with ecclesiasticality. He saw that there was, in politics, a tendency to ‘imagine a world free from the problems inseparable from political existence’.37 Party politics, he observed, sometimes issued in political theory in which politics was conceived as ‘touching the hem of the garment of Truth’, as founded on ‘Right’ and as illuminated by ‘Faith’; and in which politicians, ‘where not merely entertainers, were presented as crusaders or philosophers’.38 But whatever these politicians said ‘bore little relation to politics as politicians experienced them’. Politics as politicians experienced it, in modernity, was an uncertain, broken-backed activity which is saved from triviality chiefly by the ambition of politicians, the continuity of habits and institutions and the permanent interests of persons and groups: and … almost all public discussion, from our ignorance of the future and the difficulty of anticipating the accidents of political decision, decides not what is to be done (though that is the conventional pretence maintained), but which party or group shall command sufficient support to make decisions.39 Civility was relative, but autonomous, to be explained as an end in itself, to be reduced neither to subjectivity nor to ecclesiasticality, although its satisfactions were always likely to be explained in terms of either of them. Cowling did not theorize this, but theorization is possible; and, indeed, is more than implicit in his writings. It was implicit in the polemical and the political books that civility had to be distinguished from ecclesiasticality. In the religious books it was explicit. Ecclesiasticality Ecclesiasticality is the frame of existence in which subjectivity searches for higher authority, more absolute ends and greater fulfilment than it 54

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can find in civility. Cowling thought the two could be related, and perhaps ideally had been, at least in the sense that Church–state Anglicanism had been both ‘political belief and religious observance’.40 But he emphasized that, in the end, politics should never be mistaken for religion and religion should never be mistaken for politics. He ‘did not claim for politics the categorical sanctions of religion, and he was at pains to establish that politics [was] a broken-backed activity which cannot supply religious satisfactions’.41 Religion was ‘ultimate and ubiquitous and [could] not be explained in terms of something else’.42 Even in the early polemical books, which emphasized the idea of objectivity, and of the arbitrariness of all commitments, religious as well as philosophical or political, there was a defence of absolute authority. The ‘principle of utility, the march of history and the natural law’ commanded to nothing: ‘and to claim that they do neither insulates against disagreement nor provides any greater authority than the hunches and commitments which are mixed in all political judgement’.43 But it was also maintained that such ‘differences can be resolved, if they have to be resolved at all, only by authoritative decision’.44 But in the harsh secularity of the polemical books this was, as yet, no more than a Hobbesian defence of civil authority.45 Even religion was understood, as Oakeshott had understood it in Experience and its Modes, as something of only ‘apparently explanatory authority’. Cowling elevated God but nothing else in these early writings. The function of religious authorities was to hold together the innumerable seekers after salvation by facilitating bold, inflexible choices, which may or may not be wrong (in God’s eyes): which may be irrelevant to his purposes; but which, though arbitrary, are the only communal resource to those who wish to assist in accomplishing them. That they are arbitrary (and not necessarily the consequence of understanding God’s word) cannot in practice be admitted by their exponents.46 This was severe: in effect, a highly Augustinian condemnation of any church: so Augustinian, in fact, that it was almost secular. It was the recognition that civility and ecclesiasticality were distinct, 55

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and the latter of more importance, that made it possible later for Cowling to write Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. He continued to believe that no government had ‘ultimate authority’ before God.47 But more important was the recognition that religion should no longer be understood as a matter of churches: it was, instead, a matter of something that continued to be as universal in modernity as it had been when the universal church was dominant. It was ‘from religion that modern English intellectual history should begin’.48 The fundamental assumption was that any decline of Christianity was not a decline of religion as such. This was expressed in Carlyle’s dictum, the one that stood as the epigraph of the whole of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England, that in a ‘modern country’ the ‘writers of newspapers, pamphlets, poems, books’ constituted ‘the working effective church’.49 If religion was ubiquitous – if not, in modern form, ultimate – and would survive the decline of Christianity, then it was necessary to study modern thought as if it were the fragments, shadows and subversions of the genuine ecclesiasticality of historic Christianity. The answer to the question of ‘whether the modern mind can escape from religion’ was that ‘it cannot’.50 So on the one hand there was the religion of Christianity, which was dogmatic, and offered a template, since it was from Christianity that the truth was derived that doctrine ‘ought to mean a teaching that is formal, authorized and explicit’. And on the other there was a modern religion ‘whose advocates so much assume its truth that they do not understand that it is a religion to which they are committed’.51 The sleight of hand was in measuring a vague and disparate set of pluralistic doctrines against the orthodoxy it had replaced: but this enabled Cowling to restore ecclesiasticality to the argument, and to take its historical, philosophical and theological priority for granted. This history of modern ecclesiasticality was not ecclesiastical history in the classical sense. Ecclesiastical history in the classical sense emphasizes the continuity of the earthly church. But churches, certainly since the Reformation and perhaps always, are more evanescent than states – extending through mission, falling into schism, lapsing, converting, and even taking different institutional forms. The concept of an ekklesia is as spiritual as it is temporal, which is why Carlyle’s was 56

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an important recognition. Institutions have not ceased to put themselves forward as counsellors and confessors of the self and the state. Cowling’s conviction was that this should be understood in the shadow of, and as subversive of, and as in a sense the inheritor of, the traditions of the historic church out of which it had emerged. It is for this reason – a fundamentally Christian reason – that this frame of existence is understood not as some mere spirituality, or cultural affiliation, or even as religion, but as ecclesiasticality. The problem was ecclesiastical, then, because it was about the decline of the church; but it was civil because it had begun with the ‘destruction of the confessional state and the ancien régime’; and it was subjective because it was an external crisis that had been matched by many ‘subjective crises’ among the thinkers who contributed to the arguments for and against a ‘successor-regime’ or ‘substitute religion’.52 It was the subjectivity of the crisis, or crises, which, for Cowling, was decisive. The three volumes of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England were unusual in abandoning chronology for engagement with subjectivities. Whereas the polemical books were simple in form and intention; and the political books were simple in form, although not in intention; the religious books were simple in intention but involved in form: the books were the embodiment of an argument. But the argument had to be drawn out of the books with some care because of the unusual emphasis Cowling laid upon his own subjectivity and on the subjectivity of the thinkers with whom he dealt. For the volumes were, in form, a series of more or less direct engagements with the entire published writings of about one hundred and sixty writers – about twenty in the first volume, forty in the second, and one hundred in the third. There were ‘four conflicting attitudes’ among all these writers. First, there has been a demand that the enmity towards Christianity which had begun in the eighteenth century should be put through an intellectual mangle and destroyed. Second, there has been an attitude of hostility to Christianity issuing in systematic demands for its supersession. Third, there have been attempts to protect Christianity by showing it can cohere with nonChristian or anti-Christian thought, or can survive in sufferance 57

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alongside them. Finally, there has been an attitude which has assumed that both Christian and anti-Christian thought be bypassed or absorbed so long as religion is interpreted as normality, sincerity, decency, science, scholarship, discrimination or whatever secular value is held up for admiration.53 In other words, these were the demands that Christianity should be a dominant doctrine; that it should be replaced by another doctrine; that it should be able to exist alongside other doctrines; and that whatever can be assimilated into other doctrines should be assimilated. These differing demands enabled Cowling to structure the entire work;54 but, substantially, it was not a study of hypostatized doctrines as such but of the subjective figures who had put forward determinate doctrines of their own – hence the sheer mass and relentlessness of his studies of Keble, Gladstone, Spencer, Russell, Lawrence, Carlyle, Acton, MacIntyre, Darwin, Maitland, Keynes, Orwell, Leavis, Berlin and so on. If the structure of the volumes had fully matched the structure of the argument then volume I would have dealt with Christianity as an unquestionedly absolute consensus. For the argument was a sort of reversed Hegelian dialectic of the decline of Christianity. First, it was assumed that there had been an original era of orthodoxy, which Cowling associated with the existence of Christianity as an absolute, commanding public doctrine; then had followed an era of conflict between Christianity and its enemies over what public doctrine should be; and finally there had ensued the era of heterodoxy, which Cowling called the ‘post-Christian consensus’, as Christianity capitulated to its enemies and so allowed the emergence of a plurality of secular public doctrines. The loss of orthodoxy was associated with the Repeal of the Test Acts in 1828, the Catholic Emancipation of 1829 and the Reform Acts from 1832 onwards: in other words, it was associated with the end of the era in which civility and ecclesiasticality has been harnessed together in a ‘church-state’ or ‘confessional state’. But, since Cowling’s purpose was the negation of this negation, his books did not deal with that original orthodoxy. He mentioned it as ‘the Anglican regime which had been created at the Reformation, consolidated during the reign of Elizabeth, destroyed in 1649, given new teeth in 1662 and 58

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made central by Sancroft in 1688’ but he did not dramatize it, and certainly did not go beyond or behind it to consider the medieval Christianity of England or Europe. Instead there was something else. Volume III dealt with the third era of consensus; volume II dealt with the second era of conflict; but volume I dealt not with some earlier era of established consensus (something apparently historical or objective) but with, distinctively, Cowling’s own subjectivity. Volume I was divided into four parts which represented ‘phases in the author’s opinions’. But the subjectivity was reflexive: Cowling did not consider his own subjectivity, but considered, objectively, as it were, the subjectivities of those who had influenced him. The first part dealt with ‘exponents of a complicated type of modern, liberal latitudinarianism’ – Whitehead and Toynbee; the second part with exponents of ‘a type of anti-liberal Christianity’ – Smyth, Eliot, Knowles and others; the third with ‘subverters of the [above] attitudes’ – Collingwood, Butterfield, Oakeshott and Churchill; and the last with exponents of ‘Christian or religious thought’ – Kedourie, Waugh, Salisbury and others.55 The reason volume I was subjective was that Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England as a whole was the embodiment of the resolution of Cowling’s own subjective difficulty in knowing what to say about religion. But it was also a consequence of his convictions about the subjectivity of the historian and, eventually, of the men and women responsible for putting forward post-Christian religions. And this is why part III of volume III returned to Cowling’s subjectivity, and his relation to the argument, thus bringing the work full circle. As we have seen, subjectivity was a matter of circularity for Cowling: it constituted both the ‘mind of the historian’ and the irreducible reality of any historical figure about whom the historian wrote.56 So just as Cowling’s consideration of civility, even while establishing its autonomy as a frame of existence, illustrated its difficulty with reference to the subjectivity of the politicians studied, so his consideration of ecclesiasticality also illustrated its difficulty with relation to the subjectivity of the thinkers studied. The structure of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England was a series of ‘judgements made of individual thinkers’. The justification was that ‘any thinker who is 59

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discussed in his own terms and at length will display, more systematically than it will be possible to do in an historical work’ – that is in a conventional historical work – ‘the deep structures of the doctrines that he assumes’.57 Cowling asserted rather than argued that the ‘idea of exemplification by representative individuals’ was ‘fundamental’,58 and perhaps he did less than he could have done to explain why he had settled on such an unconventional approach. This was history in a wholly subjective register. The political books had been historical in the sense that they had adopted chronology, which was appropriate for the study of individuals involved in a ‘movement’ that was constituted by action. But chronology was not appropriate for the religious books since they were not a study of action. The decision to avoid chronology [he wrote in the third volume] is deliberate since, in populous modern societies, where printing and its successors are universal, opinions which have been enunciated severally over the decades jostle together so much without regard to the chronology of their provenance that one may properly speak of the historic English mind taking shape in the blur and fog of an undiscriminating contemporaneity.59 Cowling wrote history that dealt with, or could deal with, the problems of subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality in the modern era. He did not, however, write civil or ecclesiastical history as it has come to be written, in an affectation of objectivity: on the contrary, he wrote in terms of definite limitations, of which he was conscious, in order to emphasize the centrality of subjectivity, even if only the limited recoverable subjectivity of actors and writers in history. In an age of secular academic modernity, it is unlikely that Cowling’s thought will contribute to a new consensus. It is, on the contrary, a continuation of a now antique consensus – an attempt to carry through into the mind of modernity some of the sonorities of older thought and belief. It is a ‘Jacobitism of the mind’.60 It is modern in its unhesitating acceptance of subjectivity, in its acceptance of the political, geological, biological, psychological and sexual revolutions of 60

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the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in its historical orientation. But it is antique in its secular emphasis on the necessity of hierarchies and venalities in politics, its emphasis on the heroic element in English culture since Burke and, perhaps, since such an element can be extended backwards, since Bede (or Brutus), and its emphasis on the importance, the necessity and the sanctity of religion. About this no more can be said, for, in a secular age, it is impossible to justify Christianity. Christianity is, no doubt, a religion; but the sense that it is the religion is something to be argued and the sense that it renders all other religions irreligious, heretical or pagan is something to be believed – or perhaps even, by anyone prone to liberal regret, regretted. To render Cowling’s thought into the philosophy of history – a mode of understanding of which Cowling, like Oakeshott, was highly critical – is to bring it before consciousness as a distinction between subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality. This in itself is a distinction of some antiquity. Subjective history is the history of the self; civil history is the history of the self and others; and ecclesiastical history is the history of the self, others and God. Whether this division could be made into some form of categorization of history is unclear. Whether anyone would want it is doubtful. But it offers something to understanding, which Bacon’s division of history into civil, sacred and literary and even Hegel’s division of history into original, reflective and philosophical, do not. This distinction of subjectivity, civility and ecclesiasticality is not dialectical as Hegel’s was: it recognizes that each sphere is autonomous and to some extent independent. It restores religion to its place at the height, as a completion of a subjectivity that civility cannot complete, while nonetheless indicating that subjectivity is the original and final location of responsibility and decision. Many modern secular and cosmopolitan histories are actually just the histories of a species, as if seen from without, or they are fragmentary conjectural histories of various artefact remains of this species: in other words, they are natural histories or civil archaeologies. The interest of natural history is its unity and apparent explanatory power, and the charm of civil archaeology is its miscellaneousness and apparent lack of explanatory intent. Perhaps these are the forms of the 61

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history of the future – one scientific and one aesthetic – but they are without human content. They are, strictly considered, studies of what accompanied human life and will and decision – the ‘sediment of history’.61 History proper is the history of such life, will and decision, and it necessarily takes the form of subjective, civil or ecclesiastical history, no matter how difficult, or even impossible, it is to write such a history. Subjective and civil histories are still written, in one form or other: we still have states and selves. But, as the churches decline, ecclesiastical history becomes marginal; and it is by Cowling’s extension of the meaning of ecclesiasticality to what Bacon called literary history that the decline has been understood in such a way that the understanding does not involve a capitulation to that decline. The assumption that God is dead is one of the most objectionable assumptions of modern, secular elites. In assuming that it is false, Cowling has dramatized more effectively, if negatively, than anyone else has the continuities that lie behind the apparent discontinuities of the last few centuries; and in doing so, has sketched the elements of a philosophy of history that restores difficulty where others have judged – wrongly – that difficulty is now something of the past, only of concern to historians. Notes 1. The tradition of dividing our relations into three perhaps finds its clearest original expression in Augustine. See R. W. Dyson (ed.) Augustine: The City of God Against the Pagans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 19.14, p. 941. But see Pufendorf’s elaboration in Samuel Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, edited by James Tully and translated by Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 1.3.13, p. 37. 2. See Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), pp. 75, 126, 267, 317. 3. Cowling, RPD I, p. xviii. 4. For Cowling’s judgement of Oakeshott along these lines see RPD I, p. 282. 5. See Matthew 22: 37–9, Mark 12: 29–31 and Luke 10: 27 for the commandment that Thou (subjectivity) shalt love the Lord thy God (ecclesiasticality), and thy neighbour as thyself (civility). 6. Augustine, Civitas Dei, 19.17, p. 941. 7. Attallah, Singular Encounters, pp. 128–48 especially p. 142. 62

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8. The history of political theory is perhaps the broadest and deepest form of modern humanistic study apart from the history of theology. See John Dunn, ‘The History of Political Theory’, in John Dunn, The History of Political Theory and Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 11–38. 9. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 130. 10. Cowling, RPD I, p. xviii. 11. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxiv. 12. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 138. For an over-emphasis on this distinction see Peter Ghosh’s suggestive essay, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 273–321. 13. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 130. 14. Cowling, 1867, p. 311. 15. Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), pp. 146–9. 16. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 131. 17. Cowling, RPD I, p. xi. 18. Cowling, RPD III, pp. 694–5. 19. Ibid., p. xxiii. 20. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 56, 102, 207. 21. Ibid., p. 206. 22. Ibid., p. 213. 23. Ibid., p. 22. 24. Ibid., pp. 52, 70, 207. 25. Ibid., p. 57. 26. Ibid., pp. 178–82. 27. Ibid., p. 184. 28. Ibid., p. 206. 29. Cowling, RPD I, p. xx. 30. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 30–31. See also Cowling, IL, pp. 3–4. 31. Cowling, 1867, pp. 5–6. 32. Cowling, IL, p. 6. 33. Cowling, 1867, p. 289. 34. Cowling, IL, p. 10. 35. Cowling, 1867, pp. 311–12. 36. Ibid., pp. 311, 339. 37. Cowling, NLPS, p. 138. 38. Cowling, IL, p. 9. 39. Cowling, NLPS, p. 119. 40. Cowling, RPD I, p. xx. 41. Ibid., p. xxiii. 42. Cowling, RPD II, p. xvii. 43. Cowling, NLPS, p. 56. 44. Ibid., pp. 61–2. 63

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45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

53. 54.

55. 56. 57.

58. 59. 60. 61.

See the comment, ‘whoever has the most authoritative prejudices is, as it were, sovereign’ – NLPS, p. 203. Cowling, NLPS, p. 162. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 143. Cowling, RPD I, p. xii. Carlyle, The Hero as Man of Letters, quoted in RPD I, p. ix, and, ‘deserving to be quoted again’, in RPD II, p. xxvi. Cowling, RPD III, p. xvi. Cowling, RPD I, pp. xii–xiii. For ‘successor-regime’, see Cowling, RPD II, p. 347 . For ‘subjective crises’, see Cowling, RPD III, p. xxii. For ‘substitute-religion’, see Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 132. Cowling, RPD II, p. xiv. The first demand was dealt with in Cowling, RPD II, Parts I and IV; the second in RPD II, Parts III and IV, the third in RPD III, Part I, and the fourth in RPD III, Part II. Cowling, RPD I, pp. xiv–xv. Cowling, 1867, p. 313. Cowling, RPD I, p. xxiv. This could be taken to be a sign of ambivalence about whether Religion and Public Doctrine was properly historical or not; but, although the ambivalence was a real one, in general he wrote about volumes II and III, if not volume I, as if they were ‘historical’ rather than explicitly ‘subjective’. See Cowling, RPD II, p. xviii. Cowling, RPD II, p. xiv. Cowling, RPD III, p. 695. Cowling, RPD I, p. 453. As Emil Brunner puts it in Man in Revolt (London: Lutterworth, 1939), pp. 454–5.

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Chapter 4

Cowling and Liberalism Michael Grenfell

At Maurice Cowling’s memorial service in October 2005, the eulogists pointed out something rather unusual about him – unusual, that is, for a Conservative of his generation. This was that, for Maurice Cowling, the main enemy politically was not – as it was for most Conservatives in postwar Britain – socialism, or even communism. The enemy was liberalism. Sir Peregrine Worsthorne told the congregation that, for Cowling: ‘Liberalism … was an obsession. Whereas almost everyone during the cold war years … was portraying communism as the main threat, Maurice … saw the main danger as liberalism.’ Similarly, Michael Bentley, listing five aspects of Cowling’s thought, headed the list: ‘First, he wanted to proclaim, as Perry told us, that liberalism was the disease rather than the cure.’1 There seems little doubt that Bentley and Worsthorne were correct in these judgements. However, the purpose of this chapter is to suggest that some of this hostility was misplaced and that, far from being an enemy, liberalism – or at least a type of liberalism – should be seen as a friend of Cowlingite conservatism. The attack on Mill’s liberalism Maurice Cowling’s most famous, and most shocking, attack on liberalism came in 1963, with the publication of a slim volume called Mill and Liberalism. This polemic went straight for the sacred cow that was John Stuart Mill’s ‘very simple principle’ of liberty. The liberty principle – the centrepiece of Mill’s essay On Liberty which had been published just over a hundred years earlier – states that the only 65

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legitimate ground for compulsion or interference in the liberty of an individual is ‘to prevent harm to others’.2 From this it follows that, unless a person’s actions are harming others, that person should be left free to do as he likes. For Cowling, the liberty principle was not about liberty at all. In Mill and Liberalism, Cowling depicted the principle as a rhetorical sham – not to be taken at face value – which was being used by Mill to justify the establishment of a rationalist post-Christian polity. That polity, Cowling alleged, would be upheld by an enlightened intellectual elite or ‘clerisy’, which, hypocritically, would have no room to tolerate dissent or individuality that deviated from its own tenets and objectives. The hypocrisy was that Mill’s rhetoric was all about freedom and tolerance – and yet the reality of Mill’s liberalism (according to Cowling) would be intolerance towards, and repression of, dissent. Of course, Cowling wanted Mill and Liberalism to shock. Years after its publication he was to express delight that a reviewer in 1963 had described his book as ‘dangerous and unpleasant’. This, said Cowling, ‘was what it was intended to be’.3 Cowling’s argument in Mill and Liberalism can be roughly sketched out like this. First, he saw Mill’s liberty principle as not intended to be an end in itself, but as instrumental to the advancement of other ends, specifically the utilitarian goal of the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’. In this, Cowling was undoubtedly right. Indeed, Mill acknowledged as much himself. Just a couple of paragraphs after first setting out the principle in On Liberty, Mill writes: It is proper to say that I forego any advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.4 Second, Cowling moves from this to claiming that the promotion of man as a progressive being – what Cowling calls (with, just possibly, the trace of a sneer) ‘the higher cultivation’ – is all that Mill cares 66

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about, and that the liberty principle is just a rhetorical disguise for this, which we need not ‘accept … at its face value’.5 According to Cowling, what Mill really wants is not liberty at all but, rather, a new utilitarian polity; that is, a polity based on a rationalist, enlightenment, secular ethics – an ethics that is an alternative to Christianity and is, in effect, an alternative religion. In his original introduction to Mill and Liberalism, Cowling expresses this in strong and unambiguous – and startling – terms. He writes: On Liberty, contrary to common opinion, was not so much a plea for individual freedom, as a means of ensuring that Christianity would be superseded by that form of liberal, rationalistic utilitarianism which went by the name of Religion of Humanity. Mill’s liberalism was a dogmatic, religious one, not the soothing night-comforter for which it is sometimes mistaken.6 As Peter Ghosh has observed, Cowling regarded liberalism as essentially religious.7 The third step of Cowling’s argument in Mill and Liberalism is to portray Mill’s liberal polity and post-Christian religion as needing to be upheld by something called ‘the clerisy’. As characterized by Cowling, the clerisy was to be an elite ‘body of superior minds’, a new ‘class’ that needed to be endowed and supported and that supposedly, in Mill’s new post-Christian polity, would fertilize men’s understanding of truth and propagate knowledge of it.8 This clerisy, moreover, would ensure that society’s moral self-confidence would be restored by the kind of ‘homogeneity of opinion’ that had formerly existed in medieval Christendom.9 Cowling summarizes the point with characteristic sharpness: ‘That is what the clerisy is: its business is to provide a body of received opinions.’10 The fourth, and final, step in Cowling’s argument is to argue that Mill’s mission to establish a rationalist, post-Christian polity – to be upheld by a clerisy – entails that Mill’s liberty principle, and his liberalism, are by their nature not a neutral framework for accommodating and tolerating a plurality of different views and ways of life, but, rather, a proselytizing, activist doctrine pushing aggressively for one particular 67

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set of beliefs, and intolerant of any dissenting views or ways of life. Cowling concludes his analysis: ‘Liberalism, then, for Mill is a means of persuading men to organize society in a way different from the way in which societies have been organized hitherto. It is as aggressive in relation to other ways of organizing society as any other doctrine.’11 So Cowling leaves us with a delicious paradox. Liberalism seems to be a nice principle, all about freedom and tolerance and pluralism – a ‘soothing night-comforter’, as he puts it – but in fact it is really quite nasty: aggressive, intolerant and authoritarian. In a final blast which could not but shock the sensibilities of his bien-pensant readers, Cowling said that liberalism ‘no less than Marxism, is intolerant of competition’.12 Indeed, he added, Mill ‘may be accused of something resembling moral totalitarianism’.13 This is strong stuff, offensive, shocking – and, as we have seen, that is exactly what Cowling intended it to be. But how fair and accurate is it as an exegesis of Mill’s writing in general, and of On Liberty and the liberty principle in particular? Some twenty years ago I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the subject of John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and the liberty principle. Naturally, I read all the main critical works on the subject, including Cowling’s Mill and Liberalism. But the curious thing was that, while most of the main scholars referred to each other’s works, Cowling’s Mill and Liberalism was hardly referred to at all. It barely featured in the bibliographies. It was not part of the debate. I hope that it will not seem disrespectful if I observe that, quite simply, Mill and Liberalism is not regarded as a serious work of Mill scholarship. Why is this? One possibility, of course, is that it is yet another example of the liberal establishment cold-shouldering a dissenting voice. Cowling was not saying what the bien-pensants deem acceptable, so was ignored. There may be something in that. But one has to face the truth that, as a work of Mill scholarship, Cowling’s Mill and Liberalism is – to put it delicately – idiosyncratic. Its analysis of Mill is eccentric, bearing little relation to what Mill actually says. The book contains remarkably few direct quotations from the text of On Liberty, and where Cowling does quote Mill there is a tendency to take his words out of context, focusing on a single phrase but ignoring the thrust of Mill’s argument. 68

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This can be illustrated by the following example. Cowling seizes on Mill’s statement (already quoted) that ‘utility’ – meaning utilitarianism – is the ‘ultimate appeal on all ethical questions’, and that this is a broad conception of utility which (in Mill’s words) is ‘grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being’. Cowling focuses on this phrase about the ultimate importance of utilitarianism and of the ‘permanent interests of man as a progressive being’, and he claims that this demonstrates that Mill’s principle would sanction intervention in individual liberty whenever such intervention would be in the individual’s own interests (regardless of what the individual actually wanted) – which just goes to show that it is a form of moral totalitarianism. This is how Cowling makes the point: Now the greatest amount of happiness altogether is not maximized if men insist on following their selfish interests at the expense of general happiness: nor will it be maximized if they follow their lower sensual natures at the expense of the higher. It will not be maximized, either, if they refuse to be educated, decline to be persuaded to the rational conclusions enjoined by their higher natures or refuse to give that deference to superiority of intellect which Mill assumes rational, educated men will always wish to give. From this it follows that if the duty of society (or government) is to restrict individuality (when necessary) in order to maximize general utility, then individuality is likely to flourish only so long as it is connected with the higher cultivation of the sentiments. The sort of social or governmental pressure which might, therefore, be admissible on this principle is much more searching than superficial attention to the principle suggests.14 The problem with this ingenious argument of Cowling’s – which, of course, lends weight to his ‘moral totalitarianism’ thesis – is that it flies directly in the face of what Mill actually says. In the very paragraph in On Liberty where he lays out his ‘very simple principle’ of liberty, Mill explicitly and emphatically rejects the notion that an individual’s interests or the rational good is a sufficient justification for intervention in that individual’s freedom. Mill insists that the individual’s 69

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own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant [for compulsion or intervention in his liberty]. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even right.15 So Mill, in the most important paragraph of On Liberty, is saying precisely the opposite of what Cowling claims he is saying. What is going on here? One can safely dismiss any idea that Cowling was missing the point. What is far more likely is that Cowling was making another point altogether. Mill and Liberalism is not, and was not intended to be, primarily a work of Mill scholarship. Rather, it is a thinly-disguised attack on the political and moral climate of Cowling’s own day. Cowling was attacking liberalism because he deplored – detested – the pervasive liberalism in the Britain of 1963. His point was that, for all its rhetoric of freedom and tolerance – freedom to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover, freedom to blaspheme, freedom to challenge authority and tradition, freedom to practise homosexuality – contemporary liberalism was aggressively intolerant of those who questioned its ‘enlightened’ post-Christian doctrines. It only allowed freedom to those of whom it approved. Hypocritically, it showed no tolerance towards, and bore down hard on, those who dissented – on Enoch Powell, for instance, or Mrs Mary Whitehouse, or Cowling himself. Moreover, this liberalism of Cowling’s time had its own ‘clerisy’ – its enlightened rationalist elite. This was the ‘great and the good’, the liberal establishment that ran post-1945 Britain: the people Noel Annan, very much of their number, was to portray in his book Our Age.16 They were the ‘body of superior minds’ whom Cowling, off the printed page, frequently described as the ‘upper-middle class liberal shits’. In 1990 when Mill and Liberalism was republished in a second edition, Cowling in a new preface was good enough to name some of them: ‘The ghosts of Tawney, Beveridge and Keynes were still at large [in 1963], as were Koestler, Snow, Ayer, Hampshire, Jenkins, Crosland, Shonfield, Kahn, Balogh, Kaldor, Joan Robinson, J. K. Galbraith and David Astor.’17 In that same preface to the second edition in 1990, 70

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Cowling freely acknowledged that Mill scholarship was secondary to his purposes: ‘quite apart from any significance which Mill and Liberalism may have for the interpretation of Mill himself, … its tone and posture are well suited to absorbing, outsmarting and seeing off whatever the parties of virtue, including the parties of civic and bureaucratic virtue, come up with.18 In fact, Cowling had acknowledged that this was the main purpose of Mill and Liberalism back in 1963, when it had first been published. It was less a work of Mill scholarship than an expression of his personal resentment at the all-pervasive liberalism of post-1945 Britain: Not everyone will recognize the experience of the author by whom this book is written: but some will understand the hostility to Mill which arises from suspicion of the claim to impartiality, rationality and unquestionable self-evidence with which liberal opinions and progressive policies have been propagated through all political parties, and most political journals, in the eighteen years which have elapsed since the end of the war.19 So Cowling was mounting an attack on the liberalism of his own time by means of an attack on the liberalism of Mill’s principle of liberty. Two concepts of liberalism But here we come up against a problem because liberalism is being used – by Cowling – to refer to two very different, indeed opposite, things. The ‘liberalism’ of Mill’s liberty principle is classical liberalism: it is concerned about protecting the liberty of the individual against the encroachments of the state. It favours limited government, and is hostile to excessive interventionism, planning and regulation. This tradition of classical small-government liberalism was carried on in twentieth-century Britain by thinkers such as Hayek and by organizations like the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute. By contrast, the ‘liberalism’ of the postwar British establishment had almost nothing in common with classical liberalism. This ‘liberalism’, underpinning the Butskellite consensus, and articulated by Roy Jenkins 71

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and Noel Annan and the Guardian newspaper, was (and is) by no means hostile to big government, or averse to expanding state intervention, planning and regulation. It is, in essence, social-democratic. The same word ‘liberalism’ happens to be used for both phenomena – classical small-state liberalism and the liberalism of the Guardian – but that is little more than a linguistic quirk (albeit probably grounded in historical developments in the doctrine and practice of the British Liberal Party). They are not the same thing at all. They are two very different – indeed, conflicting – concepts. (More confusion is created by American terminological practice. In the USA, ‘liberal’ is the term used unambiguously for those who favour state intervention for ‘progressive’ or egalitarian purposes, while those who oppose big government in principle call themselves conservatives. Thus, Ronald Reagan, whose political philosophy was in essence classical liberalism, would have been appalled to be called a liberal.) My point here is that, for Cowling to attack the post-1945 liberal establishment – the Butskellite, interventionist liberalism of Roy Jenkins, Noel Annan and the Guardian – by way of an attack on Mill’s anti-interventionist principle of liberty, is to conflate two completely different, contradictory, phenomena. It is a category error, almost a schoolboy howler. When I was an undergraduate at Peterhouse in the early 1980s, the newspapers were forever pointing to a division between two different strands of thought in the Conservative Party. In the first camp, there were the Thatcherites, committed to rolling back the frontiers of the state and to promoting freedom of the individual. In economic policy, they were in favour of monetarism and fiscal rectitude. They were, moreover, ‘conviction politicians’, with a principled approach to politics (or, as critics had it, a dogmatic approach); political questions were to be resolved by applying the principle of enlarging individual liberty and diminishing the role of the state. In the second camp, by contrast, there were the ‘wets’: these were self-styled ‘traditional’ Conservatives, hostile to the ‘dogmas’ of monetarism and Hayekian anti-statist individualism, and pragmatically – anti-dogmatically – accepting the Butskellite consensus with its ‘mixed economy’ of state and private enterprise and its economic Keynesianism. The higher type of journalist noted that these two strands of Conservative politics roughly 72

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corresponded to two schools of political philosophy: in the case of the Thatcherites, this was free-market classical liberalism (or Manchester School liberalism); and, in the case of the ‘wets’, it was traditional, evolutionary, non-ideological conservatism – ‘real’, Burkean conservatism, as some regarded it. Encountering Maurice Cowling at Peterhouse made one aware that it was all a bit more complex than that, and that there were more than just two strands of conservatism. The Cowlingite conservatives – or the Peterhouse Right, which included Roger Scruton, T. E. Utley and various contributors to the Salisbury Review, which had just started publishing – transcended the categories identified above. They were anti-dogmatic and anti-ideological, in favour of tradition, suspicious of principle. So they were not in the first camp. But the Cowlingites were not in the second camp, either. They were in favour of financial rectitude, anti-Keynesian and, above all, hostile to the Butskellite consensus. They loathed the heroes of the second camp, such as Macmillan and Heath. Moreover, whatever else one might or might not say about Cowling himself, no one could sensibly describe him as ‘wet’. So here is the puzzle. Cowling, who was so sensitive to the many different strands of conservatism, seems to have conflated two types of liberalism – the anti-statist classical liberalism of Mill’s principle and of Hayek, with the statist, interventionist liberalism of Roy Jenkins and the Guardian. As we have seen, these are not even two strands of a single body of thought – liberalism – but two wholly different, conflicting phenomena that happen both to be called by the same name. Yet, in Mill and Liberalism, Cowling attacks the one kind of liberalism in order to attack the other, strangely failing to distinguish between them. Of course, Cowling was too subtle and sophisticated a thinker to be unaware of the distinction. He acknowledged, implicitly and explicitly, that the classical liberalism of Hayek and the Institute of Economic Affairs was hostile to Butskellism20 and favourable to the consequences of inequality21 – both positions that Cowling endorsed and recognized as being at odds with the views of the post-1945 liberal establishment. Cowling recognized (how could he not?) the classical liberal ‘belief in the limitation of governmental power’22 – another contradistinction from the liberalism of the post-1945 establishment and of the Guardian 73

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– and in 1990 Cowling wrote of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Hayek as being part of the ‘New Right’ backlash against the postwar ‘liberal consensus’ he abhorred,23 of which he saw the Peterhouse Right, including himself, as constituting another part.24 The point is, however, that whereas Cowling could see distinctions between (on the one hand) classical small-state liberalism and (on the other) postwar Butskellite interventionist ‘liberalism’, he failed – or to be more accurate refused – to distinguish between their respective merits. He condemned the one as much as the other: the anti-statist, pro-individual liberty stance of a Mill or a Hayek was no better than the statism, interventionism and soft egalitarianism of Roy Jenkins, Anthony Crosland or the Guardian. In the passage of Cowling’s Religion and Public Doctrine that ‘deals with’ Hayek, Cowling sneers that Hayek’s 1944 work, The Road to Serfdom, which is of course widely regarded as a seminal attack on socialism and interventionism, ‘expressed the resentments of a dispossessed Liberal. So far from being conservative, it was designed to achieve Socialism’s ethical objectives without resorting to Socialist methods.’25 What I think Cowling means by this is that Hayek and the classical liberals are to be condemned, no less than the post1945 liberal establishment, for their commitment to an ‘enlightened’ rationalist – and, in particular, to a secular and post-Christian26 – polity. It was the enlightenment rationalism in Hayek’s writing that ‘left [Cowling] cold’.27 Both types of liberalism were enlightened, rationalistic and secular, with all that that implied: Hayek, just as much as Crosland, Jenkins and the Guardian, suffered from an ‘innocent’,28 ‘enthusiastic’,29 quasi-utopian commitment to ‘the march of progress’30 – which ought to be rejected by real conservatives who (at least as Cowling and the Peterhouse Right conceived it) should seek to dissolve ‘enthusiasm, virtue and political elevation’.31 This was what marked out liberalism – both ‘liberalisms’ – from conservatism, and was what proper conservatives had to combat. What I want to suggest now is that, while undoubtedly there is something in all this, Cowling was at fault for overstating the differences between classical liberalism and ‘real’ conservatism – just as he understated the differences between classical liberalism and the liberalism of the post-1945 establishment. My point will be that the insights 74

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of classical liberalism and of ‘real’ conservatism are not as different as Cowling made out, and that there is a good deal of – fertile – common ground between them. Practical politics It is perhaps worth pausing here to observe that the considerations discussed above have significant implications for practical party politics in Britain – in which Cowling, unlike many practitioners of political thought, took a serious interest. Specifically, they have implications for the future of the post-Thatcher Conservative Party. The question is whether what we now call Thatcherism – that is, a Hayekian, Millian, classical liberal principled commitment to promoting individual liberty and rolling back the state – should be seen either •

• •

as a historic aberration alien to true Conservatism, which is what the ‘wets’ of the 1980s alleged, claiming that there had been a hostile takeover of the party by Manchester School liberals who were not conservative at all; or as something that could be legitimately practised by Conservatives, and was right for its time, but is not a necessary or fundamental part of Conservatism; or as something that is necessary and fundamental to true Conservatism.

At the memorial service for Cowling, Michael Portillo said that Cowling ‘was no great supporter of Margaret Thatcher’.32 Portillo is clearly better placed than most of us to know about this, but I am not sure that Cowling’s writings fully bear out the claim. In 1978, just before she became prime minister and after three years of her leadership of the party, Cowling wrote of Mrs Thatcher’s ‘remarkable achievement’ in having ‘imposed necessary truths upon the Conservative Party’, that ‘the argument ha[d] been won’ and that her ideas were ‘here to stay’.33 Then, in the final year of her prime ministership, Cowling wrote – again – of ‘the remarkable nature of Mrs Thatcher’s achievement’, and he noted that ‘politicians of all parties have felt obliged to agree that Mrs Thatcher has rewritten their agenda’.34 Cowling recognized, 75

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moreover, that as a result of the Thatcher years, ‘the political and intellectual climate have moved in the direction he wished them to move in when he wrote [Mill and Liberalism]’, back in 1963.35 But Cowling’s warm appreciation of the achievements of Mrs Thatcher, including her achievements in changing the intellectual climate, were not matched by real support for the Thatcherite project of promoting individual freedom and rolling back the state. It was here that Cowling’s hostility to ‘liberalism’ – including Hayekian classical liberalism – manifested itself. He was uneasy about ‘the freedom rhetoric’ being used by Mrs Thatcher and her supporters,36 and in 1978 Cowling warned: Conservatives, if they talk about freedom long enough, begin to believe that this is what they want. But it is not freedom that Conservatives want; what they want is the sort of freedom which will maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones, so far as political action can do this.37 Linked to this, Cowling disliked the Hayekian and Popperian ‘antitotalitarianism’38 that underscored Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Iron Lady’ stance in the cold war. He regretted that the Thatcherite concern about ‘the threat from socialist virtue’ had not been matched by concern about ‘the threat from liberal virtue’.39 And – again – Cowling was nervous about the ‘enthusiasm’ of the Thatcherites, and he stressed ‘the desirability of a more “fallen” tone’ for Conservatives.40 So, for Cowling, the animus against classical liberalism was matched by a sense of the doctrinal essence of Thatcherism – pro-freedom, anti-statist – being in some way unconservative; at best, they were acceptable in the context of Mrs Thatcher’s time, but no more than that, at worst antithetical to a ‘real’ conservative position. I would like to suggest the opposite, namely that the principled commitment to individual liberty and limited government – the classical liberal or Thatcherite stance – may be seen as a friend, rather than the enemy or antithesis, of ‘real’ conservative (with a small ‘c’) thought, and therefore as a necessary and fundamental part of ‘big-C’ Conservative politics. 76

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The common ground The Cowlingite critique of classical liberalism echoes much that has been said by traditional conservatives on the subject stretching back to Burke. These are well-rehearsed dichotomies: liberal rationalism versus conservative respect for ‘prejudice’; naïve liberal utopianism and progressivism versus hard-headed conservative scepticism; and the apparent antithesis of the doctrinaire, abstract and teleological nature of liberalism versus the anti-ideological, organic and evolutionary essence of conservatism, rooted as it is in facts and traditions rather than abstraction. Cowling has much to say about all this. Hayekian assumptions are at fault, he says, because they are ‘insensitive to the fact that inherited luggage cannot be abandoned’.41 They are too abstract, when what is needed is ‘a response to facts, including the facts of class and belief’.42 Finally, as already noted, there is the point about Hayek’s alleged belief in ‘the march of progress’43 and the supposed ‘enthusiasm’ of the Hayekians44 – to be contrasted with Cowlingite or Peterhouse conservatism with its ‘negative bloodiness’45 favouring ‘irony, geniality and malice as solvents of enthusiasm, virtue and political elevation’.46 To be fair, Hayek repays the compliment – or, rather, the lack of compliment. In his famous essay ‘Why I Am Not a Conservative’, Hayek argued that ‘the conservative and the liberal dispositions differ radically’.47 By way of example, Hayek saw ‘fear of change’48 as a fundamental trait of the conservative attitude, alongside ‘complacency … toward the action of established authority’.49 (One may smile at this, because Cowling’s own conservative hostility to the post-1945 British establishment hardly fits in with this picture.) Most fundamentally, according to Hayek, conservatives reject the classical liberal notion that ‘moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion’50 – in other words, peeling away the double negatives: conservatives, unlike liberals, think that the state can justifiably coerce individuals to advance its (the state’s) own moral projects. My contention is that these are caricatures, by Cowling and Hayek, which exaggerate the differences between classical liberalism and conservatism, and ignore the shared insights and common ground. 77

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Most crucial is the point about ‘enthusiasm’ – the notion that classical liberalism springs from an ‘innocent’ belief in human progress, untempered by realism or by the proper scepticism and ‘negative bloodiness’ of conservatives. That notion is simply not right. Classical liberalism does not rest on a naïve or starry-eyed view of human nature. On the contrary, it rests on a negative, pessimistic, sceptical view – the insight that human beings are fallible and prone to error, and therefore cannot be trusted to exercise too much power. It is for this reason – the classical liberal argument says – that the power to take decisions should not be concentrated in just a few hands, but should be dispersed widely among the millions of individuals who make up a society. From this flows a hostility towards entrusting too great a role to the state, and a preference for leaving as much decisionmaking as possible to individual choice. Of course individuals, acting freely, can and will make errors – but the consequences of some individuals getting it wrong when making decisions about their own lives are less dangerous than the consequences of government taking the decision for the whole of society and still (because governments are composed of fallible people) getting it wrong. When government makes an error, the error is amplified and harms the whole of society. When individuals make their own choices, while there are some people who will get it wrong, others will get it right; and in the free play of ideas and actions among millions of people there is the possibility of a corrective to error – of learning from our own and others’ arguments and mistakes. When decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of government, there can be no such corrective. It is precisely because governments are made up of fallible human beings that they cannot be trusted to monopolize decision-making; their role should therefore be as limited as possible. The pessimism and scepticism – the emphasis on human fallibility – lead to the classical liberal hostility to big government, to a preference for free individual initiative over state dirigisme, to scepticism about what can be achieved in advancing ‘progress’ by planning, by regulation and by grand projects and, hence, to a principled commitment to protecting individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. 78

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I do not want to claim that this is the reasoning of all classical liberals everywhere. But, importantly, it is the basis for the liberal principles of the two classical liberals we have been examining, and towards whom we have seen Maurice Cowling directing his fire – Hayek and Mill. Hayek wrote that the case for individual freedom rests chiefly on the recognition of the inevitable ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievement of our ends and welfare depends. … Liberty is essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable. … It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best, that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.51 Mill, similarly, based his insistence that individual liberty should be protected against coercion by the state on an awareness of human fallibility and ignorance. ‘Authority’ – that is, government – should not coerce or silence dissenting individuals, because those exercising the power to coerce or suppress may well be wrong. ‘Those who desire to suppress [a dissenting view or decision], of course, deny its truth; but they are not infallible,’ Mill says.52 People need to be left free to speak and act as they choose, because only the free play of ideas can be a corrective to the error that is inevitable in human affairs: ‘on any matter not self-evident’, Mill notes in pessimistic vein, ‘there are ninety-nine persons totally incapable of judging it for one who is capable’.53 Therefore one should disperse decision-making among individuals, rather than concentrating it into the hands of big government. This insight on the part of Mill and Hayek – that people are fallible, ignorant and prone to error, and so cannot be trusted with too much power – is a sceptical and recognizably conservative insight. It is rooted in a hard-headed, fact-based assessment of the human condition. There is nothing ‘innocent’ or utopian about it. And from it flows the conclusion that, as a matter of principle, the role of the state should be limited, and the liberty of the individual maximized. This is principled 79

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classical liberalism and, far from being alien to ‘real’ conservative traditions – to the hard-headed, fact-grounded ‘negative bloodiness’ that Cowling celebrates – it is a natural concomitant of it. The suggestion here is not that Millian or Hayekian liberalism is the same as Cowlingite conservatism. For one thing, Christianity plays no necessary role in it, and yet Christianity is a core feature of Cowling’s conception of a political order (although I do not think that Cowling would have said that Christianity, or even religion, was necessary to ‘true’ conservatism). Rather, the point here is that there are important shared insights between classical liberalism and traditional or ‘true’ conservatism; that the differences between them should not be overstated; and that a classical liberal emphasis on rolling back the state and protecting individual freedom as a matter of principle, far from being alien to true conservatism, is fundamentally bound up with it. Conclusions So, to summarize, two main points are made in this chapter. The first is that Maurice Cowling’s attack on ‘liberalism’, in Mill and Liberalism and elsewhere, insufficiently distinguishes between, on the one hand, the statist interventionist ‘liberalism’ of the post-1945 Butskellite consensus and, on the other, the anti-statist anti-interventionist classical liberalism of a Hayek or a Mill. Despite the same word being used for them, these ‘liberalisms’ are virtual opposites of each other. The second point is that it is a mistake to exaggerate the differences between traditional conservatism and classical liberalism; that, beyond the caricatures, there is real common ground and shared insight; that a sceptical conservative understanding of human fallibility and ignorance entails a principled classical liberal commitment to limiting the role of the state and protecting individual liberty; and that this ought to inform a proper appreciation of the role of principled classical liberalism (or, if one prefers, of Thatcherism) in both small-c conservative doctrine and big-C Conservative policy. A final thought There is something else, too. It is a point about attitude, in particular to the prevailing modes of public discourse. 80

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Mill in On Liberty, in the course of making his argument in favour of freedom of expression, bemoans the way that society makes it so difficult for people to dissent from the conventional wisdom, and that those who do dissent are shouted down. Mill writes: In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence … while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion really does deter people from professing contrary opinions and from listening to those who profess them.54 It is Mill who is making this complaint. But it could have been Cowling.

Notes 1. Addresses at memorial service for Maurice Cowling at the University Church, Cambridge, 29 October 2005. 2. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 68. 3. ‘Preface to second edition’, in Cowling, Mill, p.xii. 4. Mill, On Liberty, pp. 69–70. See, on this point, Cowling, Mill, p. 30: ‘The emphasis, in Mill’s justification of freedom, is neither on its intrinsic goodness nor on any belief man may have in its natural rightness, but on the fact that a free individual is more likely than an unfree one to contribute to the higher cultivation.’ 5. Mill, On Liberty, p. 98. 6. Ibid., p. il. 7. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 279, 291, 296, 297. 8. Cowling, Mill, p. 15. 9. Ibid., p. 15. 10. Ibid., p. 18. 11. Ibid., p. 156. 12. Ibid., p. il. Fifteen years later, Cowling was still writing in this vein, and advocated treating ‘Liberalism and Marxism as similar sorts of doctrine’: Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, in CE, p. 20. 13. Cowling, Mill, p. xlviii. 14. Ibid., pp. 99–100. 15. Mill, On Liberty, p. 68. 81

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16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54.

Noel Annan, Our Age: Portrait of a Generation (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990). ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, pp. ix–x. Ibid., p. xlv. Mill, On Liberty, p. xlvii. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 7. Cowling, RPD III, p. 298. Ibid., p. 497. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, pp. xviii–xix, xli. Ibid, pp. xxx–xxxiii. Cowling, RPD III, p. 496. Ibid, p. 499. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, p. xxi. Cowling, RPD III, p. 499. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 14. Cowling, RPD III, p. 500. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, p. xxx. Addresses at memorial service for Maurice Cowling, at the University Church, Cambridge, 29 October 2005. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, pp. 6–7. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, p. xl. Ibid., pp. xliv–xlv. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 10. Ibid., p. 9. Ibid., p. 7. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, p. xlii. Cowling ‘The Present Position’, p. 14. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, p. xli. Ibid., p. xli. Cowling, RPD III, p. 500. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 14. ‘Preface’, in Cowling, Mill, pp. xli–xlii. Ibid., p. xxx. F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960), p. 400. Ibid., p. 400. Ibid., p. 401. Ibid., p. 402. Ibid., p. 29. Mill, On Liberty, p. 77. Ibid., p. 79. Ibid., p. 117. 82

PART II THE PRACTICE OF POLITICAL HISTORY

Chapter 5

Herbert Butterfield and Maurice Cowling Michael Bentley

Beginning at the end supplies a certain perspective. When Herbert Butterfield died in July 1979, Maurice Cowling, his former colleague at Peterhouse, Cambridge, sent Butterfield’s widow the shortest and curtest note of condolence in the entire collection sent to her.1 Its tone reflected the distance that might appear in a letter to the bereaved wife of a scarcely-known college porter rather than a former Master and friend. Pamela Butterfield had never liked Cowling and must later have felt some apprehension when news circulated that the planned British Academy obituary for her husband had fallen into enemy hands. Why Cowling was asked to write it remains unclear: he was not an obvious choice even inside Peterhouse. Brian Wormald, another history fellow, would have made more sense since he had been closer to Butterfield than anyone in the college. No one else in Peterhouse seemed obvious; Dom David Knowles was dead, so were Ernest Barker and Denis Brogan. Outside Peterhouse, Charles Wilson, former frondeur of Jesus College and Butterfield’s successor in the chair of modern history at Cambridge, would have seemed natural but he had moved to Florence; his story joined Butterfield’s when he, too, fell under Cowling’s scythe in a remarkable memorial address.2 Beyond Cambridge the wayward guru of University College, Dublin, Desmond Williams, knew Butterfield better than anyone and over a longer period than anybody apart from Wormald. Perhaps they all declined to write. At any rate, Cowling fell upon Butterfield’s legacy with an unsentimental evaluation strikingly at odds with the usual tone of the Proceedings of the British Academy. 85

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Butterfield emerged as a slave to Rankeanism who needed ‘only a ruthless relativism, a coherent conception of God’s transcendence, and an abandonment of scruple’ to come out of it.3 It contrasted painfully with all other obituaries. It made Butterfield’s widow cry.4 If it were meant to convey the depth of Butterfield’s ‘influence’ on Cowling, then its message seemed more than oblique in 1979. Some 30 years earlier one can sense a very different impression. Maurice Cowling arrived as an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, in October 1943, a grammar school boy from south London, constipated by the beauty of holiness and lower-middle-class respectability.5 Cowling discovered a Butterfield hoping to land his major promotion to the chair of modern history – recently unfrozen despite the war – and desperately trying to complete The Englishman and His History in order to smooth his passage with the electors.6 Cowling later claimed that he had been ‘taught’ by Butterfield during his distended undergraduate years (1943–44 and 1948–49), which had been dislocated by military service, but it is unlikely that he received supervisions from a new professor in a different college and Butterfield’s appointment diaries suggest that a first meeting took place over lunch in Peterhouse on 30 May 1952, though unrecorded conversation may obviously have taken place before then. Contact had arisen more systematically through Butterfield’s lectures on European history, which Cowling attended, and through a close reading of Butterfield’s books, especially The Whig Interpretation of History (1931), The Englishman and his History (1944) and Christianity and History (1949).7 These encounters seemed adequate enough preparation for an undergraduate with over-developed confidence to write some ‘Reflections on Professor Butterfield’, which appeared in the Varsity Supplement in 1948.8 The 1950s physically separated Butterfield and Cowling because the former remained in his chair and college, of which he became master in 1955, while Cowling’s research fellowship at Jesus College lapsed and he went off on a cartwheeling, largely unsuccessful trajectory in Indian historical sources, London journalism and a doomed attempt to secure a Conservative parliamentary seat in 1959.9 But the meeting in 1952 retained some significance. It followed a correspondence in which Cowling wrote a 20-page letter to Butter86

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field full of aggressive brilliance about his intention to expose Acton’s confusion of subjective and social ‘liberty’ and his determination to liquidate Fasnacht’s recent study of Acton’s thought and Douglas Woodruff’s seriously-flawed edition of the essays.10 This lay close to Butterfield’s concerns in 1952 because he was about to commit himself – a commitment later withdrawn – to providing a complete edition of Acton’s letters for Cambridge University Press. The story is too involved to follow here but it is important to see that this early joint engagement with Acton produced divergent responses. For Butterfield he remained the most impressive figure in nineteenth-century historiography with the exception of Ranke and although he disliked the style of moral judgement that Acton visited on historical figures, Butterfield felt some sympathy for the humaneness of Acton’s Weltanschauung. Cowling responded to it with bile, loathing the certainties and closures of Acton’s intellect. It should be recalled that Cowling’s jaundiced book about John Stuart Mill had begun life as a jaundiced book about Lord Acton.11 More immediately, however, the conversations and correspondence of 1952 brought Butterfield and Cowling closer by leaving the older man with an awareness of Cowling’s intellectual virility – that ‘electricity’, which Butterfield always deemed the primary requirement in evaluating intellectuals and making university appointments. The encounter would become a significant datum in 1963. Maurice Cowling’s return to Cambridge, first as a jobbing tutor and then, thanks to his friend Charles Wilson, a fellow of Jesus College in 1961, re-established contact both with an academic world that had undergone significant shifts over the past decade and with the Master of Peterhouse who was no longer the man of 1952. In that year the knighthood conferred on Lewis Namier had added to the vinegar Butterfield tasted at his exclusion, secured by Namier, A. J. P. Taylor and others, from the British Academy. His public debate with Namier, which turned into an academic row of unusual prominence and culminated in the violence of Butterfield’s George III and the Historians (1957), coloured much of his public reputation until Namier’s death in 1960. Meanwhile, Butterfield’s interests had slid away from eighteenthcentury politics towards issues in modern diplomacy and international 87

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relations, on the one hand, and to the history of historiography on the other, which had proved a sharp corrective to what he saw as Namier’s deficiencies and lack of perspective. These interests intersected to a degree with Cowling’s over the same period because his journalism led him into polemic about British foreign policy and the evils of liberal pacifism. Both men dwelled on the nation’s fascination with the Suez crisis on which Cowling wrote an unpublished pamphlet – editors had spiked his articles on the subject – and on which Butterfield took a public position.12 But the Butterfield whom Cowling had recalled from his first Cambridge period had ended with the essays from those years printed in History and Human Relations (1951) and his occasional forays into Actoniana. The Master of Peterhouse had now a different sense of his place in the world and enjoyed the possibilities for patronage that attended leadership of Cambridge’s then most powerful college in historical studies. Cowling enjoyed the return to his alma mater, meanwhile, but Jesus College had drawbacks for him and he wanted a secure fellowship in a major historical college. Through Wilson, again, negotations opened with Peterhouse and Cowling was elected to Butterfield’s college in 1963 where he remained teaching and writing for the next 30 years. Butterfield’s retirement in 1968 curtailed their professional relationship and claims of affinity need, therefore, to face the dimensions of that curtailment. They had worked together for only five years. Because Butterfield undoubtedly played the central role in bringing Cowling to Peterhouse, his intentions have come under scrutiny. Circumstantial evidence has proved more malleable than contemporary witness in working out those intentions and an impression has been encouraged that Cowling’s election may be inserted alongside that of others among ‘Butterfield’s Tories’ at Peterhouse to help weave a web of Conservative conspiracy.13 This is a mistake, albeit an understandable one. It feeds from an error about Butterfield’s politics, which itself feeds from an error about his attitude to Whig history. The story of Butterfield’s supposed renunciation or recantation of the ideas in The Whig Interpretation of History is by now a familiar one but it needs brief rehearsal here since it has direct relevance to misjudging his relationship with Cowling. 88

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John Pocock drew attention many years ago to what he called das Butterfieldproblem, which consisted in alleging that what Butterfield said in The Englishman and His History contradicted what he had said about Whig historiography 13 years before – rubbishing it in the Whig Interpretation and then approving of it in The Englishman.14 This sensibility informed critics of Butterfield for a generation, giving rise to the view that, once an Asquithian Liberal, Butterfield had now become a patriotic Tory with a vaguely Baldwinian approach to the world.15 It was a sympathetic reader of Butterfield’s work, Keith Sewell, who first noticed that this rendering of what Butterfield had said did not fit a careful reading of The Englishman and His History,16 and a dispassionate consideration of that very flawed book supports his view. What Butterfield continued to say in The Englishman was that Whig history was a bad thing qua historical science but a good thing in its political and constitutional effects: it produced bad history books but the nation’s belief in it helped Britain to value freedom and resist Hitler – a pressing desideratum in 1944. But the currency of this mistaken hypothesis – one about which Butterfield himself felt embarrassed in later years – underpinned the suggestion that the Master of Peterhouse had set about surrounding himself with conservative dons and, in Cowling’s case, with a Tory stained by a reactionary disposition. That Peterhouse became a college with a strong right-wing flavour in the 1960s is certainly the case. Nor can it be denied that Butterfield had always disliked Marxists for their atheism and liberals for their sentimentality. It distorts his position, however, to turn him into a Tory recruiter. Some of the supposed recruits in folklore, such as Edward Norman and David Watkin, were not appointed by Butterfield at all but arrived in Peterhouse after his retirement. Some whom he did appoint left him nervous about their politics, right or (as in the case of the young John Vincent) left. What Butterfield sought in those wishing to come to Peterhouse was that elusive intellectual ‘electricity’ rather than evidence of political fellowtravelling. It is what he saw in Maurice Cowling and that is why he advanced the possibility of his election. The conspiracy-thesis suffers, moreover, from a second and conclusive difficulty. For most of their time in the same college after 1963, 89

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Butterfield did not like Cowling. He did not take to him after he appointed him and grew not only to dislike him for his behaviour within college and later as a public intellectual but also in some senses to fear him. He had already seen what drink could do to Denis Brogan. Butterfield did not enjoy the spectre of Cowling swaying up to him in the Combination Room before dinner, gown dangling from one elbow, eyes lowering and looking for trouble after a few stiff whiskies. The sober variant was less aggressive but not at all biddable: Cowling was a ‘difficult’ colleague who defended his own space for his writing and his politics. Butterfield knew that Cowling’s make-up, beneath the cynicism and capacity to wound, had a spiritual dimension to which he could respond. He admired the power of Cowling’s mind and appreciated his manifest success as a teacher and director of studies. He would occasionally have him over to the lodge for a controlled drink with others. But the sense of distance persisted and Cowling, for his part, did little to diminish it. Most of Butterfield’s professional work on the eighteenth century had been aimed at moving away from ‘high politics’ to a wider perspective that introduced ‘the people’ into the play of political parties.17 The book Cowling wrote during Butterfield’s mastership – his study of the 1867 Reform Act in relation to supposed revolutionary pressures – argued the precise reverse, that ‘the people’ played no part in the gestation and carrying of major initiatives whose explanation should be sought among a handful of people at Westminster and the clubs of St James’s.18 Indeed, both men saw one another as cases of contrast rather than sympathy. Butterfield believed Cowling guilty of various acts of intellectual abridgement and of a social manner that he often found rebarbative, consoling himself with the thought that Cowling may have been noisy in English but he could not speak any European languages and relapsed into silence when surrounded by them. Cowling, for his part, missed the degree to which Butterfield had left behind much of his upbringing and evolved a style of thought based on doctrines about international relations and the history of historiography. He still regarded the Master as an Asquithian Liberal radiating Nonconformity, though he refined the image in later years. Both felt some disap90

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pointment in the other. Perhaps Butterfield had hoped that Cowling would turn into an English Desmond Williams – outrageous and opinionated in a charming, mercurial way – only to discover himself faced by a more heavyweight sensibility with a commitment to publishing that Williams never espoused and what Butterfield in his later career had found hard to emulate. Equally, Cowling may have thought, from the standpoint of undergraduate admiration, that Butterfield would display a cutting edge as master that seemed notably absent once he came to watch him at close quarters. None of this impeded mutual respect but it militated against personal intimacy.

ŒŒ Butterfield’s private journals – thin in the 1950s but richer in the 1960s – offer a perspective on this troubled relationship if only through the sparseness of references to Cowling. There is a surge of comment in the first term of Cowling’s fellowship and then a long silence until the end of Butterfield’s period as master when, predictably, Cowling played a significant role in the politics surrounding a possible successor. The incidence suggests a honeymoon when the master still believed that Cowling would behave like a protégé, followed by a period of disenchantment and withdrawal on both sides, leading finally to a sense on Butterfield’s part that he was being played like a hooked salmon on a long line. Peterhouse provided the pool within which these repositionings took place and one needs to know the water to understand Butterfield’s opportunities and difficulties. It had become agitated into a turbulent environment as the price of great intellectual distinction in the 1960s. Munia Postan in economic history, John Kendrew and his brilliant associate in molecular biology, Max Perutz, commanded academic respect, but all brilliant men have their moments of friction. The professor of political science, Denis Brogan, was pre-eminently able but frequently contracted enmities. Brian Wormald, the history fellow to whom Butterfield always felt most sympathetic, had entered a period of intense personal difficulty following the breakdown of his marriage; his spectacular rudeness now extended beyond its normal occasion in catching a sight of engineeers 91

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– ‘Oh, bloody HELL!’ – to anyone about whom he bore, or felt he ought to bear, a grudge. Butterfield later wrote privately that his old friend had become ‘a trial’ during his mastership.19 Charles Burkill, the mathematics fellow, remained emollient and possessed the charm of all his family, but Butterfield may have nursed an old personal grievance that left their relationship with a certain distance. The master had also upset a number of fellows through manmanagement that veered from weak to autocratic. He remained loyal to one fellow whose incapacity and inability to write argued that disloyalty should have become a duty. He developed a disloyalty, on the other hand, to a both talented, and later distinguished, historian in Denis Mack Smith and never saw the resentments that would follow his depriving a serious scientist of his fellowship on grounds whose apparent legality formed their only recommendation. Younger fellows, chosen for their electricity more than their insulation, compounded the charged atmosphere and, egged on by the beast of Gisborne Court, helped fill the dining hall with negative energy and the Combination Room afterwards with candle-lit malice. That the Master did not drink helped his balance in this situation but not always his understanding of what was taking place around him. For Maurice Cowling, who could out-drink most persons present, it presented a platform for rhetoric, subtext and conspiracy. Butterfield enjoyed one common experience with Cowling because they both knew something of Ireland. The Master’s induction had taken place almost thirty years before when he began examining for Irish universities and he formed an especially close relationship, paradoxical in a Methodist teetotaller, with the Roman Catholic institution, University College, Dublin. He did so through two personalities – ‘Robin’ Dudley Edwards20 and a fortiori Desmond Williams21 who united personal charm with a withering contempt for conventional views in general and any concerning the Third Reich in particular. Cowling’s exposure came much later and incidentally. He had begun a doctoral dissertation, never completed, on government and society in India, building on his own experience of the continent after the war. The ‘paper chase’ for relevant archives took him to Ireland to examine the manuscripts of Lord Mayo who had become viceroy at the end of 92

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the 1860s. Yet, it was probably Butterfield who encouraged him a decade later to attend the Conference of Irish Historians in June 1963, when Cowling’s move to Peterhouse was pending, and to deliver a paper on John Stuart Mill, which took its message from the polemical Mill and Liberalism he had written in a journalistic blitz over the previous summer. The conference took place in Derry, then firmly Protestantized as Londonderry, whose location close to the border plainly enhanced the gaiety of nations: Three car-loads of us drove a few miles into the country, to the village of Muff at the other side of the frontier. The great thing is to go to Muff where the drinks are cheaper and are served later than at our hotel. … From 11.30 the proprietor of the inn was trying to get us out of the place. We left at 11.50. I gather that the frontier closes at 12.0. A number of our party bought hip-flasks of whisky [sic] and adjourned to Desmond Williams’s bedroom to drink and talk after we had returned.22 Without evidence to the contrary, it feels a safe bet that Cowling joined the bedroom party. Not only did he meet Williams through this connection but he would later benefit from the close relationship between Peterhouse and University College, Dublin that Butterfield had fostered and that would bring within its walls a stream of young research fellows of very high calibre and promise, among them F. X. Martin, Kevin B. Nowlan, Ronan Fanning and Patrick Cosgrave.23 Williams would later run interference between Butterfield and Cowling on some occasions, conveying in his magisterial ambiguities a distorted image of each to the other. For the moment, their intertwining biographies curled comfortably together. Butterfield had begun his move towards a wider study of what he called ‘the history of historiography’ and his paper at the Irish Conference on Sir Edward Grey in 1914 had an historiographical flavour intended to rescue the subject from the hands of Fritz Fischer for whose Griff nach der Weltmacht (1961) he had cultivated a particular dislike; and that approach chimed with Cowling’s own sense of the past as a place for the airing of present doctrine.24 Cowling’s polemic 93

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on Mill as a devious secularist intent on uprooting Christianity likewise appealed to Butterfield’s profound loathing for secular liberalism as a category-error that had been made possible by detaching liberal ideas from what he took to be their original location within the history of the Christian churches. Cowling’s other foray of 1963, his no less polemical study of The Nature and Limits of Political Science, seemed equally welcome in the Master’s Lodge because its entire orientation fitted Butterfield’s lifelong aversion to ‘theory’ in politics and had an extra attraction in manifestly owing much to the thought of Michael Oakeshott who, despite a certain cooling in more recent years, was one of Butterfield’s oldest friends. Having just lost Kingsley Amis, who had brought a certain panache during his brief fellowship in English at Peterhouse,25 Butterfield may have seen Cowling, widely and wrongly believed to have been Amis’s friend, as a sort of successor in infamy. So all looked initially promising in the autumn of 1963 when Desmond Williams arrived for a congenial weekend and Cowling came to the lodge, too, for drinks and talk.26 Yet, within weeks, friction had made itself felt. Butterfield and Cowling agreed that the Robbins Report on Higher Education threatened to be a bad thing in itself and potentially harmful in its implications for Cambridge admissions. Just two years earlier Butterfield had emerged, weak and ill like so many of his predecessors, from the office of vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. His tenure had been dominated by the Bridges Report on reforming the university, which Butterfield had opposed vehemently in its original form for what he understood to be an attack on the autonomy of the individual colleges and abetted by the custodians of liberal illusion among whom he counted Noël Annan as exemplary. He shared Cowling’s sense that Robbins, too, must be resisted. What he did not share was Cowling’s view about how to do so, which turned on a conviction, one celebrated in his later histories, that because only a few people mattered in the making of political decisions, the point of strategy was to nobble someone important rather than write letters to The Times or hold public meetings. Cowling decided, within weeks of arriving in Peterhouse, that it 94

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would be profitable to nobble Sir Edward Boyle, the Tory minister of education who would probably be entrusted with the government’s response to Robbins. He wrote to Butterfield claiming that 15 Cambridge dons had already approached the city’s MP, Hamilton Kerr,27 to listen to their complaints and that it had been subsequently proposed – Cowling excelled in the passive mood – to invite Boyle to Cambridge where he could meet ‘a picked body of people’ who would perhaps not include their spokesman, who had been drunk at the Hamilton Kerr meeting, or a more silent accomplice who had fallen asleep on the couch. Far better to have Boyle come and stay at the lodge (a proposal that raised Butterfield’s eyebrows since he happened to live there) so that they could pursue what Butterfield reported as ‘the political method’, namely nobbling the minister who would then talk to Butler and Macmillan and get them to think again about Cambridge’s special characteristics.28 Butterfield had deep misgivings, and doubtless felt himself ‘nobbled’, over the whole plan: I said that I was very doubtful about the implications of such a summoning of the Minister of Education. I felt it might spoil the ground if the higher authorities in Cambridge had need to resort to political action. In any case, I was not a politician and not a conservative [sic], and I wondered whether the whole measure might not provoke a counter-move on the part of the Socialists. I did not see how a Minister’s visit could be kept a secret.29 Imagine the Master’s surprise, therefore, when he learned ‘that Hamilton Kerr had been authorized to proceed’ – more passives – and a date fixed for Boyle’s visit in Feburary 1964 with an invitation to the Lodge.30 In itself the incident mattered little. But it showed Butterfield for the first time what it meant to deal with the agitated political intelligence of his new history fellow. It is hard to believe that Cowling’s omission from Butterfield’s journal over the next few years follows merely from a random failure of survival. Meanwhile Cowling, too, had returned to silence. The flurry of books and proposals designed to secure a university lectureship and 95

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permanent fellowship had served their purpose. They continued to inform the teaching but never again did Cowling turn to those studies as the centre of his writing. He moved instead towards a more austerely ‘political’ subject matter – not at the level of political thought but rather in the practice of what he liked to call ‘high politics’. It was as though the little intrigue over Boyle could be made a cameo for an entire approach to ‘the political method’ as it might be applied to historical work. But it also envisaged strategy practised at a level different from that of policy-formation as it appeared in the columns of Hansard or the desiccated prose of a White Paper. Its complication, rarification and sheer unreadability would later alienate many who believed that, whatever political history was, it could not be this and that the trilogy produced between 1967 and 1975 should be kept at arm’s length unless one wore strings of garlic. This political ‘turn’ gave rise to just two publications under Butterfield’s mastership – an article for the Historical Journal considering a limited facet of British high politics in 1865–66, which announced the method; and the first volume of Cowling’s political trilogy, which incorporated that work and appeared as planned to coincide with the centenary of the 1867 Reform Act.31 This writing has its own importance within Cowling’s broader development but it also had its impact on Butterfield and one can see at once the ways in which he regarded it as unfortunate. He, Butterfield, had spent a decade, after all, trying to undo the damage that he believed Sir Lewis Namier had inflicted on historical studies by turning them into a search for private archives and evacuating from all historical narrative the role of ideas and ideals as items of explanation.32 Namier was now dead; but here, in his own college and appointed by his own hand, lurked an apprentice prince of darkness seemingly committed to a raft of proposals about the nature of history that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Namier’s doctrines. In fact, this impression missed the significant differences between Cowling’s and Namier’s conceptions, though it has persisted and Cowling often needed to defend himself against the allegation that he was a Namierite, a view that he resisted with his usual robustness. That Butterfield detected the virus is more important for our purpose, however, than the question whether Cowling carried 96

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it. By the mid-1960s the Master knew well enough that his protégé had set off for a dangerous place where he could not follow. Cowling’s teaching, unlike that of the eternally-reticent Brian Wormald, was far from silent. Indeed, in the sepulchral gloom of his rooms in Gisborne Court, the Terror had begun. Undergraduates approached their supervisions with dread, knowing all too well what was to come in lacerating observations on their failure to read widely, write clearly or think intelligently.33 His method clashed with Butterfield’s pedagogic vision in two ways. First, Butterfield intimidated students only through the depth of his preparation. Research students in particular came away with stories of how Butterfield’s notes on their work in preparation for an encounter seemed fuller than their own so that they felt inadequate to the task, even to the point of considering a change of supervisor.34 Cowling never prepared (to the consternation of the more studious pupils) and taught by instinct. Second and more urgent, Cowling’s determination to shape young minds, moulding them where he could, bludgeoning them when he must, produced – and was intended to produce – a following among the student body. He wanted to imprint his teaching on undergraduates in an ineradicable way. It did not always work: some merely resented what they saw as a form of bullying. But it became a notorious feature of the Peterhouse experience that Cowling did something painful but distinctive and ultimately shaping. That was what Butterfield distrusted. Perhaps his suspicions derived in part from personality and a hint of jealousy. He found it difficult to relate to pupils with the immediate depth of contact that Cowling achieved through sheer presence and charisma. He elicited respect, naturally, and his lectures attracted decent numbers, unlike Cowling’s, but he could never have produced the vibrancy of Cowling’s encounters. Another part of the Butterfield anxiety followed, however, from a view genuinely held but perhaps sharpened by watching Cowling’s success, namely that a university teacher should not create a following among undergraduates because the point of teaching consisted in opening minds and not narrowing them to particular styles of thought. He wrote privately and revealingly about his rejection of charismatic teaching as an abuse of power; and although Cowling is kept out of the 97

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discussion his outline seems visible, perhaps conflated with that of Harold Temperley, through the arras. Resentment and real anger surrounded the endgame of Butterfield’s mastership and Cowling played no small part in provoking it. Butterfield had informed the Peterhouse governing body in 1967 of his intention to retire as head of house in 1968. His public and probably private view was that a successor could, as often happened, appear from within the college, though normal etiquette forbade his enlarging on the matter since he could have no hand in deciding his successor. He may have had in mind John Kendrew for whom he felt an admiration not at all requited; and, indeed, Kendrew did eventually move on to a leading position in Oxford.35 It did not occur to him that his precise contemporary Charles Burkill could follow him as master for the excellent reason that college statutes would prohibit his election on grounds of age. On 23 May 1967, however, three younger fellows – Hallard Croft, Peter Lee and John Vincent – presented themselves at the lodge to argue that the age restriction should be altered by changing the statutes. ‘It was difficult not to feel’, Butterfield wrote in his journal, ‘that the whole policy was not unconnected with the idea of electing Charles Burkill’; and he would have worried about that even if Maurice Cowling had not rung him half an hour after the interview. Already smelling some rats, he now smelled a very large one as he thought about the situation through the next day: it became obvious from his conversation that the young men in question – or at least two of them – had gone straight to Maurice’s room to report on the results of the interview. Maurice had mentioned to me a few weeks before that ‘some people’ were discussing the alteration of the College Statutes to permit the election of Charles Burkill. … Since then I have found myself more and more convinced that Maurice Cowling, who has been displaying his political activity at its worst, had really stimulated the intervention of the young men. He never disguised the fact that he wanted Brian [Wormald] to be Master. … I began to wonder whether this was not a design of his own – a desire to have a ‘caretaker government’ for three years or so, 98

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till Brian’s chances had ripened. Desmond Williams, who came to my study after Hall, has confirmed my suspicions.36 The urbane, if slightly hurt, tone and the assurance to those around him that he did not want to ‘do anything to prevent the possible election of Charles Burkill’37 does not square with the recollections of some of those involved, least of all with Hallard Croft’s amazement at picking up the telephone and hearing an apoplectic falsetto shrieking at him from the Master’s Lodge.38 Butterfield had in fact got it, and Cowling, wrong. The Young Turks had acted on their own and not at the Beast’s bidding. They had staged a research fellow’s revolt rather than become pawns in a senior game. As for HB’s interpretation – well, as Gladstone said, it was speculation on the facts rather than an examination of them. Rather characteristic of HB at this time, I fear. … The plotters were not pro-Brian. In broad terms they would have considered him an ornament but as he never spoke it was hard to be material for an ardent faction. Nor were the 3 plotters concerned to maintain the Apostolic Tradition of HB, Temperley etc which was looking rather tired. If anything, the reverse. As for keeping the Lodge warm for Brian, I think even MC was pretty sceptical about that.39 No matter: that Cowling did indeed appear to pull off the first stage of his plan and see Burkill move into the lodge in 1968 cannot have deepened the affection in which he was held by its former occupant. That Wormald proved no more acceptable to the governing body when Burkill retired than he had in 1967 did nothing to regain it. The narrative, recalling C. P. Snow, seemed flattering to Maurice Cowling’s diabolical deviousness yet also, or therefore, credible.40 Its plausibility says much about each man and cautions those who want to situate Cowling among ‘Butterfield’s Tories’.

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The story could be left there – a narrative of disillusioned separation. Yet the surface texture of the relationship belies more fundamental correspondences and refractions. Personal intimacy, of the kind Butterfield enjoyed with Brian Wormald or Desmond Williams, would doubtless have enhanced those moments of sympathy; but its lack does not in itself argue a dearth of intellectual contact or that elusive and dangerous allegation, ‘influence’. Cowling’s early exposure to Butterfield’s thought between 1943 and 1949 brought about a significant transformation of his outlook, which one can still trace, heavily modulated, in the later writing about history and religion. If the Maurice Cowling of the 1970s and 1980s cannot reduce to having been a Butterfieldian or Namierite, neither can the imprimatur of their writing be dismissed as an irrelevance. The Peterhouse that Cowling joined in 1963 had already experienced seven years of Butterfield as master and his stamp on the place brooked no denial. No history fellow, no matter how powerful the personality, could carve out an independent existence so long as Butterfield’s writ ran. So there may remain some point in considering layers of contrast and complementarity in the modes of thought that Butterfield and Cowling brought to their historical writing and Christian cast of mind. It seems apparent at once, for example, that when they wrote history they both wrote narratives about individuals. Both nouns matter. Narrative, for Butterfield, constituted the prime mode of historical evocation and the primary criticism of Namier and his school for trying to eradicate it. His stories were big stories: he taught across four or five centuries of European history and saw the purpose of teaching in that way as a necessary device to inculcate a sense of major change over time. When he had a famous row with one of his closest friends, Betty Behrens,41 over his insistence on keeping the long sweep rather than permitting a concentration on smaller periods that might be more easily managed by undergraduates, the rationale turned precisely on that sense of sweep and touched the heart of what history teaching should involve.42 In part, his thinking took its nature from a view of history as a preparation for citizenship that required of its apprentices that they learn the broad thrust of European civilization to acquire an informed 100

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understanding of present politics and social development. Yet it fed also from the lessons of Ranke and for Rankean reasons. Ranke had divined in the past’s master narratives the moving finger of God. Butterfield thought that he could see it, too, providing that the timeline remained long enough to detect its course. So a modern history of the Reformation – his habitual example – would now see the ways in which one ought to ‘feel a little sorry for everybody’ involved in the conflict.43 God’s resolution of bitterness in the (literal) fullness of time emerged for Butterfield in the history of historical writing through which one could ‘see’ a providential transformation taking place in what he thought of as ‘interpretation’.44 So two narrative forms merged in Butterfield’s mature thought – the narrative of ‘passages of the past’ as Michael Oakeshott called them, and the narrative of historical writing itself as a demonstration of convergence led by providence. To produce the perspective invited by these modes of argument was no easy matter: it required analytical ‘spade work’ (a phrase he liked)45 because the ultimate narrative won its validation from ‘historical science’ (another favourite phrase from the later years), which would act as control over arbitrary story telling. None of the ingredients of ‘narratology’ as they would appear in the work of Hayden White, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault had a place in Butterfield’s conception, though he thought very hard, like Carlyle a century before, about the nature of story and the limits of what historical writing could achieve. His thrust tended rather in the direction of a simultaneous twofold reading, as in playing together bass and treble clefs on the piano to which he was addicted. The upper stave carried a story of historical events and personalities; the lower supplied a continuo in reporting how views of those events and personalities changed over time. Combined in harmony, the staves produced a different melody from the one each singly could voice. Narrative also marked a substantial slice of Cowling’s output though in different ways and for different reasons. He turned to it when he turned away from political theory and towards the history of British high politics between 1865 and 1940, the task that dominated his thinking from his late-thirties until he was fifty. Like Butterfield, like Oakeshott, Cowling believed that substantive history had to take a 101

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narrative form. But whereas Butterfield recommended it as a vehicle of evocation and Oakeshott as the sole historical recourse faute de mieux, Cowling seized on it as a mode of explanation. It is unlikely, though possible, that he had seen William Dray’s masterly thesis defending autonomous historical explanation in non-Popperian terms as a structure of intention and ratiocination.46 Underlying Cowling’s trilogy directed at political history there exists, all the same, a similar orientation: the search for a tissue of understanding that demands the exposition of short passages of time elucidated from authentic, which for Cowling meant private, statements of opinion and strategy. It seems remarkable, none the less, that a long methodological meditation in his study of 1867 – the most exhaustive in the trilogy – defends the genre of material to be studied rather than the confined period of its location.47 It was Harold Wilson – the dedicatee of 1867 – who spoke of a week in politics as a long time. Cowling’s method accepted and rejoiced in that judgement, piling together quotations from politicians’ letters and diaries to reveal the complication of calculations across a period of days, sometimes of hours. Naturally, this refusal to take a reader either out of the archives or out of the immediate period under scrutiny led to sneers from those persuaded that their minds were larger, or at least further to the left, than Cowling’s, and helped them represent the ‘new political history’ – ‘often, as among the Cambridge historians, a deliberate neo-conservative reversion’ – as ‘the most obsolete form of nineteenth-century archive grubbing: who wrote what and to whom in the Cabinet during the Home Rule crisis or in 1931’.48 Though many commented on his sources, however, few commented on his conception of period and narrative, which posed the more fundamental questions about historical method. Left-wing critics followed Butterfield in their instinct that one could not write persuasive narrative over so short a passage of time – that perspective insisted on a longer span. But Cowling expected to find neither the moving finger of God nor the wagging finger of Marx. He distrusted all appeals to ‘process’ as an explanatory instrument and saw narrative, as he defined it, as subverting the idea rather than lending it ammunition.49 Cowling’s conception of method ran closer to that of Butterfield in 102

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the stress they both placed on the individual agent as the focus of historical study. They shared a disavowal of ‘vast, impersonal forces’, though Butterfield appropriated some of Namier’s notion of ‘structure’ as a conditioning force in his frequent presentation of historical change as a glacier with depth as well as surface movement.50 Essentially, however, both believed that events happened in history because individual people did things. For Butterfield that conclusion followed from his Christian conviction that each individual had a sacred and inalienable soul whose expressions and responsibilities could not be submerged in a clumsy historical method. It was no accident that his clearest expression of this position should have come in Christinaity and History, or that he retained to his death an empathy with Lord Acton’s conception of historical duty minus its dwelling on the moral judgement of sinners. That Cowling shared much of this thought world does not strike up immediately from his texts on British politics, but it is the presumption of the trilogy on Religion and Public Doctrine that obsessed him through the last two decades of his working life. Even in the political books, individuals appear in an aureole, or its demonic equivalent, of educational formation, social background, party tradition, prejudice and opinion: they are ‘viewy’.51 They are also the nodes around which the story must wind, which is why they often operate at two levels as the agents governing a particular slice of history and as titles of chapters – from ‘The Importance of Horatio Bottomley’, which opens The Impact of Labour, to a series of chapters whose subject-matter is evoked by surnames in The Impact of Hitler. All this makes Cowling an extreme representative of that approach to historical method that the philosopher John Watkins labelled ‘methodological individualism’, a label that would have made Cowling laugh but that fits all the same. In the religion trilogy this compulsion to extract marrow from his authors goes to fresh lengths. ‘You have to bash them over the head’, he once explained to the present writer, ‘until they tell you what you want to know’. Butterfield would have recoiled from this violence, had he lived to observe it. He wanted a Christianity that retained its privacy; it was, in his own beautiful phrase, a flame that burns in silence. But Cowling saw it everywhere as the 103

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incontinence of doctrine among all writers who have unwittingly told the English what to believe, ‘whether they have known it or not’ and ‘whether the subjects they have written or talked about have been English or not’.52 These contrasting sympathies should not disguise a continuum in their thought, all the same, or render a discussion of their relationship as eccentric. Herbert Butterfield and Maurice Cowling shared a Christian cosmology, proclaimed in the one, muted in the other; and if the apprentice came to bite the hand that once had fed, he both ingested and acknowledged its nourishment. Notes 1. This and other condolences are included in a small collection of private material referred to here as ‘Miscellany’, currently in the care of the author. It should be added that Maurice Cowling’s own Nachlass is unsorted and unavailable at the time of writing. It is possible that material in it may expand or qualify some contentions made here. 2. Maurice Cowling, Charles Henry Wilson, 1914–1991 (no publisher, privately printed, 1991) unpaginated. Neither such occasions nor their attendant widows are often electrified by a paragraph beginning ‘There was then the divorce.’ The address concluded reflexively that ‘this … doesn’t sound like unrestrained eulogy.’ 3. Maurice Cowling, obituary of Herbert Butterfield, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 65, 1979, p. 595. Much more could have been achieved ‘if he had been literate philosophically, coherent theologically, and less scrupulously modest’ (ibid., p. 609). The burden of this obituary was repeated in Cowling, RPD I, pp. 220–50, which appeared in the following year. 4. Interview with Dr Peter Butterfield. 5. The class-designation is his own in that he associates himself with ‘the lowermiddle class London suburbs’ (RPD I, p. xviii), which is remarkable, granted his later habit of assaulting strangers dining on high table in Peterhouse with the offensive gambit ‘Are you lower-middle-class?’ His question may have been intended as an eccentric search for common ground, but it probably was not. 6. This and other assertions will receive fuller consideration in my forthcoming biographical study of Butterfield’s life and thought. 7. Cowling would have been in residence as a final-year undergraduate during the delivery of Butterfield’s lectures in Mill Lane on Christianity and History. His later obsession with religion implies that he attended some or all of them. 8. Maurice Cowling, ‘Reflections on Professor Butterfield’, Varsity Supplement, 6 November 1948, under the nom de plume ‘Stafford Brignell’, according 104

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to Peter Ghosh’s bibliography of Cowling’s works in PPD. See next reference. 9. For the details see Michael Bentley, ‘Prologue: The Retiring Mr Cowling’, in Bentley, PPD, pp. 1–13, especially 4–5. 10. See G. E. Fasnacht, Acton’s Political Philosophy (London: Hollis & Carter, 1952); Douglas Woodruff (ed.) Essays on Church and State by Lord Acton (New York: Viking Press, 1952). 11. For the Actonian roots of Mill see the preface to Cowling, RPD I, pp. xix–xx. 12. See Butterfield’s letter to The Times blaming British foreign policy for its failure to appease Nasser’s ambitions before they became dangerous, The Times, 12 November 1956, p. 11. Cf. Cowling’s articles in The Times detailed in Ghosh’s bibliography in Bentley, PPD. 13. Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: High Politics and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, pp. 943–54; Reba Soffer, ‘The Conservative Historical Imagination in the Twentieth Century’, Albion, vol. 28 (1996), pp. 1–17. 14. Keith C. Sewell, ‘The “Herbert Butterfield Problem” and its Resolution’, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 64, 2003, pp. 599–618. For a fuller exposition see Keith C. Sewell, Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). 15. George Watson, ‘The War against the Whigs: Butterfield’s Victory and Defeat’, Encounter, vol. 66, 1986, pp. 19–25. 16. See references in note 14. 17. See in particular Herbert Butterfield, George III, Lord North and the People, 1779–80 (London: Bell, 1949). 18. Cowling, 1867. 19. Butterfield’s private journal, 24 May 1967. 20. Robert Dudley Edwards (1909–88), Professor of Modern Irish History at University College, Dublin. Father of historian Owen and best-selling novelist historian, Ruth. 21. T. Desmond Williams (1921–87), Professor of Modern History, University College, Dublin. ‘One of the finest minds in the Irish university world,’ according to Dudley Edwards. Quoted in James McGuire, ‘T. Desmond Williams (1921–87)’, Irish Historical Studies, vol. 26, 1988, p. 7. 22. Butterfield’s private journal, 3 June 1963. Muff, in County Donegal, currently sports five such ‘inns’. The place has an annual festival that apparently includes competitive JCB-driving. The Butterfield party plainly missed it. 23. See McGuire, ‘T. Desmond Williams’, p. 4. 24. Herbert Butterfield, ‘Sir Edward Grey in July 1914’, Historical Studies, vol. 5, 1965, pp. 1–25. 25. See Eric Jacobs, Kingsley Amis: A Biography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995). 105

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26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

33. 34.

35.

36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48.

Butterfield’s private journal, 23 October 1963. Sir Hamilton Kerr (1903–74) MP (Cons.) Cambridge, 1950–66. Kerr had been Macmillan’s parliamentary secretary in the 1950s. Butterfield’s private journal, 18 November 1963. Ibid., 18 December 1963. Ibid. Maurice Cowling, ‘Disraeli, Derby and Fusion, October 1865–July 1866’, Historical Journal, vol. 8, 1965, pp. 31–71; Cowling, 1867. Herbert Butterfield, George III and the Historians (London: Collins, 1957); Herbert Butterfield, ‘George III and the Namier School’, Encounter, April 1957, pp. 70–6. For a fuller description see Bentley, ‘Prologue’, in PPD. There is not space to prosecute this line of thought here but I am relying on recollections from or correspondence with, among others, Professors Frank O’Gorman, Behan McCullough and Theodore Hoppen. He had been canvassed by Peterhouse fellows but declined to stand. He was elected president of St John’s College, Oxford in 1982. Kendrew’s own MSS in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, contain two files on the mastership elections to which he was privy at Peterhouse; they are not currently open to inspection but may one day throw further light. Butterfield’s private journal, 24 May 1967. Ibid. Conversation with Dr Croft. Private communication to the author from Professor Vincent. Narratives still to be told surrounding Cowling’s creative diplomacy in securing the election of Henry Chadwick and Hugh Trevor-Roper. C. B. A. Behrens (1904–89). Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, 1935– 67, then of Clare Hall. Notable for a volume in the official history of the war sponsored by the Cabinet Office, Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War (London: HMSO, 1955) and for The Ancien Régime (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1967). The correspondence with Betty Behrens may be consulted at Churchill College, Cambridge, Behrens MSS BEHR 100A. Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1949), p. 92. For an excellent account of Butterfield’s providentialist understanding of history see Sewell, Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History, pp. 94–111. See Herbert Butterfield, ‘Narrative History and the Spade-Work Behind It’, History, vol. 53, 1968, pp. 165–80. William Dray, Law and Explanation in History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957). Cowling, 1867, pp. 311–40. Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Has History made Progress?’ in Eric Hobsbawm, On History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), p. 66. The sideswipes were 106

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49. 50.

51. 52.

presumably aimed not at Cowling but at a former colleague in John Vincent and a former pupil in Philip Williamson. Cf. A. B. Cooke and J. R. Vincent, The Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain 1885–86 (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1974), and Philip Williamson, National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926–32 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). ‘Political science’ and ‘normative sociology’ had been early targets in Cowling’s NLPS. Butterfield had contended in his first inaugural lecture that ‘we are confronted by a past which proceeds, not as a swiftly-moving surface like a cinematograph film, but rather “in depth”, and ponderously, like a glacier’ (The Study of History, (Cambridge, 1944), p. 8). He repeated the image in his contribution to the Times Literary Supplement special number on history published on 6 January 1956. An unlovely but revealing adjective applicable to many of Cowling’s historical agents and relevant to explaining their actions. Cowling, RPD I, p. xi.

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Chapter 6

Maurice Cowling and Modern British Political History Philip Williamson

Maurice Cowling’s political histories were original and remain distinctive; no one had written about British politics in this way before. Most obviously, the primary research was innovative and massive in scale, but the impetus was a highly intellectual conception of modern British history that yielded a powerful theoretical justification for the study of political leadership and a highly developed set of recommendations on method. He defined and demonstrated ‘procedures for sceptical diagnosis’, while indicating that national leadership was not just a matter of policies, strategies and tactics but also a system and a practice with its own conventions, patterns of behaviour and specialized use of language. Adequate understanding required almost artistic sensitivity: ‘a comprehension as critical as the comprehension required for the appreciation of poetry’.1 His analyses of major political episodes were piercing, and abounding with fertile ideas and implications. In such terms, Cowling might have been celebrated as the champion of a sophisticated and enduring style of new political history. Yet his books were also complicated, densely packed, uncompromising and provocative. They had a mixed, often uncomprehending and in some cases dismissive or hostile reception, which generated ‘deeply entrenched misunderstandings’.2 Very few tried to follow his example, and his influence has for the most part been fragmentary and submerged. Some of his central perceptions were so forgotten that from the late 1980s his specific interpretations of British politics in the 1930s became the discoveries of ‘revisionists’, and some of his general 108

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approaches the innovations of a quite different style of ‘new political history’. Other insights remain undeveloped. The purpose of this chapter is to consider the impact – to borrow one of his familiar terms – of Cowling’s political histories.3 First, it will review the reception of the three volumes, and suggest why they were marginalized. It will then consider particular aspects of the books’ conception and method. Of course, the power of the volumes lies in their total effect, in the presentation of the nature of political leadership, and in the analytical method, the use of evidence, and even the unique prose style. To separate the various elements is to dissolve the intellectual and imaginative coherence. Even so, it seems worthwhile to isolate some specific components for the purposes of explanation and commentary. In part, the concern is to address misunderstandings: numerous criticisms have been made of Cowling’s work, but how far any are justified will be clear only once his aims and meaning are adequately understood. A further objective is to indicate how far the particular features of the books affected subsequent political histories, have similarities with certain recent works, or might benefit future studies. Some preliminary observations will clarify this approach. First, Cowling is considered alone rather than merged with further historians who during the 1970s were associated with his approach, termed ‘high politics’ from the phrase coined in The Impact of Labour. These other writers – Andrew Jones, John Vincent, Alastair Cooke and Michael Bentley – were and are commonly conflated with Cowling as forming a ‘high-politics school’ or ‘Peterhouse school’ (or still more misleadingly the ‘Cambridge school of political history’).4 Cowling, it is assumed, was their leader or ‘high priest’.5 Some newspaper commentators further conflated this with a political conception, the ‘Peterhouse Right’, especially after much was made during the early 1990s of Cowling as a teacher of the Conservative cabinet minister, Michael Portillo: there was, it was claimed, a ‘school’ of ‘Conservative’ or ‘Tory’ historians. Yet, Cowling himself repudiated the notion of a historical school,6 and this should be taken seriously. He did not encourage the creation of any such group – not least because he disbelieved in the idea of the ‘historical profession’ and distanced himself from many of 109

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its activities7 – and he was embarrassed by aspiring acolytes, whom he tended to discourage with deprecations of his own work (‘it’s all nonsense’). His teaching was neither doctrinaire nor proselytizing; it did not prescribe adoption of his approaches or politics. Nor did he seek postgraduate students; if the persistent could not be sent to other supervisors he gave them time, encouragement and loyalty but little positive guidance.8 Rather, Cowling was very much an individualist, an independent thinker who prized and stimulated intellectual independence in others; indeed, he much preferred debate with intelligent liberal, socialist or Marxist students to conformity with his own views. If other historians chose to follow his approach, that was their choice and they could develop it in their own ways, as they certainly did. The supposed inventor of the phrase ‘Peterhouse school’, Joe Lee, who as a former fellow of the college knew its putative members, actually wondered whether school was ‘too restrictive a term for such an idiosyncratic fraternity’.9 The larger reason for caution lies with Cowling’s unusual intellectual formation. As he himself explained, his views on British political leadership and intellectual life were shaped by a very particular mixture of a suburban childhood, inspiration in Cambridge from Anglican reactionaries and then Michael Oakeshott and Herbert Butterfield,10 the experiences of military service and subsequent study in India, research in the archives of the imperial government of India, and periods in the Foreign Office, in political journalism and as a parliamentary candidate.11 (And it should be restated that despite some similarities – intensive research in private papers, scepticism about public language and motive, methodological individualism – Namier’s works were neither an influence nor a close analogue.)12 Cowling really was sui generis, in ways which make it hazardous to treat statements by other historians of ‘high politics’ as identical with his views. The most quoted comments are by John Vincent, yet as Vincent’s earlier books make plain he came to ‘high politics’ from a quite different direction, that of a Marxist concern with economic, social and political structures, and emphasis on government as class rule. This shows in Vincent’s sensitivity towards material conditions, in more dogmatic statements about ‘Westminster’ as a ‘closed world’ of 110

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leaders using deception to keep voters interested in parliament yet at a distance from their ‘elite’ concerns, and especially in relegating any context of ideas or doctrine, all of which create subtle but important differences of perspective from those of Cowling.13 Second, Cowling’s political histories published from 1967 to 1975 were concomitants of a more fundamental and unusual combination of ideas on philosophy, religion and the historical discipline set out earlier in The Nature and Limits of Political Science (1963), and developed later in the three volumes of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (1980, 1985, 2001). The connections between these works have been well addressed elsewhere14 and will not be considered here, where the concern is the practice of political history. It needs to be stressed, however, that political history was not Cowling’s central intellectual preoccupation. His reading was always much broader, and would have intimidated the most advanced exponents of ‘interdisciplinary’ studies. In his earlier years he wondered whether he should be a philosopher, theologian or literary critic, before realizing that history was an ‘all-inclusive subject’ through which one could ‘say anything you wanted to say’.15 These wider concerns had several implications for the character of his political histories. One of their leading purposes was to confirm and demonstrate a set of propositions not just about politics but more generally about academic thought and historical evidence. In addressing ‘high politics’ he offered not some bland ‘locational’ meaning about ‘political leadership’, but a conceptualization of political activity in general and a particular analytical procedure.16 He also had general targets: liberalism, political science, explanations of politics in terms of principle or social determinism, ‘Whig’ and ‘linear’ history, assumptions of a direct link between intention and outcome, and any kind of superficiality and naivety in political analysis. Moreover, far more than most historians he took seriously the nature and limits of historical explanation: to be intellectually significant rather than inert description or compilation, history had to be selective because defined by the quality of the initial questions and assumptions, which in turn define the subject area identified (or isolated) for analysis. Cowling very deliberately selected what he wanted to examine, and equally 111

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deliberately assumed or set aside what was not directly relevant for answering the questions he chose to ask. Following the propositions advanced in 1963, the focus of his political histories was very much with politics as such, with political decision-making rather than with organizations, ‘substantive issues’, policies, or even ideas. His concern was also with national political leaders, not with constituency politics. This meant neither that he regarded organizations, issues, policy, far less ideas, as unimportant, nor that he considered studies of electoral or constituency politics (or economic or social arrangements) to be without interest and value. It was just that these did not serve his specific purposes, the particular ‘contribution to understanding’ he wished to make in the 1960s and early 1970s.17 The overall effect was highly original, quite unlike the work of other academic historians. In contrast to many of them he presented a philosophically-engaged history in the best sense of defining a field of thought and scholarship – not, as was sometimes asserted, as an expression of political preferences. As a general procedure this was no different from the Marxist histories of E. P. Thompson or Eric Hobsbawm, who chose to study ‘the working class’ or ‘history from below’ rather than government and national leaders. Some early reviewers understood this, not just Vincent (‘a work of social science, semi-theoretical in complexion’) but also James Hinton (‘a methodological experiment before it is a contribution to historical understanding’) and – a particularly interesting comment – Rodney Barker: ‘Cowling is not so much trying to give a rounded historical account as to test to the point of destruction a particular hypothesis about political life.’18 Such words as ‘polemic’ or ‘manifesto’ were also used.19 But, in contrast to Thompson and Hobsbawm, in Cowling’s case many readers failed or refused to recognize the theory, because this was Cowling’s own theory and did not derive from a familiar range of received opinions, or because the detail and complexity of the histories made them seem simply ‘empirical’. Specialist political historians have tended not to notice or to understand the wider philosophical analysis and the method. Norman Gash found it ‘disconcerting’ to be told that a book depended as much on ‘a priori decisions’ about 112

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explanation and ‘gratuitous’ assumptions about political behaviour as on ‘any conclusions that emerge unasked from the evidence’.20 The third general comment is that although the political histories consisted of detailed investigations of political leadership during short periods (under two years for 1867, stretching to seven years for The Impact of Hitler), they were not, as some critics assume, a species of micro-history. This is not just because, as will be observed below, the focus on short periods enabled a richer breadth of treatment than was usual in political histories, reaching across all leading parties and to numerous groups within and outside each of them. It was also because in his historical as well as philosophical concerns Cowling disbelieved in ready generalizations, so that detail was integral to his method for understanding large questions. Close examination of particular episodes was his means to address some of the central issues in modern British political history. Most obviously these included the passage of parliamentary reform by an unreformed parliament, the incorporation of the Labour Party into the governing system, the marginalization of the Liberal Party, the recurrent successes of Conservative resistance, the British decision to declare war on Nazi Germany, and the origins of the post-1945 political consensus. They also included more fundamental issues: the preservation of political stability and social inequality, and the ability of governing institutions and a relatively small confederacy of leaders to maintain authority despite the advance of democracy and the persistence of class war. This last, a recurrent theme through the three volumes and in his political essays,21 may seem surprising and paradoxical because admission of the force of class interpretations is an apparent surrender to the premises of many of his critics, and contrary to the main lines of his own interpretations. In this respect at least, acknowledgement of the significance of class and of Marx’s analysis, Cowling was a man of his time and generation. He was deeply read in Marx’s writings, probably more than many professed socialists and communists (he supervised and lectured on Marx for over thirty years) and he accepted the cogency of much of his doctrine – but with crucial reservations and exclusions. ‘[Marx’s] explanatory usefulness can be considerable provided there is no 113

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capitulation to his mono-causal explanatory system which underrates the fertility and resourcefulness of established regimes and produces … ridiculous political conclusions, of which, however, there is no need to be afraid.’ This, in a sense, was one of Cowling’s key messages. There was ‘a class war’, but by the exercise of ‘subtlety and skill’ this had been and could continue to be smothered and defeated:22 this was what really needed to be explained. In certain moods he described himself as a ‘Tory Marxist’.23 Fourth, the political histories were not static and the series is incomplete. Cowling did not fulfil an outlined continuation with further books on The Development of the Class Struggle 1924–1935 and The Impact of Inflation, from 1936. Nor did he write a projected volume on The Politics of British Democracy, which was to provide an overview of the period from 1850 to 1940 and an assessment of the methods he had used.24 This last is a particularly unfortunate loss, because what remained was an impression of perfect consistency across the three completed volumes, reinforced by the observation in The Impact of Hitler that ‘no general introduction’ was needed because this had already been supplied in 1867 and The Impact of Labour. Plainly, the basic analysis did continue. Nevertheless, as perceptive commentators have noted and as will be shown below, in some significant particulars the approach, subjects and sources developed from one volume to another: statements in an earlier volume do not necessarily represent Cowling’s definitive views.25

ŒŒ On first publication, Cowling’s political histories all attracted considerable comment. Those of a certain generation chiefly recall outrage and repudiation. These there certainly were: in 1983 Michael Bentley and John Stevenson described a ‘debate … conducted with considerable ferocity’, and John Turner noted that ‘the writing of modern political history was engulfed by the late 1970s in an acrid fog of controversy about the use of evidence and the nature of political power.’26 Some published examples are well known, notably Ross McKibbin’s dismissal of The Impact of Labour as concerned merely with ‘elevated 114

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gossip’.27 Oral history catches more of the tone. In 1977 another leading Oxford historian described Cowling to me as a ‘loony’; and mention of his name at an Institute of Historical Research seminar in 1980 brought from A. J. P. Taylor a solemn warning that he was ‘a very dangerous man’.28 Yet, examination of the reviews reveals more interesting reactions. Most commentators were respectful and impressed, aware that something important was happening, however considerable their disagreement or instinctive disapproval. Technically, the quality of the books was unquestionable – immense research, incisive analysis, bold and vivid conceptualization, instantly making most existing histories seem lightweight and under-researched. It was impossible not to admire this, even if recoiling in horror at the assumptions behind the argument. Henry Pelling considered 1867 to be ‘essential reading’ that would ‘stand the test of time’, while Gertrude Himmelfarb judged it ‘a major contribution to Victorian scholarship’.29 Neal Blewett thought The Impact of Labour ‘a monumental work … towering above the historiography of the twenties’, and Robert Blake described it as a ‘fascinating and important work whose ultimate influence may well be more far reaching than its immediate effect’.30 The Impact of Hitler, the most controversial, was for Robert Skidelsky ‘highly stimulating, original and intelligent’, for R. A. C. Parker an ‘impressive, important and enjoyable book’, even ‘perfect bedtime reading for an intelligent historian’, for Paul Addison ‘exciting … fascinating and seminal’, for D. C. Watt ‘a masterpiece’. Taylor thought it ‘dazzlingly clever’ but ‘wrongheaded’ (or, privately, ‘quite mad’). Although Stephen Koss could ‘not accept – or abide’ the conclusions, he nevertheless considered it a book of ‘immense academic stature’, a ‘virtuoso performance’.31 And, for some members of that 1970s generation, a sense of importance remained, an awareness that the terms of the discussion had been shifted. In 1986 Peter Clarke could declare that Cowling’s ‘insights [had] quickly passed into the common stock of academic wisdom about modern British politics’. In an obituary note in 2005 Kenneth Morgan described Cowling as ‘a highly original scholar’ who had provoked a ‘fruitful argument’ about substance, sources and methodology, which besides being ‘fun while it 115

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lasted’ also ‘influenced areas far removed from Cowling’s sympathies, including labour history’.32 And yet was this really so? A few historians from those years later acknowledged a contribution, but mostly in broad or negative terms. Brian Harrison, who began as a social historian, shifted the focus of his work during the 1970s as, partly influenced by ‘Cowling and his associates’, he ‘came to think that political history, and particularly high-political history, was being unduly neglected’.33 One of Clarke’s early aims when examining Keynes was ‘to demonstrate the inadequacy of “high-political” interpretations’ because they ‘simply ignored the substantive content’ of arguments over policy. Similarly, Morgan observed that The Impact of Labour ‘provoked’ him into writing his own account of British politics in the early 1920s.34 But were Cowling’s works among the touchstones for subsequent political histories? For the periods and subjects he addressed, are his books considered seminal? Or, as Clarke intimated, was the influence in method and style rather than in specific interpretation? If so, what were those ‘insights’ that he added to academic wisdom? Richard Brent in 1987, ten years after publication of the last of the original ‘high-politics’ studies, discerned a need to reconsider a body of work which already seemed neglected. Perceptively, he noted that part of the timeliness for reassessment lay with the 1983 publication of Gareth Stedman Jones’s Languages of Class, which redirected much modern British social history not just towards ‘language’ but more fundamentally towards politics.35 With a similar thought, 15 years later the Harvard historian Susan Pedersen reflected on how ‘the theoretical trends of the past twenty years’ – the shift from class analysis to acceptance of a ‘relative autonomy of politics’ – had ‘essentially brought [Cowling’s] opponents to his door’.36 Yet, not the least of the striking features of these 2002 observations is that comment on ‘twenty years’. In truth, the authors of what was presumptuously styled as ‘new political history’ from the early 1990s had signally failed to connect with the ‘high-politics’ studies. But they can hardly be blamed, since many political historians from the 1970s also failed to make this connection, despite the unusual number and weight of the original reviews of these studies. 116

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This becomes clear from reading and reviewing books or articles on early twentieth-century subjects that Cowling treated at length (though 1867, with its more closely defined subject, has generally been accepted as authoritative). In contrast to their comments on other political histories from the 1970s, many barely even acknowledge the existence of his books, and if they do it is as an incidental comment in footnote 42 of an article. A remarkable number ignore the books altogether, not even attempting to justify their sense of the ‘limits of Cowlingism’.37 In Cowling’s case it is, it seems, professionally acceptable to overlook or marginalize work central to the author’s subject, even when he plainly anticipated their interpretations. Take The Impact of Hitler: not only did this on publication attract considerably more comment than almost any other examination of British attitudes towards the fascist powers in the 1930s, but it manifestly influenced – in crude and underacknowledged ways – the accounts of the 1990s’ so-called ‘revisionist’ works on the subject by Andrew Roberts and John Charmley.38 Yet, of two books surveying the historical writing about Neville Chamberlain and appeasement, one could ignore Cowling’s book altogether and the other in over 200 pages has only a brief comment, of just 13 lines.39 Why have Cowling’s political histories not been so influential – or even, alternatively, become targets – as their evident quality and early reception suggest they should have become? Why do they have to be ‘reconsidered’, even ‘discovered’? Several suggestions can be offered. The books were original and challenging in almost every sense – assumption, definition, method, interpretation, expression. For some this was stimulating, but for others they were simply difficult: even otherwise impressed reviewers found them ‘hard going’ or ‘extremely wearying to read’.40 Those who failed to grasp Cowling’s purposes and approach were often just lost.41 Even the prose caused problems, because of his disbelief in easy or smooth generalizations and consequent aim to puncture the familiar or apparently obvious, to be precise and express an adequate sense of the complications, to suggest deeper meanings and wider connections, and always to make the reader think – producing a style variously described as ‘heavily barbed, intractably allusive and unrelentingly paradoxical’, ‘elliptical and enigmatic’, or ‘lazy, self-indulgent and arrogant’.42 The books combined 117

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much detail and short periods, yet a broad span of discussion covering every party and numerous further groups; they were not packaged for quick consumption but were long and complex, not at all easy for students and not conveniently set for undergraduate reading lists and for essays just on the Conservative Party, or ‘the decline of the Liberal Party’, or ‘the rise of Labour’. Ironically, given accusations of narrowness, Cowling’s political histories in this sense covered too much. They were not about one party or even really about one subject, but evoked a whole political world: they fitted into no conventional historical form, and so were difficult for conventional political historians to absorb or recommend. Many established historians of modern Britain were never as undergraduates and research students set or advised to read Cowling’s books. One suspects that those required by their choice of subject to be aware of the books often found them intimidating, just too richly researched and too intellectually formidable. Where Cowling had been it was difficult to find new things to say; and as reputations and careers required some appearance of novelty it was prudent to engage with softer targets and to ignore or minimize Cowling’s presence, hence the relegation to note 42. The larger reasons were that the puzzlement and criticisms of reviewers and early commentators made it easy to set aside work judged to be an affront to other types of political history and to political biography, and still more to the teeming fashions in the 1960s and 1970s for social history, labour history and histories of popular politics, women and gender. The books were not, emphatically and defiantly not, ‘history from below’. They were even more easily set aside because, in their conservative implications, written by a Conservative and, as it seemed to many, making squalid self-interest and intrigue the primary political motives, they affronted political and moral commitments. Now, in different circumstances, with class analysis in eclipse, ‘new political history’ finally showing attention to political leadership, and historians’ interests becoming less sectarian and more eclectic, there are firmer indications that the ‘high-politics’ studies are being discovered and admired by later generations of historians,43 and indeed that Cowling is acquiring an honoured place within the British 118

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historical discipline.44 But what is being admired? And if from the 1970s Cowling’s interpretations of particular episodes were not often addressed or even directly acknowledged, what about any general influence of his style of analysis and his methods?

ŒŒ There is a difficulty in the very fertility and many-sidedness of Cowling’s approach: commentators do not agree on what was most prominent and important. For some it was the study of ‘political elites’, for others the rather different matters of a high-politics ‘system’, the ‘locus of power’ or the relationship between national leaders and the wider political society. Some stressed the attention to short-term calculations, contingencies, ‘situational’ context, or to faction, personal ambitions or tactical ‘manoeuvre’. Some were drawn to the notion of political ‘rhetoric’ or ‘language’. Others pondered the relationship between politics and ‘thought’ or ideas.45 As this chapter is concerned with historical practice – and because on this aspect earlier commentators were unanimous – we shall begin with the sources. The sheer quantity and range of Cowling’s primary research greatly impressed reviewers: ‘quite extraordinary’, ‘awesome’, ‘consummate mastery’, even ‘scholarship carried to the point of eccentricity’.46 It was soon considered a hallmark: ‘no self-respecting book on high politics will be based on fewer than fifty collections of private papers.’47 Cowling’s timing was fortunate. From the mid-1960s he could consult many personal letters and diaries that suddenly became available in quick succession, giving him the advantage of a pioneer across a broad front. He was the first to consult numerous collections of private papers, and in some cases even to understand their relevance;48 or among the first, after the original autobiographers or biographers, to have access to the centrally-important collections of Austen and Neville Chamberlain, Law, Lloyd George, Churchill, Amery, Baldwin, MacDonald, Beaverbrook, Dawson and so on, often while they were still in private possession or before an archivist had catalogued and bound them. Clearly, he was not the first to use multiple collections of private 119

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papers, but none had exploited so many over such a range, intertwined them so tightly, and tied his discussion to them in so much detail. Moreover, in each volume he expanded his range of sources: for The Impact of Labour, faced with thinner private papers for Labour politicians, he used the Cabinet minutes for the 1924 Labour government, and for The Impact of Hitler, for reasons explained below, he undertook the first extensive meshing of government records with private papers. As Peter Ghosh noted, he ‘helped trigger a Rankean revolution’ in the field, ‘driving scholars into the archives’ and considerably raising the bar of what constituted adequate research.49 This was one aspect on which Cowling had a large (though largely forgotten) influence. But to catch the full character of his research, one should note his technique as explained in the bibliography to 1867: My method in working in a manuscript collection is to copy extensively almost everything which might be relevant to the subject even when I am unlikely to understand the significance of the material I have copied until I have seen most of the other collections. This means that I have in my possession a vast body of verbatim notes from manuscript letters.50 This really was how it was done. There it all is in the files for the two Impact books: thousands of sheets from scores of collections, each document transcribed by hand on to its own sheet or sheets, and arranged by party, then group, then strict chronological order.51 Few can have been quite so deliberately and indefatigably unselective in their archival work, soon assisted by the arrival of the first photocopiers – and he photocopied on a heroic scale, long before this became common. The effects are even now astonishing: not just the density of documentation and the precision about situation, motive and action, but also the ability to detect connections across and between different parties and non-parliamentary groups, and the links that politicians made (or declined to make) between different issues and policies. All this research effort was far from being directed simply towards accumulation of evidence. As Vincent, Hinton and Barker noted, it was driven by and subordinate to a series of interpretative assump120

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tions, which Cowling sought to develop and test through relentless attention to historical information, which meant that his studies remain distinct from the work of the numerous historians who followed him in consulting these papers, or more usually only a selection of them. This agenda, originally set out in The Nature and Limits of Political Science, can for present purposes be taken as concerned with the nature of political parties, the activity of being a politician, the system of political leadership and its relationship with wider political society, and the character of political language. In the practice of political history these resulted in insistence on complication, both as inherent in the politics itself and as necessary for proper understanding: ‘the complication of politics is the conception that needs to be explored’, a complication revealed only in narrative detail.52 Contrary to first appearances and comments by some reviewers, this did not mean complexity or narrative for their own sake: as with the detail, they were part and parcel of a controlling explanation.

ŒŒ In some senses, party was as much a premise for Cowling as it was for other political historians. This was plainly how leading politicians organized themselves in order to win support or acquiescence from voters, to act within parliament, and (usually) to form governments. But he was not interested in parties as organizations. Rather, he stressed three aspects: party was always an element in a system, always a collection of groups, and commonly a possible object for reconstruction. All these turned on Cowling’s basic conception: ‘the most important feature of political activity is precisely that interests and opinions are in conflict.’53 For his political histories he used a more precise and resonant term – the ‘continuing tension between and within and across party’ that was ‘central’ or ‘integral’ to the ‘process of decision-making’. This, ‘the politics of continuous tension’, should therefore be the focus of effective explanation.54 Just as E. P. Thompson declared that one class does not exist alone and can be understood only in its struggle with another class, and just as feminist histories argue that men and women cannot be 121

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understood separately but only within the relationship of gender, so Cowling insisted that each party only exists and at any particular juncture only has purpose in relation to other parties. Oddly, this was not noted by reviewers or even much by later commentators, but it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of his political histories: an adequate understanding of any single party requires understanding of all the parties together, so the most appropriate unit in studying political history is the whole party system. Here Cowling has been much less influential;55 indeed, failure to lay adequate emphasis on this all-party context and conflict remains a frequent cause of interpretative redundancy in the writing of modern British political history. Of course, as already noted, all historical enquiry requires abstraction – a selection and in some sense the isolation of a subject matter. History depends on the questions one asks. There always will be studies of individual parties, but some abstractions are more productive than others. Given the remarkable interpretative yields of Cowling’s examinations of all party leaderships together, it remains surprising that there have been few similar investigations of other episodes or how rarely studies of single parties and individual politicians show adequate sensitivity towards the context of the whole party system.56 The tendency is to focus on, as it were, ‘vertical’ relationships within a party, between its leaders and their supporters, rather than the ‘horizontal’ struggle against rival parties and party leaders.57 Yet each party defines itself chiefly in contrast to the other parties, and this contradistinction is integral both to party identity and to such unity as it possesses. Each party lives by these contrasts and by a constantly shifting competition, endlessly stressing or magnifying differences wherever party advantage seems likely.58 If the actual difference on a particular issue considered suitable for party contention is insufficient, then the ‘logic’ of party requires some artificial disagreement to be contrived, because conflict provides one of the party’s main purposes and claims to support, the means by which it consolidates, gains or loses members and votes. This being so, party-political considerations cannot but affect the selection, formulation or presentation of policies and strategies. Consequently, ‘an important factor in any political decision or any 122

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political career was a capacity for polarising differences.’ This was ‘Government by synthetic conflict’.59 Cowling contributed rather more towards puncturing a view that parties could usefully be examined as unitary bodies. As is now commonly understood, party is ‘a vacant centre’, a ‘space traversed or tenanted by groups possessing different and sometimes incompatible political languages of widely different provenance, a changing balance of forces and their discursive self-definitions’.60 As the language shows, this description of the Labour Party is not Cowling’s. It was presented, almost as a revelation, by Stedman Jones in the 1980s, exemplifying Pedersen’s point about a convergence between quite different styles of historical writing. In 1971 Cowling had more pungently described the Labour Party as a ‘rag-bag of attitudes, purposes, programmes and intentions’.61 As he posited and demonstrated, all parties are alliances of diverse interests and opinions, and so none had ‘one set of opinions which may be called “a belief, a faith, a philosophy, a set of prejudices or of principles” but a wide range of opinions … mixed together in accidental coalition’.62 Consequently, each party is always in some senses internally divided and an arena of group and personal competition; indeed, conflict can be as strong inside parties as it is between parties. Increasingly, Cowling’s political histories considered not so much parties themselves as groups within parties, stimulated by his examination of Conservative and Liberal factionalism in the early 1920s. What this meant for understanding the persistence of party identities was not something he directly addressed, precisely because he took party as a premise. But the point that any party is a coalition of various groups is now generally accepted, though the implications are not always appreciated. Party ‘division’ is routinely offered as a synonym and explanation for party ‘weakness’: it is a historical commonplace. Certainly, internal differences can in some circumstances cause weakness, but aside from differences being entirely normal and usually taken for granted by wise party leaders, they can just as likely be a strength – a source of dynamism, or enabling a party to fulfil one of its vital aims, to appeal as a broad church to different groups of supporters.63 So, for instance, Baldwin accepted and was relatively relaxed about the fact 123

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that Conservative differences stretched from ‘Imperialists of the Second Jubilee to young advanced Democrats’;64 in contrast, Neville Chamberlain damaged his own leadership and his party and government by intolerance and an attempt to narrow the acceptable range of opinions. The existence of internal party differences and dissentient groups generates not just dissatisfaction with party leaders and policies, but also the potential for degrees of common ground or cooperation between groups in each party – for tacit or actual alliances reaching across parties, which in turn could make a realignment or reconstruction of parties a reasonable objective. Cowling’s all-party approach and range of research gave him the ability to detect or more fully assess these movements; to reveal the politics that tended persistently to emerge in the spaces between parties, and more particularly the importance of recurrent notions about a ‘centre’ or ‘national’ party or coalition.65 It is another marked and unusual feature of his work, not often remarked upon or where remarked upon treated as incidental or ‘gossip’. Yet he demonstrated as few others have done that such movements could contribute significantly to political action, whether by obliging party leaders to take counter-measures, by defeating and ousting those leaders, by showing other politicians how realignments were achievable, or by themselves creating the basis for new governments: examples are the Adullamite cave in 1866 and the anti-appeasement groups in all parties, which prepared the way for the May 1940 coalition government. They also include in the early 1920s ‘the conspiracies of Lord Robert Cecil’, ‘Lord Salisbury’s connections’ and a shifting set of other movements. As Cowling later recalled, in The Impact of Labour he had sought to show that you can’t understand the situation if you think of it in terms only of party politics. … [The] essence of the politics of those four years … was a conflict between about ten or twelve groups of politicians who were working not only as party politicians but also across party lines, trying to reconstruct the political system and, on the whole, failing to reconstruct it. … [A] great deal of the thrust of the politics of those years – and the same 124

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goes for 1933–40 – is … the consciousness that all leading politicians have, that it is possible to reconstruct the party system.66

ŒŒ Cowling’s fundamental unit was nevertheless the individual: party leaderships and political groupings were examined less as units than as collections of individuals. All three political histories were densely populated with individual politicians, many given short biographies in appendices and increasingly in the two Impact volumes within the text itself. By the time of The Impact of Hitler his subjects had become ‘solipsisms’, and the approach was offered as programmatic: ‘what political history can do is to dissect solipsisms. What it can do also is to show them in conflict.’67 While understanding turned on the conflict between parties and between groups, what further drove and sharpened this conflict were the rivalries between individuals. For Cowling political activity was therefore very much a matter of personality, of individual temperaments, concerns, purposes and aversions. He also insisted that it was much affected by the particular and immediate circumstances of each individual as well as each party and group. Together these aspects – close attention to individual agency and to personal attitudes and motives as well as to all-pervasive conflict68 – were further distinctive features of the political histories. Political leadership involved an endless jostling for position and adjustment to shifting circumstances, in which issues and policies became instruments and where the main purpose of any leader’s or would-be leader’s political language was persuasion. Hence, another programmatic statement: ‘high politics was primarily a matter of rhetoric and manoeuvre.’69 Commentators made much of these aspects, either as contributions or as criticisms. The attention to precise context and so to detailed narrative was probably as influential as his example of the richer and deeper use of personal papers; the two were obviously connected. For Jonathan Parry in 1986 a ‘“high political” revolution’ had promoted a ‘profound shift in historians’ underlying assumptions’, in the sense that 125

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‘far more weight is now given, almost as a matter of course, to short term calculations.’ Alongside ‘comprehensive archival investigation’, Allen Warren defined the main contribution of ‘high politics’ as the ‘insistence on an accurate chronology, so that actions can be studied in their proper context’.70 Others, as already noted, supposed that the focus on individuals and their contexts obscured or obstructed general explanations. The attention to personal motives was commonly interpreted as ‘reductionism’ to the ‘supposed invariables of interest, power, and expediency’, to an ‘interplay of personal ambitions’ where politicians ‘sought power before principle’.71 A key tenet was said to be ‘rejection … of the importance of ideology – politicians acted according to self-interest and ideological “beliefs” were just a mask for this’. Some consider this to be among Cowling’s most enduring insights,72 and he probably assisted a wider process by which some innocent political historians became less innocent about politicians: certainly historians are now much less inclined to use the notion of political ‘principle’. But from the start the emphasis on self-interest was a leading point of criticism and even moral distaste: a ‘jaundiced conspiracy view … which ultimately reduces all politics to a perpetual jockeying for position in the leadership stakes’.73 ‘High politics’ was equivalent to ‘stygian factionalism’, ‘gorged with ruthless enjoyment of the unsavoury’; it was preoccupied with ‘the trivial and nasty’.74 For Clarke, while the emphasis on ‘the salience of ambition and manoeuvre’ was ‘salutary’, its presentation as the ‘the whole of politics’ was ‘psychologically and sociologically naïve’.75 This is one of the main misunderstandings – in Parry’s phrase ‘a falsely reductionist view’.76 Cowling certainly rejected ‘principle’ as a useful category of analysis, but this did not at all mean that he denied the importance of ideas, belief, conviction on ‘substantive issues’, still less ‘ideology’. This should have been clear from his other books, a career teaching the history of ideas, and political writings that aimed to contribute to ‘Conservative belief’.77 It becomes evident from careful reading of the political histories themselves, in which the character profiles located politicians as much by their education, moral perspective, religion, social and political opinions as by their ambitions and rivalries, and in which groups and parties were held together, however 126

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tenuously, by at least some shared views. It mattered, for instance, that in 1867 two Conservative politicians were ‘Puseyite and ritualistic’ in what was mostly ‘a low, partly evangelical and strongly protestant party’. The Labour movement of the early 1920s was a ‘rag-bag’ because Tawney was a Christian socialist, the Webbs wanted moral revolution, Jowett was a free thinker, Henderson a Methodist and so on, but they nevertheless formed a party because they expressed ‘a common language’ and ‘a small number of common objectives’. In the 1930s Baldwin had ‘moral, social and aesthetic beliefs’, Ormsby-Gore was a ‘Cecilian Christian’ and Milnerite, Zetland an ‘intellectual Curzonian’, and Attlee believed in and intended to give effect to the doctrine of T. H. Green.78 As for the significance of issues, Cowling could in 1867 make the strong point that politicians were concerned more with party and personal advantage than with ‘the substantive merits of questions’ because in this period of study most leading politicians were agreed on the basic issue, that electoral arrangements should help preserve the social and economic structure.79 But the point could not be sustained so strongly or in the same way for the two Impact books, because these examined periods of considerable disagreement on policy substance. Here was one aspect of development between volumes. In The Impact of Labour his approach was to acknowledge that ‘from one point of view’ Lloyd George’s coalition government was concerned with ‘serious, powerful and determined attempts … to resolve the major problems’ left by the First World War: ‘at the highest level of statesmanship, there is a history to be written.’ But this was not the history he chose to write, because his purposes lay elsewhere. He wished to show that even when the ‘substantive merits of questions’ mattered a great deal and became the sources of political differences, ‘issues of substance’ continued to be instruments in party, group and personal conflicts. This was so because these issues were affected by another and overriding concern – with the political, social and economic consequences of the arrival of the Labour movement as a major force. Much later he would concede that in this book he ‘left out policy rather too much’, and did not sufficiently emphasize that politicians who have power ‘do develop their own conceptions of policy’.80 This shift of emphasis 127

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occurred with The Impact of Hitler; indeed before its publication he made a point of stating his view that Neville Chamberlain was ‘deeply concerned with the objective merits’ of his foreign policy. While his central conception remained – that party considerations affected the conduct of policy – a more complicated account followed, with commitments on policy more prominent and with extensive use of Cabinet, Foreign Office and Prime Minister’s Office records.81 The misunderstandings over Cowling’s attention to ambition and ideas arise partly from his special meanings of the word ‘principle’, and partly from what his political histories were designed to emphasize. ‘Principle’ was not for him a synonym for ‘belief’ or ‘ideas’. It had personal force because it stood for one of his general targets – liberal ‘virtue’ and ‘self-righteousness’.82 It also meant something close to ‘consistency’, which he believed could neither survive in practical politics nor serve as effective political explanation. As Bentley has written: ‘Cowling never denied that politicians could be principled people with strong ethical views. He denied that such people could ever succeed within English politics unless they made terms with the system in which they were obliged to function and which brought its own imperatives.’83 What was argued generally in The Nature and Limits of Political Science was demonstrated in detail for political actors of all parties or persuasions in 1867 and the two Impact books: that ‘political action is not a romantic symphony of purpose and ideal’.84 It could not be so, first, because there was no direct connection ‘between intention and consequence, ambition and accomplishment, knowledge of what it is right to do and the capacity to do it’. Cowling held to the basic truth that politics is an unstable, fluid and uncertain activity, liable to be dislocated by unexpected occurrences, pressures, or demands for decision, by unforeseen breakdowns of policies or clashes of priorities, or by unpredictable outbreaks of disagreement, loss of support or obstruction. Political action, and so any attempt to pursue principles, is affected or deflected by the heavy weight of immediate circumstances, with politicians largely impelled by ‘situational necessity’ and with decisions often taken with imperfect knowledge and as a matter of ready expedients. ‘Statesmen do not in practice ask what an ideal 128

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intimation would indicate in an ideal situation: they decide in the particular situation whatever they feel it possible to decide’ – perhaps even because, as their role is to be seen to make decisions, any decision is better than none.85 Yet, while ‘situational compulsion’ was one of Cowling’s main emphases, he did not mean that political practice was concerned only with the short term. On the contrary, his politicians were concerned also with the medium term and the long term – with the prospects for implementing a policy, changing the party leadership or reconstructing parties; with the possibilities of a policy breakdown, economic crisis, socialist hegemony or outbreak of war; with the next general election, whether three months or five years away. The Impact of Labour opens by declaring that ‘between 1920 and 1924 the Conservative Party made three long-term decisions’, The Impact of Hitler that in important respects the international problem of the late 1930s ‘was defined psephologically’, by the possibility that the Labour Party might win an election in 1940. This is another unusual feature: the books show that politicians operated simultaneously with several time frames, trying to link decisions in the short term with a number of possible and alternative futures stretching over varying periods. This in turn meant that the books were exceptionally alert to uncertainty about the future and the possibility of different outcomes, which is to say that he took the implications of contingency very seriously in his explanations. This is why the charge of a preoccupation with ‘gossip’ is so misleading: discussion or intrigue about what might be happening or what might be achieved or prevented in the coming week, months or years is both integral to the texture of politics, and itself capable of becoming a ‘major creator of expectations’ and a ‘major stimulator of events’.86 Accordingly, adequate understanding demanded attention not just to ‘what happened’, but also to ‘what could have happened’.87 So, in understanding politics during the early 1920s, it was vital not to assume that the Liberal Party was doomed, or that Conservative success was inevitable, or that other outcomes were impossible and so had not been worth pursuing; and that for the politics of the 1930s it was not ‘necessary’ for the British government to undertake commitments in eastern Europe or ‘inevitable’ that it should go to war with Germany.88 129

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Blewett was among the few reviewers to note this, namely that one of Cowling’s ‘greatest gifts as a political historian’ was ‘the imaginative recognition of alternative possibilities’.89 Another reason why political action was not a ‘symphony of purpose and ideal’ was because ideals, convictions or principles rarely if ever emerged or existed in a pure form. Cowling was far from being psychologically naïve. Rather, he considered it naïve to suppose that ideas or principles existed as single and discrete entities unconnected with and unaffected by other expressions of personality. Individuals usually had several ideas and commitments, which were not always consistent, together with a range of other motives and emotions, also not necessarily consistent. As Parry has observed, Cowling did not reduce these other motives to ambition alone: ‘feelings of class, resentment, insecurity and disapproval’ probably motivated politicians more than ‘the simple ambition which so many of his critics charge him with stressing’.90 Moreover, politicians were unlikely to differ much from other people in their varied abilities and application, whether in ‘calculation and thoughtlessness, scheming and simplicity, competence and blundering, avarice, ambition and altruism, stupidity, sense and sanctimoniousness’.91 Again, there was an insistence on complication: individuals are not one-dimensional but complex, their motives usually mixed, and their convictions and interests in some senses fluid. The several ideas and commitments of politicians and their several motives and emotions operated on different and varying time scales. In conditions of conflict, at any particular point of decision, ‘antipathy, self-interest and mutual contempt were the strongest levers of action.’92 But this was not necessarily felt as an abandonment or betrayal of longer-term convictions and aims. The effect of ‘situational compulsion’ was to oblige politicians to choose between their various ideas and commitments, relegating or postponing some in order to advance others, and perhaps to abandon old convictions and gain new ideas. Consequently, changing circumstances and shifting party, group or individual objectives brought adjustments in belief. ‘Opinions were believed without being thought suitable for expression; situations brought forth opinions which politicians did not previously know they had believed’; and 130

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again, ‘every politician entertained a variety of opinions which became practical commitments in the light of the possibilities.’ This was why at particular times belief was shaped by public conduct as much as, if not more than, private conviction.93 Overall, what Cowling wished to show was that, in political action, ideas or principles were deflected or developed by the complexities of personality and circumstance. In reply to a critic he insisted that he ‘attached the greatest significance’ to the role of ideas, but ideas had a ‘practical’ as well as a ‘theoretical’ aspect and his political histories were concerned with ‘finding an accurate way of showing how they operate in practice’.94 Consequently, there was a need ‘to remove misunderstandings based on an implied contradiction between expediency and principle’, and to ‘present democratic politicians in a multi-dimensional context’. This led to the conclusions that political action ‘means working through contingency and accident, not rising above them’, and that ‘principles are manifestations of personality no less than interests and passions and that all three form the context of political consciousness’.95

ŒŒ Cowling’s most noted and notorious contribution to political history was precisely ‘high politics’: his conception that the leading figures in national politics of all parties and of none constituted a system, observed certain shared conventions irrespective of their political disagreements, were much exercised and often moved to action by the interactions among themselves, and took decisions in substantial independence from pressures arising in the wider political society. Most reviewers and critics emphasized what they characterized as a ‘narrow’ focus on the ‘autonomous’ activity of ‘elite politics’, which excluded or neglected (the word ‘neglect’ appeared often) some other aspect: popular, constituency, electoral or labour politics; backbench MPs, party organizations, local activists, or public opinion; or class, social movements or economic forces. A good many interpreted all this as a rejection of or assault upon other (and their own) forms of history. Three phrases caused particular offence, and remain as common 131

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perceptions: an allusion in 1867 to high politics as a ‘closed world’, and comments in The Impact of Labour on ‘the politicians who mattered’ and to the ‘political system’ as consisting of ‘fifty or sixty politicians’. What such commentators missed was the sophistication of Cowling’s analytical style: a self-conscious (but explicitly not exclusive) choice and definition of a historical subject, and a range of careful qualifications and deliberate but fertile ambiguities. He was not as dogmatic as he seemed, and once again there were developments in his approach. Of course other political participants and activities had significance and ‘mattered’ in their particular spheres. What he denied was that these had direct and decisive influence on national leadership: Back-bench opinion, party feeling, the decisions of civil servants, the preferences of electors, the opinions of newspapers and the objective movements of social power all contribute to understanding. But the key lies in the minds of the politicians who exercised ostensible power and in the relationship they envisaged with the society they wished to rule. Accordingly, he chose to examine these key politicians in these key roles, to ‘concentrate on the high politics of the politicians who mattered’.96 This meant focusing on the most influential figures within the system of national leadership and on the elements of their actions that related to this system – leaving aside the other activities of these figures, whether in constituencies, party organizations, trade unions, newspaper offices or government departments. Popular politics, electoral geography and so on were ‘there in the background’ of his books, but ‘they’re not what I’m emphasizing’.97 Criticism of the number of politicians he considered was also misplaced, as others have noted. His numbers may seem limited in terms of the total of those involved in all forms of politics (organizational, constituency, and so on), but he actually considered a greater number of political figures than those examined in previous and many subsequent studies of the political system understood in the sense of national leadership.98 The numbers he stated schematically varied from 40 to 60 individuals or ten to fifteen groups, not because of 132

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imprecision but from a sense that shifting circumstances altered the composition and to some extent the size of the system.99 For Cowling the meaningful numbers were never fewer, because they included the leaders of at least three parties and of influential groups within and outside these parties, but never larger because this was the approximate limit at which political interactions among powerful individuals could operate. But if the numbers were relatively low, this was not a political elite or a ‘closed world’ in a conventional or easily described sense, nor was it fixed in composition over time. Although he wrote of ‘parliamentary politics’, he did not mean ‘Westminster’ alone and, aside from the exceptional circumstances of the 1866–67 Reform Bills, he hardly ever examined debates in the House of Commons. Although he considered government ministers, he did not simply extend the discussion to include ‘Whitehall’. He referred to politicians ‘inside parliament and outside’, and gave weight to some, an increasing number, who were not party politicians.100 In 1867 the leaders of the extra-parliamentary reform agitation, Beales, Bradlaugh and Potter, ‘were as much parts of the political system as Disraeli or Gladstone’. In The Impact of Labour this system included certain publicists and newspaper owners – considered as such, even if like Bottomley they were also MPs or like Rothermere members of the House of Lords. Far more important, it now included MacDonald, Snowden, Thomas and other Labour Party leaders and Smillie, Hodges and Williams as trade union leaders: this, after all, was a major purpose of the book – to explain the Labour movement’s incorporation into the parliamentary system.101 In The Impact of Hitler, with its greater concern with policy substance, the system expanded again to include League of Nations Union leaders, civil servants, diplomats and military chiefs. Where Hankey, the Cabinet secretary, was in The Impact of Labour set aside as a mere ‘wheel-oiler’, in The Impact of Hitler he became a member of the political system;102 yet, his role in the 1930s was little different from that in the early 1920s. It seems clear that if the 1920s book had been written after the 1930s book it would have had a wider cast, with Treasury officials as prominent as Foreign Office officials were in the latter. This is not to say that his approach was becoming compromised and 133

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that the system of leadership expanded in numbers, though it certainly resulted in greater complexity. Rather, once he addressed a subject where policy and party politics were tightly connected, it became plain not just that certain civil servants, diplomats and so on acquired political significance, but also that like some newspapermen and trade unionists they came to be regarded as, and to act as, ‘politicians’ in their own right, displacing in influence some of the more conventional politicians. If ‘high politics’ was not closed in these senses, and if the individuals involved shifted in type and to a limited extent in number, in Cowling’s view it continued to be a system and to maintain a restricted membership. What made it such was how it operated, how its members accepted a set of assumptions and conventions and, therefore, how they acted and spoke. It consisted precisely of leaders, who expected to lead, accepted the responsibilities of leadership and wanted their followers to accept this leadership. To be effective they needed two conditions. First, their leadership had to be acknowledged and be taken seriously by the leaders of other parties and groups. Consequently, leadership was established not so much by occupancy of particular offices as by ‘mutual recognition’, a shared understanding at particular junctures that certain persons or groups were significant because they were thought to express an important or challenging opinion or interest, and which had or might have sufficient support to command attention. Here was another reason for research on private papers from all parties, because this alone enabled the historian to understand the ‘recognition’, to identify those who did or did not ‘matter’ to contemporary political leaders, and the periods during which they mattered. Some Cabinet ministers might have been appointed for their administrative competence, and have less political weight than others outside government – certain backbench MPs, newspapers editors or trade union leaders – whose actions or statements were capable of shifting opinions. Again, some individuals or groups might have influence in one context, but little when the political struggle had moved to another issue or phase – hence, movements in and out of the system. As significance depended on mutual recognition, all watched and reacted 134

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to each other with the effect that statements or actions by one person or group might provoke responses from most or all of the others: this was integral to ‘situational compulsion’. Indeed, their very exercise of power – the achievement of political and policy objectives – demanded responses or acquiescences from at least some of the others in the leadership system. Political movement was the outcome of these tensions and interactions and, accordingly, movement did not occur in the ‘linear’ fashion generated by the hindsight of politicians, publicists and historians. Rather, it emerged from a ‘circular relationship’, where ‘a shift in one element changed the position of all the others in relation to the rest’ and issued in new political decisions: the system was ‘rotarian’.103 The second and more fundamental condition of national leadership was preservation of the arrangements that enabled leaders of all parties to exercise leadership and exert influence. One of Cowling’s largest questions was why in Britain, in comparison with numerous European states, an inherited political system had survived recurrent external pressures: ‘a state whose existence has been passed unchanged through the great social changes and wars which have occurred in the last hundred years has either been fortunate by chance or fortunate by design.’ He wanted to know ‘which of these elements has been predominant’, and he believed the answers lay largely with the ‘high politics’ system. Given considerable political differences, including the Labour movement’s challenges to the economic and social order, he asked of all types of political leaders ‘what did they have in common & why did they all work the system?’ Clearly, this was ‘not a system in which no holds were barred’:104 why was this so? On occasion a few politicians had threatened radical obstruction and even revolution, but none actually pushed disagreement and threat to the point of either destroying the system or, with the exceptional case of Sinn Féin, of ignoring and seceding from it. Rather, parliament was treated as ‘a terminal beyond which conflict would not ride’. In Cowling’s view this was not just because any further conflict – a real class war, fought in the streets – would be damaging to other cherished causes and a risk to lives and property. It was also because it would destroy the leaders’ own power, and indeed the prospective power of 135

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those leading new movements: self-preservation and self-promotion were further, very persuasive, constraints. Consequently, all actual and aspirant leaders protected what was essentially ‘a method of proceeding with the nation’s business’, and ‘conflict divided parliamentary politicians far less than consciousness of the power of parliament united them.’ This, as Ian Harris has noted, was conflict that delivered a great prize: a stabilizing outcome. All accepted limits to their actions and so, whether wittingly or not, all adopted certain conventions and joined in a measure of cooperation. A crucial convention was that words should speak louder than actions; that disagreement, whether real or manufactured, could be extreme in argument but not in act; and that threats were really attempts to gain advantage within, or entry into, the system. The ‘collusive collaboration to make rhetoric not action the centre of dispute’ was not just observed by the leaders of the different parties and groups among themselves; they also operated it against their own followers and against the electors, in the sense of promising more than might or could be delivered. This was why politics was ‘ambiguous’, and a further reason why conflict was ‘synthetic’. For Cowling it was of absolute importance that the Labour Party leaders ‘committed themselves to the politics they found established’, conforming to parliamentary procedures and adopting ‘high-politics’ conventions in the belief that these were the best means both to advance their party’s interests and to secure their own authority with their followers and with voters. No less than the aristocratic leaders of the older parties, these tribunes of a new democracy wanted their supporters to expect not participation but leadership. Notwithstanding new personnel and transformed policies, this was why he considered that politics after 1918 were continuous with the aristocratic politics of the previous century, and that in principle the approach used for 1867 remained valid.105 Moreover, a further effect was that political opponents might exploit the system’s pressures towards cooperation to secure or advance their own positions. Central to the outcome of the political struggle in the early 1920s was a tacit alliance, a ‘tension of connivance’, between Conservative and Labour leaders to assist each other at the expense of the Liberal Party and rivals within their own 136

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parties.106 All this might be described as ‘monastic’ or, in a quite different tone, as ‘perpetual envelopment in a prudent, necessary and corporate venality’.107 Nevertheless, for Cowling ‘the world of high politics was not … entirely monastic or rotarian’, and politicians had only a ‘measure of autonomy’.108 When he used the term ‘closed world’, its meaning was subtly different from what it has generally been taken to mean. The misunderstanding again arises not only from his choice of emphasis, but also from his ambiguity in expressing something that eludes easy explanation but which he nevertheless considered real and vital.109 What needs emphasis is that as one of his deepest concerns was to explain political stability, his interest was certainly not confined to the manoeuvres within ‘high politics’. On the contrary, in the 1960s he addressed the central problem that has come to exercise political historians from the 1980s: what was the connection between popular or electoral politics and national political leaders? This was the explicit theme of 1867, and was given nearly as much weight in The Impact of Labour. In neither did he mean that ‘high politics’ was completely closed to non-parliamentary opinion. Even the aristocratic politicians of the 1860s had an ‘acute … consciousness of public opinion and working-class feeling’, and in the 1920s ‘the crude picture politicians had of the electorate was a significant factor in determining their reactions’ to problems.110 His point was rather that there was no ‘simple consonance’ and ‘one-way relationship’ between public agitation and government decision; rather, the connections between these were ‘devious and diverse’. New social forces or popular movements ‘did not make their impact directly, were effective through existing concentrations of power, and, in the process of decision, were transformed in order to make them tolerable to ruling opinion.’ This was not only because ruling opinion had its own ideas, preoccupations and momentum. It was also because politicians understood that ‘popular opinion’ actually consisted of numerous different opinions, which included ‘a variety of acquiescences’ as well as expressions of protest – conservative working men as well as radical artisans, agrarian as well as industrial opinions, the patriotic as well as the class conscious. Accordingly, for political 137

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leaders ‘public opinion’ was a matter of perception and preference, assessed, interpreted, selected – or quite often imagined – according to their own concerns.111 This was an argument about explanatory priority: ‘power is exercised and decisions made, not by vast movements of opinion but specifically by individual men’; and ‘it is necessary to understand what the ruling groups were doing before more general questions can be answered.’112 Also, Cowling did not mean that ‘high politics’ was entirely introverted. What was at issue within the ‘high politics’ system was the ability of politicians to appeal successfully to opinion outside, in the wider political society. Given that they considered themselves to have the position, power, knowledge and responsibility to provide leadership, they expected not to listen and comply but to be heard and followed: the ‘salient feature of the political system … was not the attempt of popular feeling to make itself felt in parliament but the attempts of parliamentary politicians to find ways of securing support from extra-parliamentary feeling’. So the relationship between ‘high politics’ and ‘low politics’ was one of continuous interaction, a ‘dialogue’, but one in which the initiative lay with the political leaders.113 Hence, for Cowling, the great importance of political language, or what others might have called ‘ideology’. He himself never used the term ‘ideology’ in this context, because of its Marxist derivation in treating ideas and their expression as reflections of class and material conditions. Nevertheless, if it is accepted – as Cowling insisted – that ideas and statements have other sources, it becomes evident that his books turn upon an understanding of political language as always ideological: ‘public speech in a democracy is functional’, and ‘democratic speech conceals both its hand and its mind’. Politicians use ideas, language and images neither to express philosophical or descriptive ‘truths’ nor to reveal their private or party intentions, but as instruments to obtain or maintain support, as persuasion: hence his adoption of the term ‘rhetoric’.114 Demonstrating the gap between the actual activity of political leadership and its public presentation – particularly given its naïve acceptance by the liberal academic political literature of the 1960s – was among Cowling’s leading purposes, and the one he placed first in a later reflection on his political histories: 138

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a democratic politician has not only to make decisions, he has also to make them in the light of the wishes and ambitions of other politicians, and he also has to justify himself to a public which doesn’t necessarily like the language which would actually describe the reasons for his actions. … He’s thinking either about how you’d present the policy to the public, or he’s thinking about rivals … or friends within the political system. And that’s really what those books are about.115 Rhetoric was, first, the chief means by which particular leaders advanced their party, group and personal objectives, projected themselves as significant, conducted their political conflicts and impressed themselves upon sections of public opinion. They sought to give leadership by ‘isolating an aspect of policy for emphasis’ in ways that would ‘strike sparks in the public mind’; or they might turn attention away from dangerous matters, as interwar Conservatives did by seeking to talk about something else – ‘almost anything’ – other than outright defence of the rich against the poor.116 In doing so, politicians could be creative and imaginative, not just expressing economic and social interests but calling upon ideas and phrases from history, religion, literature, ethics, sport, art and popular culture; and their aims were both constructive and destructive, drawing together some bodies of opinion or forcing others apart in order to create or break electoral alliances that reached across classes. Consequently, and contrary to a common impression, Cowling’s sources were not confined to private letters and diaries. Although he gave these priority because they provided the best evidence of politicians’ perceptions and intentions, he also made considerable use of reports of speeches, to an extent that even now remains unusual.117 This was especially important because of a particular feature he noted of prominent politicians: how as their speeches won support they became the ‘repositories of the hopes and ambitions of their followers’, giving them a public personality they usually felt obliged to respect and develop. Their function was, he declared, ‘histrionic’; he listed them in his books as ‘the actors’, and he evidently considered ‘high politics’ to be rather like the public performance of a play.118 139

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Second, rhetoric was the instrument all political leaders used collectively to preserve the authority of the ‘high politics’ system and its method of conducting political business, and more widely to maintain the nation’s cohesion and stability – ‘the primary task of reconciling all classes and all bodies of potential alienation to the politico-social structure’.119 As politicians struggled against each other to win public support, they nevertheless cooperated in persuading voters to accept their collective leadership and ‘enter their thoughtworld’, seeking to ‘secure acquiescence through words’ in a complicated interchange expressed in one of Cowling’s characteristic paradoxes: ‘trying not merely to say what electors wanted to hear but to make electors want them to say what [the politicians] wanted to say in the first place.’120 These various ‘incantations’ could be made seriously by politicians believing what they said, though they just as likely used them cynically, simply to achieve a tactical advantage. Cowling concluded that the essential tool for interpreting political statements was relentless scepticism, or what he called ‘cynicism’ – by which he certainly did not mean to imply that the difference between private motive and public language was in itself dishonest and reprehensible. Quite the reverse; he considered this difference and indeed political ‘cynicism’ to be inevitable and normally admirable – even in a Labour prime minister – because it helped to prevent a clash between classes and to promote stability and cohesion: ‘the central political achievement was not representation but rhetoric.’121

ŒŒ As Susan Pedersen and others have noted, Cowling’s analysis of ‘high politics’ and the character of political language have similarities with some developments in political history that have occurred since the 1980s, when most historians of elections and popular politics lost their faith in structural and class analyses. From a quite different perspective, he had argued what these now recognized – that government and national politics were not just expressions or reflections of social groups or ‘pressure from below’; that political parties were not simply ‘passive beneficiaries of social change or electoral reform’, and that 140

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national leaders had ‘relative autonomy’, with substantial independence in taking decisions and a creative role in shaping political allegiances.122 Indeed, Cowling and ‘new political history’ independently gave attention to public language for much the same reason – dissatisfaction with social determination as a form of political explanation. His sense that within an ‘imagined’ order politicians acquired public identities that bore little relation to their private identities might even be presented as similar to the postmodernist notion of the ‘decentred self’.123 An effect of such similarities has not simply been renewed interest in Cowling’s political histories, but also occasional calls for a convergence between the ‘high politics’ and ‘low politics’ approaches, in order to ‘reintegrate political history’.124 Given his concern with how political leadership related to political society, he saw some possibilities for a history of ‘reception’: as he wrote in The Impact of Labour, ‘a study of the impact of politicians on British public opinion would be an important extension of this book.’ He had no interest in undertaking any such extension himself,125 and this was not just because he understood the difficulties in the material and conceptualization. Just writing parallel histories of political leaders, party activists and voter opinions may be impressive as research and description but it is likely to be weak in explanation. All turns on the definition of the problem, on what is thought to need explanation; and the difficulty remains largely as Cowling left it, that these groups were not obviously sharing in the same activities. Defining the intersections between national political leadership and the politics of the varying localities and interests will be difficult enough, but any convincing study would need also to accommodate the necessary Cowlingite injunctions to ‘complicate’ – to be alert to the all-party, multi-group and personal ‘tensions’, to grasp the strategic and tactical qualities of political language, and to understand politics as conflict and argument, however synthetic. Notes 1. Maurice Cowling, Preface to 2nd edition of Mill and Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. xv. 2. As noted by David Craig, ‘“High” Politics and the “New” Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 53, forthcoming 2010, referring not just to Cowling’s works but all the high-politics studies of the 1960s and 1970s. 141

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3. A personal note is perhaps useful for understanding what follows. I spent six years as a Peterhouse student, and was supervised by Cowling for two undergraduate courses and then postgraduate work on British politics in the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, I can claim little special knowledge about his political histories. For undergraduate work he taught me the history of political thought, not modern British history; and as will be noted later, as a postgraduate supervisor he asked questions but hardly ever indicated his own views. He inspired but also puzzled, as was his intention, because he wished to force independent thinking. Consequently, like everyone else’s, my understanding derives largely from reading his books and essays, though it also owes much to writings by and discussion with Michael Bentley, David Craig, Peter Ghosh, Ian Harris, Andrew Jones and Jonathan Parry. I am much indebted to them and to Stephen Taylor for very helpful comments on this chapter. 4. Obviously, Cambridge had many political historians with varied interests and views. But equally obvious points deserve restatement: Peterhouse had other history dons with quite different interests, and not all those influenced by Cowling’s approach were educated at or were members of Peterhouse. 5. The latter phrase was used in Robert Skidelsky’s review of Cowling’s Impact of Hitler [IH] in the Spectator, 26 July 1975, p. 111, the year in which the term ‘school’ became established: see also Robert Blake on IH in the Times Literary Supplement [hereafter TLS], 25 July 1975, p. 839. 6. Cowling, ‘Preface’, Mill, 1990, p. xvi, though he did accept the separate notion of a political group, pp. xxx–xxxii. He carefully distinguished his role as Conservative publicist from that of historian: ‘I’m not to be described as a Conservative historian’: see ‘Interviews with Historians: Maurice Cowling’ (Institute of Historical Research DVD, c.1998), with Michael Bentley (hereafter cited as Cowling–Bentley interview: I am grateful to David Craig for his transcription of this interview). Insofar as a link existed between the two roles, the most significant point is his insistence that he was not (as often described) a ‘right-wing’ Conservative, but a hard-headed one: the shared perspective was lack of illusion, or ‘realism’. 7. For dislike of the ‘historical profession’ and his self-description as ‘an antiprofessional don’, see interview in Naim Attallah, Singular Encounters (London: Quartet Books, 1990), pp. 130–1. He did not teach a special subject; hardly ever spoke to or attended seminars and conferences; had little interest in specialized secondary literature; and after 1965 – when promotion from assistant lecturer to a full lectureship gave him more security to select between professional expectations – he wrote no articles (nor, it seems, any reviews) for academic journals. He did, though, write articles, sketches, letters and occasionally reviews for political reviews and newspapers: see Peter Ghosh, ‘A Bibliography 1948–1991’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) [hereafter PPD], pp. 344–51. 142

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8. As noted also by Jonathan Parry, ‘Maurice Cowling: A Brief Life’, in the present volume and Michael Bentley, ‘Prologue: The Retiring Mr Cowling’ and Peter Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History: Mr Cowling’s Doctrine’, both in PPD, pp. 2, 6–7, 306 n. 175. See also Michael Portillo’s memorial address in the Peterhouse Annual Record, 2004–5, p. 120: ‘he did not … indoctrinate his students with his political views, nor … did he send out … a phalanx of Cowlingite Tories.’ 9. Joseph Lee in TLS, 9 May 1975, p. 505. Cowling wrote a letter in reply (ibid., 16 May 1975), and later wrongly remembered Lee’s statement as the origin of the phrase ‘Peterhouse school’. 10. It is, though, a mistake to trace the ‘high-politics studies’ directly to Butterfield, as is curiously affirmed in the title, but not supported in the text, of Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: “High Politics” and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, pp. 943–54; and swallowed whole in Reba Soffer, History, Historians and Conservatism in Britain and America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 181. 11. Best outlined in Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England [hereafter RPD I] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. xvi–xxiii and passim; but see also ‘Cavalier from the Suburbs’ [interview with Peter Scott], Times Higher Education Supplement, 4 May 1990, pp. 13, 15; Cowling–Bentley interview; Bentley, ‘Prologue’, pp. 3–6 (which stresses the significance of India); obituaries in The Times, 26 August 2005, and by Michael Bentley in the Independent, 6 September 2005; and Parry, ‘Cowling: A Brief Life’, in this volume. As Cowling observed in ‘Cavalier’, p. 15, he was so keen on entering parliament that (cynically, though before the 1956 Suez crisis crystallized his party-political commitments) he even investigated the prospects of becoming a Labour MP. It may be added that one conversation, in the House of Commons, was with Hugh Dalton (who of course figured in the two Impact books): Cowling asked me c.1979 whether this was recorded in Dalton’s diary, and on the authority of the diary’s editor, Ben Pimlott, I later informed him that it was not. 12. The misconception was and remains common: see for example reviews of IH in The Economist, 2 August 1975 (‘pure Namier’), by A. J. P. Taylor in The Observer, 22 July 1975, and Paul Johnson in the New Statesman, 25 July 1975 (‘the inspiration is Namierian’), and Linda Colley, Namier (London, 1989), pp. 96–7. For denials, see Cowling letter in the TLS, 3 June 1977, reprinted in PPD, p. 343, and Mill 1990 Preface, p. xvi. He also privately wrote a correction to Colley, whose misapprehensions included the gratuitous assertion that Namier’s influence was unacknowledged because he was an ‘anti-clerical of Jewish origins’ (compare RPD I, p. xx and chapter 10 for Cowling’s expressed debts to a ‘secularized Jew’, Maurice Zinkin, and to the practising Jew, Elie Kedourie). Cowling’s closeness to Butterfield might have been a clue, and his differences from Namier’s attention to material interests, 143

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13.

14.

15.

16.

constituencies, electoral structure and prosopography of the House of Commons should have sufficed, as might the non-Namierite approach of the eighteenth-century historian influenced by Cowling: see J. C. D. Clark, The Dynamics of Change: The Crisis of the 1750s and English Party Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). See also Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, p. 278 n. 20; Michael Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 167; Craig, ‘High Politics’. Although in IH Cowling alluded to Namier’s writings on European politics in the 1930s, it was only in the 1990s that he showed any interest in his work on English history: see his (Cowlingite) estimation in RPD III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 635–46. I owe these points on Vincent to Peter Ghosh, and to Michael Bentley, ‘Party, Doctrine and Thought’, in Michael Bentley and John Stevenson (eds) High and Low Politics in Modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 130–1; and see also Craig, ‘High Politics’. For Cowling’s own comments on Vincent (and his early ‘libertarian socialism’) see his anonymous article, ‘The Wapping Prof’, Spectator, 22 March 1986, and for Vincent’s denial of Cowling’s view that the Conservative party could be studied in terms of ideas, see Encounter, March 1990, p. 70. Especially Charles Covell, The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 144–71; Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories’; Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’; Ian Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics: The Thought of Maurice Cowling’, Political Science Reviewer, vol. 26, 1997, pp. 435–81; and Craig, ‘High Politics’. Cowling–Bentley interview, and see Attallah, Singular Encounters, pp. 130–1, 148, and Cowling, RPD I, pp. xiv–xxiii, including a remarkable list of his schoolboy reading (p. xv). It may be noted that he expected this of his students too. Incoming Peterhouse history students c.1971 were sent a list of books for ‘fertilising historical studies’, which was unlike any usual ‘introductory’ history reading list. It did include a few historians, but none were recent (so Clarendon, Hallam, Macaulay, Thucydides and suchlike), and most of the authors were philosophers, poets, novelists, economists, or theologians, for example Aristotle, Arnold, Boswell, Bradley, Conrad, Dante, Freud, Hegel, Hume, Marx, Newman, Nietzsche, Proust, Smith, Swift, Tolstoy, Voltaire, Weber. Of course few actually read these, but on arrival at the college they quickly learned that the expectation of wide intellectual engagement was in earnest: each received a note requiring them to submit an essay on a general theme in history, philosophy or art; no particular topic or title was suggested. The common reduction from the 1980s of the term ‘high politics’ into just a synonym for ‘political leadership’ (sometimes even at constituency levels), shorn of the interpretative resonances, was indicative of the marginalization (or ignorance) of the high-politics studies. 144

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17.

18.

19. 20. 21.

22.

23. 24.

25. 26. 27.

He made the point very explicitly in the Cowling–Bentley interview, and see p. 132. As an indication both of Cowling’s interest in other aspects of historical work and of focus on ‘high politics’ as a deliberate choice, it should be noted that his (uncompleted and un-Cowlingite) doctoral subject was originally ‘British Social Policy in India 1850–1910’ later revised as ‘Government, Commerce and Society in India c.1850–c.1920’. J. Vincent’s review of Cowling’s 1867 in Economic History Review, vol. 20, no. 3, 1967, p. 563, and see also Sheldon Rothblatt in Journal of Modern History, vol. 41, 1969, p. 101; Hinton and Barker on IL, respectively in Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History [BSSLH] vol. 24, 1972, p. 64, and Government and Opposition, vol. 7, 1972, p. 107. For some corroboration of Barker’s observation, see pp. 138–9. Economist, 22 July 1967, p. 329; Vincent’s (second) review of 1867 entitled ‘Monograph as manifesto’, Listener, 3 August 1967, p. 152. Reviewing 1867 in History, vol. 53, 1968, pp. 152–3; the precise reference for the observation is 1867, p. 339. The term ‘working class’ is used freely to indicate a problem or a threat for political leaders, and class conflict/struggle/war are prominent in IH, pp. 2, 5–7, 10. See Maurice Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, in Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978), p. 1 (‘if there is a class war – and there is’); and Maurice Cowling, ‘The Sources of the New Right’, Encounter, November 1989 (an edited version of the Preface in Mill, 1990), p. 4, describing the three political histories as making ‘a class-conflict analysis of the role of Parliament’. Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 1, and more succinctly in RPD I, p. xvi: ‘Marxism is not so much untrue as, for certain purposes and in limited respects, true and unimportant.’ See Cowling, ‘Preface’, Mill, 1990, p. xviii, recommending a ‘Tory Marxism’. For these proposals, or ‘hope’, see Cowling, IH, p. ix. It is possible that this was a tease; what is certain is that before that book was published in July 1975 he had turned back decisively to the history of ideas. This was evident from his conversation and his encouragement to me to work on the core period for his notional ‘Class Struggle’ book. True to his attitude towards postgraduate students, he never offered any indication of what his own line of interpretation for this volume might have been. See Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, p. 302 and n. 152; Parry’s, ‘Cowling: A Brief Life’, in this volume; and Craig, ‘High Politics’. Bentley and Stevenson High and Low Politics, p. 1, and John Turner reviewing that book in TLS, 16 December 1983, p. 1409. Ross McKibbin, The Evolution of the Labour Party, 1910–1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 112 and n. 1, and see his review of Michael Kinnear’s The Fall of Lloyd George in English Historical Review, vol. 90, 1975, p. 229: Cowling had ‘only a tenuous grasp on reality’ in seeing the end of the 145

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28. 29. 30.

31.

32.

33.

34.

35. 36. 37.

38.

Coalition government as ‘just the result of clubland gossip’. A. J. P. Taylor also used the term ‘gossip’ when reviewing IH in The Observer, 27 July 1975. The comment, I thought, said less about Cowling than it did about Taylor; and this was the man who hero-worshipped Beaverbrook. Henry Pelling, Historical Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 1968, p. 595; Gertrude Himmelfarb, American Historical Review, vol. 73, no. 3, 1968, p. 822. Neal Blewett, review of The Impact of Labour in Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 18, 1972, p. 309 (a particularly interesting review); Robert Blake, review of The Impact of Labour in Spectator, 24 April 1971, p. 567. Robert Skidelsky, review of The Impact of Hitler in Spectator, 26 July 1975, p. 111; R. A. C. Parker, review of The Impact of Hitler in English Historical Review, vol. 92, 1977, pp. 402, 404; Paul Addison, review of The Impact of Hitler in History, vol. 62, 1977, pp. 537–8; D. C. Watt, review of The Impact of Hitler in Political Quarterly, vol. 47, 1976, pp. 109–10; A. J. P. Taylor, review of The Impact of Hitler in Observer, 27 July 1975, and A. J. P. Taylor, Letters to Eva, 1969–83 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991), p. 252; Stephen Koss, review of The Impact of Hitler in Listener, 23 September 1975, p. 407. Clarke reviewing RPD II, in TLS, 14 March 1986, p. 271; Morgan in the Guardian, 8 September 2005, p. 28; and see Paul Addison, ‘Destiny, History and Providence: The Religion of Winston Churchill’, in PPD, p. 236, for admiration of Cowling’s ‘bracing revisionism’ and ‘a very much needed scepticism’. Reference to ‘Cowling and his associates’ in ‘Introduction’ to second edition of Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England, 1815–1872 (Keele: Keele University Press, 1994), p. 14; and see interview in the Guardian, 21 September 2004, p. 22. His earlier observations were cooler: Brian Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom: Stability and Change in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 14. Peter Clarke, The Keynesian Revolution and its Economic Consequences (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1998), p. 9, commenting on his essay in Bentley and Stevenson, High and Low Politics; see Kenneth O. Morgan in the Guardian, 8 September 2005, p. 28, referring to his, Kenneth O. Morgan’s, Consensus and Disunity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories’, p. 944. Susan Pedersen, ‘What is Political History Now?’ in David Cannadine (ed.) What is History Now? (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 40. See Carl Bridge, ‘The Impact of India on British High Politics in the 1930s: The Limits of Cowlingism’, South Asia, vol. 5, no. 2, 1982, pp. 13–23, a uniquely direct attempt to engage with Cowling’s approach. Andrew Roberts, The Holy Fox: A Life of Lord Halifax (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991); John Charmley, Churchill and the End of Glory: A Political Biography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993) and, indeed, his Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989). 146

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39.

40. 41.

42.

43.

44.

45.

46.

47. 48.

Robert J. Caputi, Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2000); David Dutton, Neville Chamberlain (London: Edward Arnold, 2001), p. 181. Anonymous review of 1867 in Economist, 22 July 1967, p. 329; Skidelsky on IH in Spectator, 26 July 1975, p. 111. Similar comments appeared in most reviews. Larry Fuchser, Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement: A Study in the Politics of History (New York: Norton, 1982), p. 5 n. 6, observed of IH that ‘publication of a concordance’ would be needed to make sense of ‘a fundamentally incomprehensible work’. Clarke (referring also to A. B. Cooke and J. R. Vincent, Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain, 1885–86, Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1974) in TLS, 20 May 1977, p. 625; Keith Robbins on IH in International Affairs, vol. 52, 1976, p. 108; Parker in English Historical Review, vol. 92, 1977, p. 402; Skidelsky in Spectator, 26 July 1975, p. 111, had ‘literary brutalities’. For example, Robert Crowcroft, review of the 2005 reissue of The Impact of Labour in Labour History Review, vol. 72, 2007, pp. 103–5, and review of both IL and IH in Robert Crowcroft, ‘Maurice Cowling and the Writing of British Political History’, Contemporary British History, vol. 22, 2008, pp. 279–86; Stephen Fielding, ‘Political History’ (2008), on Institute of Historical Research [IHR] website, Making History (viewed April 2009); Craig, ‘High Politics’. An influence reaches even into other histories: see Brendan Simms, The Impact of Napoleon: Prussian High Politics, Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Executive, 1797–1806 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) – the author is a fellow of Peterhouse – and Richard Butterwick, ‘Political Discourses of the Polish Revolution, 1788–92’, English Historical Review, vol. 120, 2005, p. 705 and n. 42. Indications in 2009, aside from the current volume, include ‘Our traditions’ on the Cambridge History Faculty website for the ‘Modern British political history group’; pages for Cowling and for ‘Peterhouse school’ on the IHR Making History website; and the article (by Jonathan Parry) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB]. For some examples of different emphases, see Clarke in TLS, 20 May 1977, p. 625; Turner, TLS, 16 December 1983, p. 1409; Jonathan Parry, ‘High and Low Politics in Modern Britain’, Historical Journal, vol. 29, 1986, p. 759. Reviews of IL by Blewett in Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 18, 1972, p. 309; P. B. Johnson, Journal of Modern History, vol. 44, 1972, p. 295; and anonymously in Political Quarterly, vol. 42, 1971, p. 461, and Economist, 8 May 1971, p. 61. Clarke in TLS, 20 May 1977, p. 625; and see Turner, TLS, 16 December 1983, p. 1409. An example of resourcefulness: his early research on nineteenth-century India (particularly the Lytton papers) had shown that viceroys’ and governors’ papers contained detailed reports on domestic politics from their 147

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49. 50. 51.

52.

53. 54. 55.

56.

57.

58.

59. 60.

political friends in Britain, so these were included in the sources for the two Impact volumes, setting an example for later twentieth-century historians of British politics. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, p. 273. Cowling, 1867, p. 362. Cowling learned his lesson from writing 1867, after research in which he transcribed documents into (oddly) school exercise books. As these were stapled and even more because two or more documents might be noted on the two sides of each sheet, he could neither easily rearrange the material into the order he wished as he prepared to write, nor interpolate photocopies and pages torn out of editions and printed books, as was his alarming habit. So for the next two books each document was copied onto a separate sheet or set of sheets. This practice, and the injunction to transcribe everything, was his main advice when, within days of settling on a subject, he sent me to my first archive: there was no suggestion that one might start with the secondary literature. Letter in TLS, 3 June 1977, reprinted in Bentley, PPD, p. 343 (italics in the original). Almost his only, though reiterated, advice on the process of writing political history was to ‘complicate’. This was not necessarily good advice for a doctoral student. Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 136. Cowling, 1867, pp. 5, 6 (italics in the original). Cowling was not entirely alone on this point c.1967–75, though other multiparty studies were mostly concerned with wartime politics – Cameron Hazlehurst on the First World War, Paul Addison on the Second. For a recent restatement of this central point from a quite different perspective, see Peter Ghosh, ‘Gladstone and Peel’, in Peter Ghosh and Lawrence Goldman (eds) Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 71–2. A ‘high politics’ example is Michael Bentley, The Liberal Mind, 1914–1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977): see chapter 4 placing Liberal opinions in the contexts of dealing with both the Labour and Conservative parties. I owe the terms to ‘Michael Bentley on Maurice Cowling’, on www.social affairsunit.org.uk (2005, viewed April 2009), cited as ‘Bentley on Cowling’ online. The reverse should be noted, that where issues seemed unlikely to yield political advantage they might be set aside and treated as non-contentious: see note 81. Cowling, 1867, p. 5, and see p. 338 (‘disagreement was synthetic’), and Cowling, IL, p. 7. Gareth Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832–1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 22, 148

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61. 62.

63. 64. 65.

66. 67. 68. 69. 70.

71.

72. 73. 74. 75. 76.

77. 78.

79.

and see chapter 5, ‘Why is the Labour Party in a Mess?’, which unconsciously (one assumes) expresses several ‘Cowlingite’ propositions. Cowling, IL, p. 28. The Liberal and Conservative parties received the same treatment. Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963) [hereafter NLPS], p. 25. The book was reissued in 2006. Cowling, 1867, p. 5. Philip Williamson, Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 268, 353. ‘The Centre’ is a leading theme through much of both Impact books, but see for example, Cowling, IL, pp. 1, 8, 63–5, 94–5, 102–6, and Cowling, IH, pp. 10–11, 50–2, 391–2. Cowling–Bentley interview. Cowling, IH, p.ix. On these aspects as central to Cowling’s thought, see Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, passim. Cowling, IL, p. 4. Parry, ‘High and Low Politics’, p. 759; Allen Warren, ‘“The Return of Ulysses”: Gladstone, Liberalism and Late Victorian Politics’, Parliamentary History, vol. 9, 1990, p. 185. G. Himmelfarb, ‘The Writing of Social History: Recent Studies of 19thCentury England’, Journal of British Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, November 1971, p. 164; Koss on IH, Spectator, 25 September 1975, p. 407; Rothblatt on 1867, Journal of Modern History, vol. 41, 1969, p. 101. ‘Peterhouse school’ on the IHR Making History website, and see the Crowcroft items in note 43. Lee in TLS, 9 May 1975, p. 505. Respectively Fraser on IL in Political Studies, vol. 20, 1972, pp. 112–13, and Hinton in BSSLH, vol. 24, 1972, p. 65. Peter Clarke, ‘Political History in the 1980s’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 12, 1981, p. 47. Jonathan Parry, The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe, 1830–1886 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 31, and see his article on Cowling in ODNB: he ‘vehemently denied the charge that his work … ignored the role of ideas in politics’. Cowling, ‘Preface’, Mill, pp. xlii–xliii, and see Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, passim. Cowling, 1867, p. 23; IL, pp. 28–9; IH, pp. 260, 315, 317, 388–9; and see ‘Preface’, Mill, p. xvi, for an interesting qualification on his style of analysis: ‘so far as it treated parliamentary politics as a spectacle of ambition and manoeuvre’ (italics added). Cowling, 1867, pp. 2–3. 149

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80.

81.

82.

83. 84. 85. 86.

87. 88.

89.

90. 91.

Cowling, IL, pp. 108–9; Cowling–Bentley interview, with the further comment that he ‘may have neglected some things in trying to prove’ his case about the character of high politics. Cowling letter in TLS, 16 May 1975, replying to Lee’s suggestion in the 9 May issue that he was not concerned with the merits of issues. See Cowling, IH, pp. 1, 4–5, and also Cowling–Bentley interview for a comment to the effect that IH was in this respect an advance on IL. Craig, ‘High Politics’, makes the important observation that Cowling did not mean that every issue was always contested: some areas of policy were normally treated on merits, because not considered central to party concerns. It may be added that other issues might be so politically important or dangerous that party leaders preferred cooperation, even at the risk of rebellion among their activists: an example is the tripartisan approach to Indian constitutional reform between the wars, which partly explains the circumstances addressed in Bridge, ‘The Impact of India’. See Cowling–Bentley interview for the ‘naïve, comfortable liberalism or liblabism which was the dominant intellectual fashion of the late 1940s and 1950s’, and which assumed that ‘a liberal understanding of virtue and principle makes it possible to understand the working of a political system’; this ‘isn’t true’. ‘Bentley on Cowling’ online, and note the observation that Cowling ‘believed in belief’. Cowling, NLPS, p. 179. See Cowling, RPD I, p. xx, for ‘dismissal of the politics of principle’. See Cowling, NPLS, passim, and particularly pp. 11, 18–19, 119–20, 178–9, 200–1; Cowling, IL, pp. 5, 418. See especially Cowling, IL, p. 8; and for further comment, Philip Williamson, National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926–32 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 16–17. Cowling, NLPS, p. 22. Cowling, IL, pp. 419–21; Cowling, IH, pp. 7–10, 12, the latter perspective given notoriety by his article ‘Why we should not have gone to war’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 August 1989 (republished as ‘The case against going to war’, on The Churchill Centre website, http://www.winston.churchill.org, viewed April 2009), and see his letter in reply to critics, Sunday Telegraph, 3 September 1989, and remarks in Attallah, Singular Encounters, p. 144. Blewett, review of IL in AJPH, vol. 18 1972, p. 308, and see Barker noting ‘the openness of past situations’, in his review of IL in Government and Opposition, vol. 7, 1972, p. 99. Parry, ‘Cowling: A Brief Life’ in this volume, p. 13. Cowling, NLPS, p. 184, and see Maurice Cowling. ‘Lytton, the Cabinet and the Russians, August to November 1878’, English Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 298, 1961, pp. 59–79, for a war caused by a tired, lazy and forgetful minister, and an over-enthusiastic and disobedient viceroy. 150

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92. 93. 94.

95. 96. 97. 98. 99.

100. 101.

102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116.

Cowling, IL¸ p. 6. Ibid., pp. 9, 418, and see Cowling, 1867, pp. 7, 311–12. Letter in TLS, 3 June 1977, reprinted in Cowling, PPD, p. 343; and see Cowling, RPD I, p. xxi, for his political histories being concerned with ‘the relationship between principle and practice’. Cowling, IH, p. ix. Cowling, IL, pp. 11, 3, and note on the former page the comments on ‘selfimposed limitation’ and ‘we posit the existence of a network’ (italics added). Cowling–Bentley interview. See Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, p. 307; Craig, ‘High Politics’. While IL had 50 or 60 individuals, NLPS, p. 30, has 40 or 50; in Cowling– Bentley interview he spoke of groups and gave both ‘ten or twelve’ and ‘ten and fifteen’. In practice, as the studied time spans became longer, with more persons moved in and out of leading roles, the overall number increased until in The Impact of Hitler over two hundred people received comment (the number is obtained from counts in the text and the appendix). Cowling, IL, p. 4, and see Cowling, NLPS, p. 30: ‘Britain is governed by forty or fifty men (not all of them party politicians).’ The leading theme of IL is establishment of successful Conservative resistance, for example, pp. 1–3, 414–15, but Labour incorporation is a crucial element in this, pp. 6–11, 423–9. Ibid., p. 3, and Cowling, IH, pp. 160–2. Cowling, IL, pp. 4, 6, 11; Cowling, 1867, p. 6. Unpublished notes, ‘Preface 1865–1890’ and ‘The Government of England 1865–1920’ (undated, but 1960s), in author’s possession. Cowling, IL, pp. 6–7, 10, well explained in Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 464–5. Cowling, IL, pp. 380–1, 406–11, 429. Cowling, IH, p. ix. Cowling, IL, p. 10; Cowling, NLPS, p. 184, and see Cowling, Mill, p. xv, where ‘autonomy’ has inverted commas, to indicate his qualified meaning. The meaning has been very clearly teased out in Craig, ‘High Politics’. Cowling, 1867, p. 37; Cowling, IL, p. 11. Cowling, 1867, pp. 3–4, 61, 340; Cowling, IL, pp. 5, 7: note the ‘public of their imaginations’. Cowling, NLPS, p. 22; Cowling, IL, p. 4. Cowling, IL, p. 6; Cowling, 1867, p. 3. Cowling, Mill, p. xv; Cowling, IH, p. 2; Cowling, NLPS, pp, 185–6. Cowling–Bentley interview. Letter in The Times, 27 April 1965. Cowling so liked his remark about ‘something else’ that it became a rare instance of his citing himself: Cowling, IL, p. 30, cited in Cowling, IH, p. 393. It is noted as a ‘profound truth’ in Skidelsky’s review of IH, 26 July 1975, p. 111. 151

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117. This was most evident in the two Impact books (explicitly in Cowling, IL, p. 12), partly because of the wider ‘public’ of these periods but also, it should be recorded, because it was made possible by his discovery of the immense collection of press cuttings, covering all leading politicians, in the Lloyd George papers. Endnote citations to newspaper reports of speeches relate to his photocopies of these news cuttings, not to months trawling through actual newspapers (which explains why none are listed in the bibliography). He also used speeches to compensate for lack of adequate private evidence on politicians (particularly Labour) whom other sources revealed as significant within ‘high politics’. This is another little-noticed technical achievement, namely that Cowling’s analysis was not shaped or constrained by reliance on the survival of particular collections of private papers. 118. Cowling, 1867, pp. 7, 312; Cowling, IL, pp. 8–9, 10; appendices for all three political histories, and for ‘play’, Cowling–Bentley interview. See Williamson, Stanley Baldwin, pp. 13–16, for further comments. 119. Cowling, IL, p. 428. 120. Ibid., p. 5. 121. Ibid., p. 10. After the publication of 1867, Cowling declared that he had dedicated the book to ‘the prime minister’ (Harold Wilson) because he had shown the Labour Party to be an ordinary party and not a crusade, and because he obstructed both the ‘lunacy of the Left’ and the ‘offensive odour of Gaitskellite virtue’: letter in Economist, 29 July 1967. Later, in the Cowling– Bentley interview, he explained that Wilson had seemed ‘to embody a cynical attitude to the democratic process’. 122. For example, the important ‘Introduction’ in Jon Lawrence and Miles Taylor (eds) Party, State and Society: Electoral Behaviour in Britain since 1820 (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1997), pp. 1–19; and see my review in English Historical Review, vol. 113, 1998, pp. 1023–4. 123. ‘Bentley on Cowling’ online, and Bentley memorial address in Peterhouse Annual Record 2004–5, p. 121: note the comment that Cowling’s stress on history as discursive and persuasive ‘unknowingly articulated’ some ‘postmodern’ premises. 124. For example, Pedersen, ‘What is Political History Now?’, pp. 40–5; Jon Lawrence, ‘Political History’, in Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner and Kevin Passmore (eds) Writing History: Theory and Practice (London: Edward Arnold, 2003), pp. 195–9; Craig, ‘High Politics’. 125. But, he added, in a further definition of his choice of subject, this was ‘not what it is about’: Cowling, IL, p. 4.

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Chapter 7

‘High Politics’, Political Practice and the Labour Party Robert Crowcroft

‘Sterility is not an invariable consequence of false assumptions; but the sterility of much contemporary academic political writing is.’ Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science, p. 1. ‘The thinkers of the past, from Plato to Bentham and Mill, had each his own view of human nature, and they made those views the basis of their speculations on government.’ Graham Wallas, Human Nature in Politics, cited in Sir Lewis Namier, Personalities and Power, p. 1. Maurice Cowling once mused that academic writing about British politics was suffering from ‘sterility’.1 That was in 1963 and, in many respects, the same holds true today. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the richest field of twentieth-century politics, the history of the Labour Party. The intellectual assumptions that shape the study of Labour represent a barometer of thinking about modern politics more broadly. The topic remains dominated by assumptions that Labour’s uniquely diverse history of rise, decline, conflict and factionalism is most explicable in terms of foundational ideas, electoral sociology, or some combination thereof. In this chapter I attempt to flesh out a different way of thinking about Labour politics. I draw on many of the ideas of Cowling, as well as of other conservative intellectuals, and make the case for the prevailing liberal, and liberal-socialist, assumptions 153

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that dominate the subject and represent an orthodoxy not dissimilar to what Elie Kedourie described as the ‘Chatham House Version’ of imperial history, to be confronted, and deconstructed, by explicitly conservative claims about the character of the political world.2 I argue against the notion that ideology is the best way of conceptualizing Labour Party history. Yet, challenging the significance of ideology in driving political action is not simple scepticism; it is also about reaching an improved understanding of the nature of high level politics. In this chapter I do not advance a rigid model of analysis in the style of much political science or electoral sociology. The framework I suggest is rather a way of thinking, a persuasion – in essence, a disposition. By ‘conservative’, I mean a framework that is essentially negative, that is with no belief in the possibilities of ‘progress’ or ‘perfectibility’ in human personalities. There is a positive element in that I do not deny the possibilities of material progress and ‘improvement’ in the conditions under which humanity exists. I deny that from such developments there is an improving moral sensitivity or awareness, or a diminution in moral depravity. The chapter is, then, founded upon a particular impression of the human soul and scepticism about its potential for change.3 Adopting Cowling’s view that historians cannot remove values from their work, I seek to use conservatism as a tool of enquiry to shed light on the workings of British democracy through discussion of the pre-eminent political symbol of that ‘democracy’, the Labour Party. The central purpose of this chapter is therefore to explore the problem of political ‘practice’, as Oakeshott termed it.4 In doing so I seek to question the ways of understanding twentieth-century politics that have been dominant, and assert that the realities and pressures of public life outweigh the influence of any competing forces like ‘ideas’. The chapter is based on a specific conception of practice. ‘Practice’ encompasses the characteristics of political action and the realities of elite life. I analyse what practice is reducible to, how it works, and how it interacts with events. I dwell on the primary importance of the lure of power, ambition and self-interest in public life, and question whether more traditional approaches are better ways of conceiving politics ‘at the top’, even in a modern democratic state. As it was for 154

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Oakeshott, then, the problem lies in understanding a specific sort of activity. I concentrate particularly on how practitioners understand practice, and the implications of this for thinking about Labour Party politics. I utilize aspects of the thought of Cowling, Oakeshott, and the conservative historian of the eighteenth century, Sir Lewis Namier.5 An attempt is also made to synthesize and develop these modes of thought further, in exploring how they might apply to a selfconsciously ‘socialist’ vehicle like the Labour Party. I expand on concepts that Cowling left under-developed. The chapter begins with a short survey of the way in which Labour history, and British politics more broadly, have been conceived. The outlines of Cowling’s ‘high politics’ method are then restated, which is necessary for the contours of its argument about practice to be appreciated. I ask whether a better understanding can be found in conceptualizing public life as a Machiavellian game of snakes-and-ladders rather than a clash of ideologies or a reflection of social change. Prevailing attitudes have often led to the conservative approach of Cowling being merely a subject for vilification as ‘trivial and nasty’,6 and so historians of the Labour Party have never utilized a ‘high political’ analysis. It is generally assumed that the forces of self interest and power politics apply ‘most naturally’ to the Conservative and Liberal parties, and cannot be satisfactorily replicated when considering Labour.7 Not only is this wrong, but the extent to which mainstream studies of even the other parties display evidence of ‘high politics’ analysis proper is open to doubt.8 A final justification is that Labour history is, as is well known, innately politicized and tied to narratives that have at least as much to do with the political present as the past. Lest it be thought paradoxical to seek to illustrate the character and form of politics, and the utility of intellectual conservatism, in studying a party so self-consciously wedded to a particular ideology and democracy as Labour, in reality such a subject affords the ideal vehicle. Recent innovations in popular politics, particularly the ‘new political history’, have sought to challenge the way we think of the relationship between politics, culture and society, outlined a more sophisticated approach to that subject and restored a degree of agency to political actors.9 It therefore seems appropriate to call for a reorientation of elite level political history as well. 155

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There is something else. It should be stressed that the differences that will become apparent between the ‘high political’ approach to practice and conventional analyses that fit comfortably within an ingrained orthodoxy about British politics reminiscent of ‘Chatham House’ are not merely a matter of historiographical nuance. Rather, they are in fact a product of an essentially philosophical conflict between two quite different worldviews, a conflict at root about rationalism and whether or not one accepts its importance in politics.10 The result of the powerful influence of rationalism in shaping the doctrines and assumptions of the modern mind is, in the particular case of historians, a belief that problems can be explained in terms of conflicting, but rational, philosophies, that debate between them will produce a ‘correct’ answer, that political and social ‘progress’ occurs as a result, and that events can then be understood in these terms. It has a shaping influence on mainstream approaches of all stripes, not just of the left. The political philosopher Leo Strauss – sworn enemy of modern rationalism, at least – savaged the belief in ‘the rationality of the historical process’ as no more than ‘a dogmatic assumption’ without any self-evident claim to truth, but, regardless, to the modern mind almost all human conflict is reducible to a struggle between opposed principles, and rational discourse will solve it.11 Hence, in this context, the tendency to treat political history, and therefore the practice of politics, as a history of the competing fortunes of ideas, their rise and fall, or to write national and social history in terms of the advance of ‘rational’, beneficent forces is easily explicable. But if we reject this and proceed down a separate path, then what elite politics is like suddenly appears rather different. The essay thus extends the ideas of Cowling and seeks to find a truly coherent conservative ground on which to locate the key problem of practice that scholars such as him have raised. It is concerned with articulating the reality of political practice and the character – indeed the culture – of public life in democratic Britain. The historiography of the Labour Party Labour history has traditionally been understood in almost exclusively ideological and sociological terms.12 It might be helpful, at the risk of 156

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over-simplification, briefly to give a flavour of the ways in which the Labour Party has been investigated. Though previous interpreters have carried out their work from a diverse range of intellectual positions, nonetheless most share a set of core assumptions. Labour has frequently been seen as ‘an ineluctable force’ of one kind or another, perhaps with a ‘destiny to fulfil a historic mission’.13 Many, most importantly Ross McKibbin, have seen the centre of action in Labour’s development as located within the class structure of British society, and interpret political outcomes as a reflection of this – ‘political action is the result of social and cultural attitudes.’14 McKibbin and others identify politics ‘at the top’ as determined primarily by movements ‘from below’. This is the opposite of Cowling’s conception of the political world. A significant number have held rather romantic views – most famously Ralph Miliband, but also Perry Anderson, David Coates, Tom Nairn and Leo Panitch – and were inherently frustrated by Labour’s political failure. This indictment, which was every bit as sophisticated as McKibbin’s analysis, saw the party as having disappointed in its efforts to achieve ‘socialism’, let down the working classes – where they were not themselves culpable for their lack of revolutionary instinct – and wrote its history as an indictment of the failings of its leaders.15 Miliband perceptively diagnosed the selfinterest of Labour politicians, but supposed that this was a despicable thing. Anderson and Nairn, meanwhile, were socialist ‘Whigs’, seeing Labour as a force that had negated a process of working-class development over several centuries. Some, such as Henry Pelling, David Marquand and Ben Pimlott, sought to defend the direction of the Labour Party and its leaders.16 Marquand’s classic The Progressive Dilemma, for example, highlighted the tensions in the Labour movement between the political and industrial wings, and also had an impact on strengthening the ‘modernizing’ agenda of the New Labour era. David Howell recently highlighted the importance of ‘loyalism’ in a penetrating analysis and enriched understanding of Lewis Minkin’s ‘rules’ that supposedly govern the relationship between the different sections of the Labour movement.17 The literature and range of debates is too large to be summarized here, and the party also features heavily in more general studies of British 157

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politics.18 Some have seen politicians as the playthings of social forces; others have granted them rather more freedom of action. But no political subject has generated quite the controversy of Labour history. What is striking is that, for all the disagreement, the debate has been almost entirely sociologically, or ideologically, driven. Despite the conflicts between those who think that social forces do determine politics, that social forces should determine politics, or that we should be sympathetic to well-intentioned leaders, these diverse positions all in fact originate in the same sociological and ideological determinist model. That is itself reflective of the (frequently unconscious) view that ‘ideas’ are the best structure for political writing, and the rejection of ‘classical’ political studies like intrigue and diplomatic history in the 1960s. H. M. Drucker summarized discourse about Labour’s politics in these terms; a recent collection of essays on Interpreting the Labour Party framed its approach in the same way, as if this is the whole story.19 Biographies of Labour politicians are another case in point. They are usually written in a manner that depicts their subject as reflecting particular ideological tendencies and exploring the conflicts with other tendencies that result, establishing that as the centre of the subject’s political life.20 The study of British politics as a whole reflects the same consensus that this – a debate about competing ideologies or the functioning of society – is how their world works. Samuel Beer saw the competing parties as vote-winning machines in which ideology played the key role in their internal politics and represented real ideological distinctions in the country.21 It is true that Robert McKenzie, drawing on Michel’s Political Parties, sought to downplay the role of ideology, perceiving the leaderships of the two main parties as functioning in largely the same way, with an adherence to constitutionalism and maintenance of the existing political and societal structures.22 Yet, McKenzie was widely held by historians (and even his own doctoral examiners) to be in error. There have, however, been some important intellectual shifts, albeit not in the same direction as ‘high politics’. Duncan Tanner convincingly challenged McKibbin’s analysis of the relationship between social class and politics, giving due weight where appropriate to the strategies of elites.23 This occasioned a broader restoration of a degree 158

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of agency in a number of works not centred on Labour,24 but, contrary to what has been asserted elsewhere,25 it has rather more in common with Beer’s model of politics (as well as Peter Clarke’s strategies– ideas–electoral geography framework) than Cowling’s, and has not challenged the significance of ideology.26 Nonetheless, it seems appropriate to take the opportunity to extend this to a wider reconsideration of the behaviour of elite politicians and the character of public life. The problem of political practice Scholars are confronted by a number of problems when attempting to comprehend ‘practice’. What is it reducible to? What are its elements? How does it function? How does it interact with ‘events’ and produce ‘policies’? This is precisely where most approaches to politics yield little in the way of answers. It is also where a Cowlingite, conservative approach has something distinctive to offer. The Labour Party is a particularly useful subject for a reorientation of political history not only because its politics are taken to be ideological or sociological, but also because the party has suffered near constant internal conflict over its history. It thus enables us to analyse how politicians have really behaved in democratic Britain and, by extension, to highlight problems in aspects of conventional thought. Few scholars have satisfactorily discussed political practice. Yet, in truth, that is unsurprising. Oakeshott, for one, saw quite clearly how each individual activity generates its own rhythms that non-practitioners can rarely grasp.27 A ‘conservative’ dissection of Labour would, therefore, suggest that the history and politics of that party are not primarily about either ideological discourse or sociological considerations. Instead, it looks to the deeper lying and innate forces of human ambition and enmity to provide an explanatory dialectic for political action – in essence, to what we will term the primacy of self-interest.28 At root, it contends that the profession of politics, and the focus of public life, is principally about the location and acquisition of individual power, and how it is contested. This is as true for Labour as anywhere else. The behaviour of politicians is thus centred upon the pursuit of influence and position, and with it constant attention to personal interests vis-à-vis others. As Cowling saw it, political activity should be interpreted as a series of 159

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manoeuvres between individuals vying for authority or other gains, rather than ideology or evidence of structural changes within the social crust. From MacDonald to Henderson, Cripps to Benn, Kinnock to Blair and Jones to Scanlon, Labour politics, like any other politics, is dominated by this will to power and the ceaseless competition in which it manifests itself. Yet that perspective is also much richer than many observers have realized when critiquing Cowling. It is founded upon a specific, and fertile, understanding of the human condition itself. ‘Self-interest’ is a difficult concept, a complex nexus of forces – competitive, individualistic, selfish, possessive, jealous, and insatiable. It can be impetuous, destructive, and driven by anger; it can also be cool, deliberate, and guided by a sense of the long term. It may be duplicitous and deceitful; equally it can encompass benevolence and sincerity. It may be influenced by emotionalism or calm calculation.29 But, its centrality must be established. It is both the reality of this state of affairs and its profound significance that many of those who study politics persistently underestimate. It lies at the core of political practice in democratic Britain generally, and in the Labour Party in particular. The politics of personality and self-interest represent a much more potent influence than ideology. The purposes of saying so are neither cynicism nor to expose deceit or cant, but merely to explain action better. ‘High politics’, then, is not principally destructive – highlighting the frailties of other methods – but intended to be creative as well. Calling for the applicability of a conservative disposition to Labour Party history might be at odds with the way in which that subject has traditionally been interpreted. But public life is about exercising power over other men, the satiation of one’s own ambitions and hatreds, and the learning and mastery of a technique. The great irony is that the structure of the Labour movement places a premium on this approach to politics and in fact necessitates a particularly cut-throat outlook if success is to be achieved. None of this is to say that political actors do not seek to stress that their concern with the national or party interest is paramount over their private well-being. This symbolic act of legitimization has pedigree as well: Nietzsche argued that leaders construct justifications 160

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by ‘pos[ing] as the executors of more ancient or higher commands’.30 More generously, Cowling observed that ‘each man will believe what he is doing to be for the best’, highlighting the fact that a politician generally assumes a continuity of interests between his own actions and those of a wider community.31 Williamson echoes this.32 It might, then, represent merely a convenient cover for power-seeking behaviour, or wilful self-delusion; but equally it may be sincere. Yet, the primacy of self-interest in driving activity remains. Once this is established, the question becomes what form does it take? If self-interest drives practice, the technique in which it manifests is manoeuvre. In an environment where everyone looks out for, and is constantly attentive to, the views of their own best interests, contests for ascendancy represent the day-to-day lives of all politicians. Therefore, manoeuvre is the principal concern, and activity, of political actors. Exhaustive analysis of this was how Cowling attributed agency to politicians, and how we should seek to do so again.33 Political tactics encompass a battery of methods, including pursuit of posts or positions of influence, rhetorical and linguistic proficiency, and efforts to outflank others. They might well be framed in ideological discourse, but manoeuvre, just like the self-interest from which it flows, is grounded in a relentless search for advantage. What happens at meetings, public speeches, private discussion, and calculated manoeuvre all combine to create the environment in which political action occurs. Manipulation and persuasion go hand in hand. This is true of the Labour Party as much as of any other entity. Moreover, it is inevitably so – it is the ordeal of public life. Both advantage and necessity compel political actors to engage in this type of conduct. What about the environment in which this occurs? The world that develops as a result of the ceaseless manoeuvre and struggle for power is an innately dynamic one. Its defining feature is its plasticity, and politicians’ manoeuvres are attempts to remould it to their advantage. For five years in the 1950s Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan were locked in a struggle for dominance and the right to succeed Clement Attlee as Labour leader. They used a diverse range of weapons in rounds of ceaseless politicking, from resignation to disciplinary sanctions, from coalition building to chasing key jobs, and from constant 161

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public attacks to proclamations aimed at discrediting one another. Manoeuvre called forth counter manoeuvre. Foreign and domestic events were used cynically to strike at one another and were then discarded. Their conflict tore the Labour Party apart. Over some years Harold Wilson and his two ‘crown princes’, James Callaghan and Roy Jenkins, competed with one another for advantage and the leadership. Later still, Tony Benn exploited and exacerbated the fissures within the Labour movement in a bid to make himself its chieftain. This behaviour is not confined to leaders and leadership contenders; it prevails from the upper levels of politics to the bottom. Remarkably, contemporaries usually understand this all too well; it is historians who confuse things, presumably by not reading newspapers. Analysis of documentary evidence reveals long-term plans, ambitions and enmities in the minds of actors that shape politics over considerable periods. Sometimes these dominate politics almost constantly; at others, they disclose their influence only intermittently. But politics is invariably conducted opportunistically. Manoeuvre by one politician or faction necessitates counter measures. The impact on events of realignments, or the brokering of alliances, is as deep as new breaches. Circumstances, or a sudden change of position, may invite a drastic political leap in response. The parameters of this environment are in constant flux, as the decisions of one politician alter the calculations of the rest, opening up new options and foreclosing others. Every facet of the political world, from internal party policy documents to government committees and public rallies, represents points of contact between politicians. If ‘agency’ is not only to be restored but understood in a more sophisticated manner, we must absorb the extent to which it belongs to politicians as creative actors. The exercise of it by a small number of individuals – probably rather fewer than the ‘fifty or sixty’ that Cowling conjectured – goes further than any other force in determining the topography of British public life.34 This is the core of a conservative reading of political activity, and visibly represents a different series of emphases from those usually accorded importance in study of the Labour Party and modern British history as a whole. At its heart is a sceptical view of the nature of man. For Cowling – and many other conservative thinkers – that insight was 162

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borne directly out of the Christian faith. Miscalculation, or the indulgence of emotional tendencies, might mean that Disraeli’s ‘greasy pole’ is descended just as often as it is climbed, but this does not detract from the reality that the substance of politics is manoeuvre. I am not sure how many historians would deny that this is how they think politics works. A few would, but many would no doubt demur at the novelty of this and say ‘so what?’ But, if that is so, then perhaps rather more of their analyses should reflect it. Personal rivalry and mutual loathing has been a particularly critical component in driving this political style in the Labour Party. Labour once again makes for an effective illustration of these points because it has been more wracked by internal factional hostility than any other British party, and this is – rightly – seen as central to its history. That careerism must be covert in the Labour Party in a way it need not be in the Conservative Party is intriguing. It also makes it all the more potent. Hatred and jealousy over who is to gain advantage is one of the most powerful forces in dictating action in any walk of life, let alone for politicians, and nowhere is this clearer than in the Labour movement. It might, for instance, be thought ‘calumny’ to see the Gaitskell– Bevan dispute ‘primarily’ in terms of personal advancement rather than as a virtuous debate about the future of socialism.35 But that is precisely what it was. Efforts are mounted to weaken and destroy the careers of opponents, or lead them into traps. Indeed, resentment and antipathy are just as likely to generate competition as ambition. Conflicting personalities, not ideology, is the core element of the dynamic of politics. Even where there may be little personal dislike, politicians will still calculate against one another as part of their relentless search for advantage. This sense of political dynamics inside the Labour movement also sits at odds with the keystone of conventional interpretations of that party – the ‘left–right’ paradigm. It has traditionally been held that the politics of the movement essentially boils down to its division into two ideological wings – a ‘socialist’ ‘left wing’ and a ‘moderate’ ‘right wing’ – and that the conflicts that have occurred over the policy and direction of the party between these blocs provide the basis for Labour’s history. Indeed, this left–right model represents a loose framework for 163

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political writing as a whole. As already established, a conservative view of politics holds that this perception of the primacy of ideology is fundamentally flawed. That paradigm is thus to be rejected. Rather than a division among largely fixed lines, the defining feature of the internal environment of the Labour Party is its fluid nature, revolving only around individual personalities. An approach that aims to build on broader intellectual developments and return agency to elite politics needs to break with unhelpful typologies and assumptions that have been stated rather than established. Commitment to specific ideas or values may guide politicians towards a particular party, but the extent to which it dominates public life in the context of day-to-day conduct is open to question. That is, not least, because politics is now a profession. To be sure, it was not always like that. But – and this makes the point more striking still – it was always so in the Labour Party. Attention would be better focused on understanding the goals and ambitions of actors, and the tactical calculations to which they give rise, than on framing political activity in terms of overarching ideological struggles. In fact, this only signals that the historian has failed to discern beyond the language and rhetoric that politicians themselves employ to justify their activities – the subject to which we now turn. ‘Public speech in a democracy is functional’, as Cowling put it.36 As such its purposes require particularly close interpretation. Whatever else may be meant by the language that politicians use in speeches, published writings or policy statements, it is a performance in one sense or another. Alongside manoeuvre, the vocabulary and rhetoric that Labour’s politicians employ – at all ranks of the party and whether directed at an internal audience, the wider public, or both – has been similarly central to their practice. This is because political language is inextricably bound up with the attainment of other objectives, in a way that the ‘expressive’ or ‘exhibitionist’ language of the armchair academic observer is not. Launching an attack on a rival through speech, attempting to discredit their stances, or establishing a new position is a crucial part of contesting ground and engaging in a personal duel; outlining a compelling narrative of events is central to pursuing heresthetical goals.37 Blair’s language of modernization and depositing the millstone of 164

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Clause Four was critical in reshaping the contours of British politics; his words between 1994 and 1997 created a new tone that facilitated political predominance. Blair instinctively understood that politics is in large part the usage of language: his principal concern when recruiting Alastair Campbell was that ‘what you said, how you said it, and how it was reported, was a large part of your armoury. … Our words are going to be vital.’38 Over 1944 and 1945, Herbert Morrison employed his control of the party’s policy apparatus to drive Labour towards exploitation of the public’s desire for renewal and to aim squarely at those who had not voted Labour before; his campaign served the dual purpose of ensuring that the work that reached fruition in Let Us Face the Future was inextricably associated with Morrison personally as part of his longstanding bid to galvanize the support necessary to capture the leadership from the dull Attlee. Cowling described political action as ‘a matter of rhetoric and manoeuvre’ and ‘an attempt to secure acquiescence through words’.39 Politicians will say ‘whatever they [think] it suitable to say’ at a given moment.40 It is thus about much more than simple oratorical proficiency. In public speeches, orations in parliament or party meetings, in official literature, newspaper articles and in government committees, politicians advance language calculated to help attain their objects and defeat rivals. Most frequently this rhetoric is ideological, reflecting the role that such language can have in conciliating, persuading or discrediting those who dissent. But its principal purpose is otherwise. This is perhaps the area of ‘high politics’ where other historians have recently come nearest to absorbing its ideas. Close attention to what politicians do and say, and highlighting the continuities and discontinuities between them, makes it possible to smoke out the political purpose that takes on the guise of idealism and principle. Examine one of Cowling’s books, open a newspaper, or watch the satirical television series House of Cards – the argument here reflects what all politics is about, even that of a self-consciously ideological entity like the Labour Party. Language thus has two principal uses, which in practice overlap – ‘manoeuvre’ and the projection of ‘values’ or ‘ideas’. Language uttered in the case of the former may well be disingenuous. Circumstances ‘[bring] forth opinions which politicians did not previously 165

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know they had believed’.41 In the case of the latter, rhetoric is how public figures communicate their case, establish an image of themselves and generate a narrative. It is, for one thing, just as much at the root of political leadership as manoeuvre. According to Cowling, through this form of language politicians invent both ‘mythology’ and national moods – for example, one of ‘crisis’ over a particular issue, or frame problems in such a way as to lead logically to their solution.42 Language also lies at the root of attempts by even those who are not leaders to build a base of support, construct linkages with others and signal the distance between themselves and rivals. It is intended to be ambiguous, reassuring to certain audiences, or to secure strategically valuable ground. Some project themselves because they have something to say; others do it because they think that they had better say something. The functions of rhetoric therefore vary – to gain assent, to show worth or to connect to the presuppositions of an audience. Political vocabulary provides a fixed stock of phrases, typically rooted in moral practices. Recall Keir Hardie’s heavy use of the language of Christian preaching in his speeches.43 Hardie was not concealing anything, but he was communicating. Rhetoric, then, is about persuasion. Once again, that might be purely cynical – the vacuity of the ‘spin doctor’ – or genuine and a matter of great importance. The status of persuasion as the pre-eminent political activity was well understood by classical philosophers. It is a rarity in modern political analysis. Think of Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided for the exception that proves the rule.44 Political actions need to be explained and rhetoric is part of a necessary explanatory framework. A skilled rhetorician, if his mastery is matched by tactical astuteness, has the ability to dominate politics: Gladstone did it between 1876 and 1880; Lloyd George did it in Ireland in 1921 and, just as surely, Labour politicians – most obviously Mr Blair – have displayed the same skills. The purchase that their personal appeal has is central. Language is where agency is most on display, permitting actors to determine reality and the choices open to others – and indeed their desires in the first place – through the freedom afforded to them. While politicians may well believe what they say – or at least internalize it when it is constantly repeated – rhetoric is principally an instru166

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mental activity.45 ‘Those who approach the highest reaches of political power are unlikely, at any rate in public, to use words as very much more than tools for the accomplishment of their purposes and unlikely to expect from the words they use relevance except to the object in view.’46 Politicians probably only speak openly, and say what they really think, in private – and perhaps not even then. Language may thus be employed for purposes of simple manipulation: in other words, it may be empty. But it may equally be constructive, intended to persuade and shape the environment. Much more remains to be done in analysing how modern politics, vocabularies and ideas interact, but understanding the suzerainty that language wields over public life, and the purposes behind it, is central to grasping the dynamics of political practice. Bevan presented his April 1951 resignation from the Attlee government as driven by the principle of NHS funding in a series of grand oratorical flourishes that provided a launch-pad for his bid for the leadership and obscured the reality of his fury at being leapfrogged by an old Wykehamist. Deception is the norm in public life. Though ideology provides a vocabulary, it is therefore dangerous to assume that the values about which politicians endlessly talk offer a plausible structure for political writing. The problem is that the perspective of historians leads them, when approaching words, to have in mind a task of explanation not directly connected to a practical action, whereas, to the politicians that used them, the words were initially utilized in the service of just that. Academics quite naturally interpret the gestures of politicians from their own vantage point, but that does not alter the fact that with this perspective comes misunderstanding. The problem of analysing vocabulary makes it necessary to distinguish carefully politics as an activity from political philosophy.47 It is, in a sense, about appreciating the difference between a practitioner like Machiavelli and a theorist like Hobbes.48 Insufficient numbers of scholars assimilate this distinction and its implications – which, given the volume of ideological language that emanates from Labour politicians, is doubly significant. Labour’s factionalism, as already alluded to, is the final defining feature of that party’s dynamics that strengthens the case for an improved conceptualization of practice. Politicians not only as a rule 167

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seek to secure influence for themselves: they will also do so for friends and allies. This – not ideology – is at the root of Labour’s notoriously factionalized history; or, in short, it tends to be principally about ‘who your friends are’. Those towards whom politicians gravitate might be powerful figures – in the Labour Party, say a union boss or a major politician – or backbenchers and others who will offer support and sympathy. Common ambition – that is a shared conception of ‘winning’ – is at the core of such alignments, irrespective of whether one’s allies tend to be patrons or flunkies. Factionalism, as ideological conflict, is the way in which Labour’s politics have been written up. The critical flaw is to mistake the basis for this. Factions have eagerly employed ideological language, but in actual fact their practice is more frequently driven by personal allegiance and hostility, as examination of their behaviour and membership (as well as of those who are not members of a group who could be) reveals. Not all politicians have sought factional support, even from their political bedfellows. Jim Callaghan, for example, represented an army of one.49 But the importance of personal alignment holds: as Richard Crossman observed in 1954 at the height of the struggle between Bevan and Gaitskell over the Labour leadership, the conflict ‘only confirms my contention that in British politics loyalty to people and not ideas is universally regarded as the prime quality’.50 Ideas and temperament in the Labour Party This is how political activity is to be understood. Narrative of either manoeuvre or rhetoric – or both of these arts together – would provide a markedly more plausible structure for political analysis than sociological developments or ‘ideas’. But if we are fully to grasp the character and subtleties of Labour elite politics, we also need to recontextualize the politics of the Labour movement specifically. This means outlining the problems with conventional approaches to Labour in the light of the preceding articulation of practice, and then suggesting a solution. The chief difficulty with applying a conservative framework to Labour, as hinted earlier, is the objection that too many Labour politicians have behaved in a manner not commensurate with ‘selfinterest’. Historians have long conflated that charge into a scathing 168

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critique of ‘high politics’. This is in truth resolvable, but it is important that the really significant divisions within the party are conceived in the appropriate fashion. It seems sensible to deal first with the impact of ideas on politics. Ideas do play an important role and, indeed, Cowling’s interpretation has been misrepresented as suggesting that they do not occupy a significant place in public life.51 This is not the case, but it is important to be clear about where ideas do exercise decisive influence and where they do not. Individuals invariably hold views about which they feel particularly emphatic and where compromise is impossible. We might term these positions ‘red lines’ or ‘lines in the sand’ and, where they are crossed, they can play a leading role in political events – the patriotism that led to the decision to unite to fight Kaiser Wilhelm and then Nazi Germany, MacDonald’s grim determination to fulfil his duties to country rather than party, the Conservative MPs who voted with Peel against their own financial interests being cases in point. Such instances were sincerely held positions, not a vehicle for the disingenuous to extend their power. These ‘lines’ indicate where a conflict may occur and what its boundaries might be. Yet, occasions where politicians are exercised by ‘red lines’, even in the Labour Party, are few.52 There is a distinction between the instances of an emphatic position described above and the much vaguer instincts that are evidenced far more frequently; behaviour conforming to one does not necessarily lead in the direction of the other. The two are not the same and the instincts that, say, lead one into the Labour Party and favour social reform cannot be conflated with occasional inflexibility on an issue to give substance to ideology-based interpretations over demonstrably more important influences. Moreover, and crucially, historical evidence shows convincingly that the leanings that shape the outlook of individuals are usually readily subordinated when personal interests demand it. In the great majority of circumstances, politicians manoeuvre relatively unhindered. Further, and even where there are clear lines in the sand, decisions are generally bound up with tactical calculations anyway. For instance, Joseph Chamberlain’s tariff reform proposals, which wrecked the Unionist Party, were closely connected to the question of precisely who would lead that party.53 Some issues are 169

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genuine ‘red line’ matters, but many that are professed to be plainly are not and vocal protestations should not divert attention away from that. ‘Ideology’ has always had an element of expected intransigence in its holders, namely immunity from debate or the citation of evidence. The tendency in political analysis has been to privilege ‘ideology’ as opposed to a more generous perception of seeing political views as representing attitudes that are capable of being changed by debate or evidence. Quite why political analysts have favoured ideology needs to be explored, but it is almost certainly related to various ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ beliefs held by the analysts themselves, expecting others to display the same intransigence they exhibit. Thus, an emphasis on ideology – while an attractive literary device – simplifies the basis of politics in unhelpful ways. The same is true of that oft-cited force, the ‘culture’ of the Labour movement. Such influences, particularly the latter, are far from insignificant. But, the ritualistic modes through which this is articulated should not obscure the fact that all politics, Labour as much as Conservative, trade union as much as parliamentarian, is at heart a Machiavellian and unending bid for power. Prestige and self-satisfaction are the currency of politics, something that intellectual conservatives like Cowling understood only too well. ‘Ideas’ can be of potent significance, but elevated ‘ideology’ is a distant second compared with other instincts, even to men like Bevan and Benn, James Maxton and George Galloway. Therefore, if we are to attain a richer grasp of outlooks and attitudes within the Labour movement, and square the circle that allegedly rules out the compatibility of that party with ‘high politics’, we must shift our focus. I would contend that a concept other than ‘self-interest’, ‘ambition’ and ‘ideas’ is key to unlocking this intellectual puzzle: it is to be found in the notion of ‘temperament’. ‘Temperament’ is a more malleable combination of attitudes and dispositions. It takes us beyond the work of Cowling to that of Namier, and places emphasis on differing perceptions of ‘winning’. Cowling is inadequate on this point because his analysis did not deal with the complexities of human dispositions. Selfinterest is not reducible to simplistic ‘rational’ choice, but that does not make its pervasiveness any less compelling. The key is that Labour politicians have historically competed over different objects. Not all 170

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politicians are competing in the same event and, to put it simply, it is about winning at the race one chooses to run. Thus, alongside its earlier priorities, this chapter is also an attempt to outline a set of alternative typologies for the different types of actor that exist in the Labour Party in place of the now problematic left–right paradigm. It draws parallels with Namier’s model of power and politics in the eighteenth century and again integrates its interpretation within a broader conservative worldview.54 It should be noted that this typology is not an effort simply to replace the left–right model with an equally rigid alternative. Labour Party politics can only be understood in an individualist framework, not in terms of blocs or wings. But, like the articulation of practice set out earlier, it represents an attempt to outline a way of thinking. One type of actor, which I shall label the ‘establishment’ politician, is psychologically distinctive from those that follow. Denizens of the Labour establishment are politically moderate and, in ideological terms, have historically leant towards management of the capitalist system, acceptance of the deep foundations of property ownership and a strategy of gradualism in reform. This seems comparable with the customary ‘right-wing’ figure. In fact, the crucial point regarding establishment actors is that, temperamentally, they are concerned first and foremost with the achievement of personal power in the arena of government; that is the very centre of their ambitions. It is how they conceive of success. They seek to utilize the Labour Party as a vehicle, or stepping stone, to office. Whatever the conflicts and power political rivalries they are involved in, that is their ultimate goal. They may seek these goals not only out of undiluted self-interest, but also because they feel a legitimate sense of duty to manage the nation’s affairs or implement a Labour programme. Disposed towards governing, they will want to remain in office for its own sake, tending to the nation’s business. The primary purpose to which the practice of such men is dedicated is to secure access to government and the levers of power that are to be found there. To them, office is an end in itself. The contrast between this and the desire of Miliband and others for a higher purpose as the basis of a Labour administration, and holding that to simply possess office is insufficient, is vivid.55 Usually, such 171

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politicians have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Labour Party is kept quiescent, ruthlessly exerting pressure against dissent that might upset their efforts to enhance the party’s appeal. In the same manner that Conservatives and, once upon a time, Liberal politicians have been concerned with possessing power for its own sake, this is true of the Labour establishment. They are exercised by notions of the national interest, ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’. Even to Arthur Henderson, a figure more attached to tending the machinery of the Labour Party than any man in its history, that role paled into insignificance in comparison with the lure of office.56 This typology is far more useful in actually explaining activity because, for example, in ideological terms Attlee and Wilson both came from the moderate ‘left’ of the party, but certainly did not conduct themselves in a manner reminiscent of that paradigm (and in doing so each pose longstanding problems of explanation for historians). This, therefore, is how they understand winning and losing, and how we should seek to understand the character and practice of such men. The other sort of politician to dominate Labour politics, by contrast, should be labelled ‘oppositional’. While this figure, encompassing men like Stafford Cripps (at least in the 1930s), Bevan, Benn and Michael Foot, tends to have a quite different set of priorities, their practice is no more dominated by ideology and no less by power political goals. Thus, the divergence between the two typologies is better analysed in terms of temperament, or, in other words, in terms of conceptions of ‘winning’. Oppositional figures will, most often, be sympathetic to a reconstruction of the country along socialist lines. But this in truth does very little to explain their conduct in the day-to-day world that is the reality of public life. The crucial point lies instead in the fact that they are attracted to the pursuit of power, influence and prestige not, like the establishment politician, in office and the direction of the state, but in the very different context of the Labour Party and movement itself. That is their principal concern. It is a divergent temperamental and psychological tendency that produces contrasting political priorities, but does not alter the reality of the quest for advantage or control. Much of the behaviour of men like Cripps and Bevan may not obviously resemble a hard headed, calculating bid 172

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to ascend the greasy pole. Indeed, there may be nothing remotely hard headed about it. But to read it as ideological is to ignore the fact that their conception of ‘winning’ is aimed in another direction. They are not inclined to use Labour as a springboard to office. Their personal endgame is not a major role in government but to exercise power within the Labour movement. In the early 1950s Ian Mikardo was concerned with asserting his influence over the machinery of the Labour national executive and establishing control of rank-and-file politics. Benn was quite happy to forgo a serious challenge for office in a bid to dominate the Labour movement through advocacy of evidently extremist politics. For George Lansbury, being a hero in the party was consistently more enticing than the hard choices of government. From the beginning Clare Short was always ‘the most self-indulgent and attention-seeking’ of Blair’s team; ‘all she ever does’, wrote Campbell, is proclaim ‘look at me, look at me’.57 The horizons of such people are hence typically limited to the Labour Party itself – in contrast to the establishment perception of the primacy of government. In this, as well as in their natural rebelliousness compared with the more sober establishment figure typified by Attlee, Hugh Dalton, or Denis Healey, those who can be described as oppositional have historically tended towards being self-destructive. Their orientation as champions of the movement encourages a tendency to bask in the easy and populist adulation of an internal audience. Nonetheless, that power politics are just as critical to their practice is clear from the fact that the frequently professed pluralism of oppositional actors is often merely rhetorical weaponry. Bevan and his acolytes, for example, spent the first half of the 1950s attempting to depict themselves as indelibly connected to Labour’s ‘soul’ amid the bitterest factional fighting in modern history, not in pursuance of an ideological agenda but in an effort to seize control of the mechanisms of power in the party and to secure Bevan, rather than Gaitskell or Morrison, the Labour leadership in anticipation of Attlee’s retirement. The same holds true of the activities of Benn and countless others, both senior and lesser figures. The civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s were essentially about who was on top and who was not in parliament, the unions, and the national party, a struggle driven by unvarnished 173

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personal loathing. Power-seeking initiatives put in place or suggested by politicians like Bevan, Cripps and Benn, such as the deselection of critical MPs, the rigging of internal ballots and manifold other authoritarian measures, point to the inescapable conclusion that the practice of this type of politician is just as concerned with ascending the ‘greasy pole’ and undermining their opponents as are men like Bevin and Blair: the only difference between them relates to the particular ‘pole’ they choose to climb. There are considerable intellectual parallels to be drawn here with Namier’s work on the importance of temperament. His reading of politics was, of course, also strongly conservative, in that he believed that the acquisition of power shapes the profession and that the importance of ideas can be overstated. Namier identified the struggle for influence as the chief determinant of political action, arguing that ‘take away self-interest, and [political actors] will have no star to steer by.’58 He saw politics as ‘a fierce struggle for places’ and a battle for personal aggrandisement through a system of ‘spoils and benefits’.59 Namier noted that to conceive of a House of Commons shaped by anything other than personal ambition is to imagine ‘as much a creature of imagination as a griffin or a dragon’.60 Cowling could not have put it any better. But, crucially, Namier also recognized that individuals sought power in quite different ways.61 Thus, it is by synthesizing elements of Namier’s approach with that of Cowling that it becomes possible to buttress the ‘high politics’ disposition with a more sophisticated articulation of political activity. Namier sought to identify different types of political actor and hence different forms of behaviour rooted in temperament. He termed two of these species ‘the court’ and ‘the country’. The court are professional politicians, guided largely by pragmatism and rational calculations of electoral advantage and, crucially, are interested in politics as a stepping stone to a higher goal – the wielding of power and access to the machinery of the state.62 Their pursuit of influence, and struggles with others, occurred against this backdrop because this was how they perceived ‘winning’. Namier’s ‘country’ politicians, meanwhile, bear clear similarities with the ‘oppositional’ actor, even though there would perhaps at first sight appear little to connect eighteenth-century gentle174

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men who were not professional politicians with modern-day socialists who are. But that is to overlook parallels in their approach. Country politicians are less interested in government office than court figures and, like their counterparts in the Labour movement, perceive their political ambitions along rather narrow horizons. Country figures enter politics with the highest aim of achieving (or underlining) supremacy in their own county or borough, essentially becoming a member of parliament to take advantage of the social distinction accruing from sitting in the House of Commons or the acquisition of a peerage.63 Thus, they are interested primarily in exercising power within their locality, and in being looked up to by its inhabitants. These parochial considerations were no less significant than the aim of office emanating from the court politician, but were very different motivations. Both the country and oppositional tendencies, then, are primarily concerned with looking good, whether to an audience in their locality or to the membership of the mass party, and such susceptibilities mark them out as a distinctive type of actor with an alternative sense of ‘winning’. It might be proposed that these ideas on temperament – the way in which different sorts of politicians seek power and tend to understand their interests and objectives – represent both a more sophisticated explanation of variations in behaviour in public life than ‘ideology’, and offer a useful tool for an area – twentieth-century political history – in which it has not previously been employed. This realization is vital for surmounting the conceptual problems that have led so many historians to dismiss the ‘high political’ approach. That conflict and factionalism have often reached across the Labour Party – with establishment and oppositional politicians becoming adversaries – cannot be taken as offering evidence of struggles between these types as defining Labour’s history, for the simple fact that clashes confined to establishment actors, or oppositional figures, have been at least as common and shaped Labour politics as extensively. Think of the struggles between Labour’s temperamentally-aligned pre-1931 generation of senior figures, between Attlee and Morrison, Wilson, Callaghan and Jenkins, or Blair and Brown. Think too of the frequent bouts of internecine strife between various Labour oppositionals during the twentieth century. Thus, although patterns can be discerned – and it is 175

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important that, as this chapter has suggested, their meaning be absorbed – the language of ‘wings’ and ‘blocs’ ought to be discarded and an analysis of practice established that rests solely upon either individuals or groups of allies united not by a Burkeian agreement on principles but mere ‘friendship’. This break would in some respects be as significant a shift in Labour history as the assertion of the relevance of conservative ‘high politics’ to that symbol of British democracy. Conclusion The argument set out in this chapter has intended to highlight the value of a characteristically conservative series of assumptions about public life. It is, at root, a call for analysis to be focused afresh on what we might term the political arts. Although it has been raised in the context of the Labour Party it might just as easily be applied to any form of political analysis. It is concerned with the themes of ‘practice’ and ‘temperament’. These are terms that are certainly outside mainstream thinking on modern British politics but nevertheless give food for thought. Rehashing well-established ‘top–down versus bottom–up’ arguments would be pointless. The real goal should be renewed engagement with elite politics itself. It is not being unfair to suggest that elite studies are dismissed by even political historians as ‘staggeringly tedious’, because its advocates ‘isolated their subject from social movements’.64 In fact, the only tedious thing is much of the work that results from this worldview. Political history ought to be freed from the shackles of adjacent genres. There is a deeper point here as well. The inwardness of the world of modern British elites remains strikingly unexplored. The culture of the elite has rarely been analysed as something in itself – even for earlier centuries and for other countries, let alone for Britain in the last hundred years.65 The inner workings of that world, and how it continues to impose itself on society, are seldom considered.66 They may originate from a more diverse background than the governing classes of preceding centuries united under a confessional state, but the modern elite – political, intellectual and media – still exercises a profound cultural influence. Elite culture is all the more powerful and easy to overlook because, unlike in previous eras, the modern elite articulates no doctrine or ideology to justify its 176

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prerogatives. Entrenched, immovable and part of the furniture, it no longer looks like an elite. We barely think about its existence. Far from opening up society, the effect of British democracy has been to stabilize the power of the governing classes. They are probably more secure now than at any point in history. As men like Cowling, Namier, Kedourie and Jonathan Clark have demonstrated in the past, ‘conservative’ interpretations offer a means of challenging received wisdom and articulating assessments that fly in the face of conventional assumptions. There are few more exciting dispositions. The problem at hand does not merely concern ‘agency’, but also what politics at its core is about and how to study it. Even work on Labour that concentrates on institutional conflict, and affords consideration to personal struggle, does not shift away from the primacy of the broader themes of ideological strife or sociological developments. Likewise, the recent work that has restored agency to politicians has not broken with these assumptions. Typologies are only useful if they strengthen our understanding of political reality. If anything, the left–right paradigm hinders it. Moreover, it is a misrepresentation to suggest that because political historiography often pays attention to elite conflict, the Cowlingite approach has been ‘absorbed’ into the mainstream. Considering wider intellectual developments, it seems sensible to believe that a fresh debate about public life, as an entity in itself, is necessary, while current concern with political culture suggests a parallel need to attain a richer grasp of elite life in Britain. This essay is a contribution to that conversation. If dissent from these assertions is unavoidable, those who argue that public life does not function as suggested here should at least be asked to explain what they mean. And, while they are at it, they might also establish why liberal-socialist assumptions should be privileged over conservative, even reactionary, assumptions. Strauss explicitly identified the elite as the sphere that should be pre-eminent in political analysis.67 In essence, scholars need to resume thinking about the character of ‘the regime’, that is the particular arrangements that govern the life of a nation, and that, as Strauss emphasized, were once well understood by philosophers to represent the ‘paramount social phenomenon’ over all others.68 Democratic regimes generate certain kinds of imperatives and 177

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a certain kind of politics.69 Fresh study of the British regime along a new conceptual axis seems both necessary and timely. Because the Labour Party’s self-image is that it is in some way a profoundly ‘different’ entity from other parties, it is in fact one ideal vehicle for work of this kind. There is more. This debate about the character of politics needs to be intellectually recast. It is unsurprising that a secular academy feels uncomfortable about dealing in the human soul. But there is no selfevident reason why a secular framework should be preferred over the alternative.70 After all, the hang-ups of secularists are their own and should not impede the understanding of others. The most significant characteristics of the modern intelligentsia are that it is liberal, rationalist and secular. The present author, like others in this volume, dissents from the assumptions to which these give rise. As stated earlier, public life is an ordeal and political practice a technique. The dynamics of public life, and the norms of behaviour that prevail there, run not on the rationalistic principles of the intelligentsia or the pressure of social forces, but on unwritten customs, unacknowledged attitudes and habits of conduct. They constitute a ‘private game’;71 as a ‘theatre of illusions, politics does not reveal its meanings to the careless eye’.72 One suspects that if academics spent time in the corridors and tearooms of Westminster they would be in for a rude awakening. Yet one also suspects that in 30 years we shall ‘learn’ that the Blair–Brown feud was in fact about matters of deep and conflicting principle rather than the jealousies of two bitter Scotsmen.73 A distinctly political kind of behaviour exists because, as Aristotle was at pains to stress, politics is a self-conscious activity.74 How many historians currently take that on board? Compared with the innumerable studies on ideology, electoral sociology and party identity, the notion that Labour politics, in common with that profession as a whole, is in fact a Machiavellian game of snakes-and-ladders, and that other interpretations cannot be properly extrapolated until this is afforded centre stage, receives hardly any sustained consideration – something that might surprise those ‘at the coalface’ in public affairs.75 Even so, beyond their own sphere there are always limits – often painful ones – to what elites can hope to accomplish. For any actor to 178

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try and control the multitude is foolish and doomed to failure. Politicians cannot ‘run’ society. The very most that can be achieved is for leaders to harness and channel the tide of events in such a way as to generate, for a time at least, positive outcomes and stave off disaster for another day. And perhaps in that is to be found the true meaning of political genius. Thus, rather than bestowing sweeping powers on politicians, ‘high politics’ really shows up that, on the contrary, they can often only work in the margins. Those margins may be of great significance at a given moment, but they are margins nevertheless. That the actors who operate in these narrow conditions still constitute the primary social force is a paradox that the sharp-eyed reader will be quick to spot. And far more frequent than the experience of success is the tragedy of failure, with all its bitter human consequences. Recall England and the Middle East for that.76 One important point here is that the limited ability of actors to direct ‘events’ outside their private arena of intrigue means that, conceptualized in the right way, there is no necessary contradiction between some other interpretations of political affairs – which might, for instance, look to class, religion or economics – and the idea of politicians as creative actors; the two are neither mutually exclusive nor irreconcilable.77 Clement Attlee dominated British politics during the Second World War and his strategy guided the Labour Party to a position of advantage and esteem; but that did not make him, or any other politician, responsible for the outcome of the July 1945 general election.78 It is difficult to discern how individual political leaders could wield that degree of power. They are only men, after all. As I observed at the outset, it is impossible for scholars to separate their work from their assumptions. Cowling was right in that respect. What this essay has attempted to do is lay its own conservative assumptions bare. Political practice generates resentment and brutality, ambition and competition. And it is precisely this, and the arbitrariness of it all, that is so intoxicating. The approach, though, is far from narrow and can lend itself to tactical analyses,79 studies of personal rivalry and conflict,80 examination of ‘thought worlds’,81 assessment of individuals82 and consideration of the manipulation of public opinion.83 At its root is a search for the realities of public life, and its sole 179

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requirement is an Oakeshottian scepticism. It is fanciful to conceive of elite politics, even that of Labour, as being shaped by anything else. It seems clear that established assumptions about the workings of British democracy ought to be put under siege. Yet it is perhaps only a futile hope that this will occur. As Maurice Cowling saw so vividly, the public doctrines of virtue and principle that the political and intellectual classes alike feel obliged to sustain militate powerfully against it. Notes 1. Cowling, NLPS, p. 1. I would like to thank Dr Owen Hartley and Mr Lee Bruce for perceptive comments on this essay. In the case of Dr Hartley, I owe an additional debt for instructing me in what politics is really about. No one, not even Cowling, grasps this better (or more cynically). 2. Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies (London: Macmillan, 1970). 3. ‘Man in insecure and … seeks to overcome his insecurity by a will-to-power which overreaches the limits of human creatureliness. … All of his intellectual and cultural pursuits, therefore, become infected with the sin of pride’ – Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941), pp. 178–9. 4. Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, edited by Timothy Fuller (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2nd edn, 1991) especially Chapter 1. 5. Sir Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (London: Macmillan, 1963, one volume edition). Also, by Sir Lewis Namier, England in the Age of the American Revolution (2nd edition, London: Macmillan, 1966). 6. James Hinton, ‘The Beginnings of Modern British Politics’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, vol. 24, 1972, p. 65. 7. Kenneth Morgan, ‘The High and Low Politics of Labour: Keir Hardie to Michael Foot’, in Michael Bentley and John Stevenson (eds) High and Low Politics in Modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 285–7. 8. This problem is rooted in confusion about the two meanings to the phrase ‘high politics’. One is merely any study centred upon elites. The other, Cowlingite, version turns upon a specific conception of behaviour. 9. Jon Lawrence and Miles Taylor (eds) Party, State and Society: Electoral Behaviour in Britain since 1820 (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1997). 10. See, of course, Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics, Chapter 1. 11. Leo Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), p. 11. This is not to discount the debate over whether Strauss should even be considered a conservative thinker. See S. B. Smith, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), for a liberal-democratic interpretation. 180

‘HIGH POLITICS’, POLITICAL PRACTICE AND THE LABOUR PARTY 12.

13. 14. 15.

16.

17.

18.

19. 20.

21. 22. 23.

See John Callaghan, Steven Fielding and Steve Ludlam (eds) Interpreting the Labour Party: Approaches to Labour Politics and History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), especially Nick Randall’s ‘Understanding Labour’s Ideological Trajectory’, pp. 8–22. Randall suggests that ‘understanding Labour’s ideological shifts’ is itself key to understanding the party’s history, p. 10. Callaghan et al., ‘Introduction’, in Interpreting the Labour Party, p. 1. Ross McKibbin, The Evolution of the Labour Party, 1910–1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. xiii. Perry Anderson, ‘The Origins of the Present Crisis’, New Left Review, vol. 23, January 1963; David Coates, The Labour Party and the Struggle for Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); Ralph Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism: A Study in the Politics of Labour (2nd edn) (London: Merlin Press, 1975); Tom Nairn, ‘The Nature of the Labour Party: 1’, New Left Review, vol. 27, 1964, pp. 38–65; Tom Nairn, ‘The Nature of the Labour Party: 2’, New Left Review, vol. 28, 1964, pp. 67–86; Leo Panitch, Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy: The Labour Party, the Trade Unions and Incomes Policy, 1945–1974 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). David Marquand, The Progressive Dilemma: From Lloyd George to Blair (2nd edition, London: Phoenix Giant, 1999); Henry M. Pelling, The Origins of the Labour Party, 1880–1900 (2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965); Henry M. Pelling, A Short History of the Labour Party (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982); Ben Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); and Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: HarperCollins, 1992). David Howell, MacDonald’s Party: Labour Identities and Crisis, 1922–1931 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Lewis Minkin, The Contentious Alliance: Trade Unions and the Labour Party (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991). For example, Paul Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975); Robert Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929–1931 (London: Macmillan, 1967). Callaghan et al., Interpreting the Labour Party; H. M. Drucker, Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1979). Classic examples are Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, a biography, vol. 2: 1945– 1960 (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1973); and Philip M. Williams, Hugh Gaitskell: A Political Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979). Samuel H. Beer, Modern British Politics: A Study of Parties and Pressure Groups (Society Today and Tomorrow) (London: Faber & Faber, 1965). Robert McKenzie, British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties (London: Heinemann, 1964). Duncan Tanner, Political Change and the Labour Party, 1900–1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). 181

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24. 25.

26. 27. 28.

29.

30. 31. 32.

33. 34. 35. 36.

37. 38.

For example, Lawrence and Taylor, Party, State and Society. Lawrence Black, ‘“What Kind of People Are You?” Labour, the People and the “New Political History”’, in Callaghan, et al. (eds) Interpreting the Labour Party, p. 25. Peter Clarke, Lancashire and the New Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971). Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics, p. 15. This may well be to situate the current author at the John Vincent ‘end’ of the ‘high politics’ spectrum. Elsewhere in this volume, Ian Harris mounts the important argument that the deeper problem behind all this is the human penchant for ‘self-love’. But, pace Harris, it is not necessarily being ‘liberal’ to hold that by far the most significant force that is generated as an outcome of the chaos of political interactions is indeed what Conor Cruise O’Brien called ‘animal politics’ (Observer, 1 April 1979). Sensitive readings of the Harris and Parry essays here (and Cowling throughout NLPS), alongside A. B. Cooke and John Vincent, The Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain, 1885–6 (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1974), as well as Vincent in Encounter, March 1990, p. 70, offer a hint of the subtle differences identifiable within ‘high politics’ on the interaction of these ideas. It might be objected that this is to create an explanation where all action becomes self-interested by definition. But it is not. Rational choice theorists have countered similar objections by introducing the concept of ‘winning’, a good substitute for self-interest. To rephrase: it could be asserted that all action is aimed at ‘winning’, simply because no one likes to lose. But the key point is the observable action that these forces produce. See William Riker, The Theory of Political Coalitions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962). Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (introduction by Michael Tanner, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003) section 199, p. 121. Cowling, NLPS, p. 207. Philip Williamson, National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926–1932 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 17. For a recent instance, see Robert Crowcroft, ‘The “High Politics” of Labour Party Factionalism, 1950–5’, Historical Research, vol. 81, 2008, pp. 679–709. Cowling, IL, p. 3. Kenneth Morgan, Labour in Power (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 443. Cited in Kenneth Minogue, ‘The LSE Right on the Peterhouse Right’, Social Affairs Unit, http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000582.php, accessed 5 May 2008. See William Riker, The Art of Political Manipulation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). Alastair Campbell and Richard Stott (eds) The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries (London: Hutchinson, 2007) 10 August 1994, p. 9. 182

‘HIGH POLITICS’, POLITICAL PRACTICE AND THE LABOUR PARTY 39. 40. 41. 42.

43.

44. 45. 46. 47.

48.

49. 50. 51. 52.

53. 54.

55. 56. 57. 58.

Cowling, IL, pp. 4–5. Ibid., p. 4. Ibid., p. 9. Ibid., pp. 4–5. See also Iain McLean, Rational Choice in British Politics: An Analysis of Rhetoric and Manipulation from Peel to Blair (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). Consult Frank Bealey and Henry Pelling, Labour and Politics, 1900–1906: A History of the Labour Representation Committee (London: Macmillan, 1958), pp. 176, 198 for examples. Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln–Douglas Debates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). Cowling, NLPS, p. 185. Ibid., p. 185. Suvi Soininen, From a ‘Necessary Evil’ to the Art of Contingency: Michael Oakeshott’s Conception of Political Activity (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2005), p. 134. Machiavelli was, first and foremost, a practitioner, who only took up political philosophy under sufferance and remained concerned with practical action. Hobbes, by contrast, was always an armchair philosopher. Patrick Bell, The Labour Party in Opposition 1970–74 (London: Routledge, 2004). Janet Morgan (ed.) The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman (London: Hamish Hamilton & Cape, 1981) 28 April 1954, p. 319. For Cowling’s rejection of this charge, see Maurice Cowling ‘The Liberal Mind’, Times Literary Supplement, 3 June 1977, p. 680. For analysis of one such episode, see Robert Crowcroft, ‘Labour Party Factionalism and West German Rearmament, 1950–4’, in Paul Corthorn and Jon Davis (eds) The British Labour Party and the Wider World: Domestic Politics, Internationalism and Foreign Policy (London: I.B.Tauris, 2008), pp. 127–44. P. T. Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), chapters 17 and 19. That is not to discount the legitimate and important contrasts between Cowling and Namier, emphasized elsewhere in this volume and in PPD. But the emphasis the two men placed on motive (which, even when unknowable, generates activity that provides a thread to illuminate decision-making, intention and priority) remains striking and distinctive; indeed, it is surely more significant than the differences. I am grateful to Simon Green for originally stressing this point. Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, p. 160. David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (London: Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1977), p. 303. Campbell and Stott, The Blair Years, 29 October 1995, p. 93. Namier, The Structure of Politics, p. 265. 183

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59. 60. 61.

62. 63. 64.

65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70.

71. 72. 73.

74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79.

Ibid., pp. 21–2. Ibid., p. 214. Namier outlines the different typologies at length in his chapter ‘Why Men Went into Parliament’ in Namier, The Structure of Politics, pp. 1–62. This should be read alongside ‘The Social Foundations’, in Namier, England in the Age of the American Revolution, pp. 3–41. Namier, The Structure of Politics, pp. 4, 7. Ibid., pp. 7–9. J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Régime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 40. For a useful exception, consult Lord David Cecil, Melbourne (London: Constable, 1965), chapter 1. A recent break with this being George Walden, New Elites: A Career in the Masses (London: Penguin, 2006). Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 137. Ibid., p. 137. Strauss, The City and Man, pp. 45–6. For observations on the relationship between the human soul and politics, see Edward Norman, ‘Christianity and Politics’, in Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978), pp. 69–81. Norman rails against the ‘contemporary practice’ of assessing people ‘by the sort of ideas they lay claim to rather than by the sort of people they actually are’ (p. 77). Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: “High Politics” and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, p. 947. Kenneth Minogue, Politics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 6. An early example of this is Stuart McAnulla, British Politics: A Critical Introduction (London: Continuum, 2006). I am grateful to Dr Hartley for pointing it out. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Notes by Hugh Tredennick, London: Penguin Books, 2004), pp. 10.9.1180b28–1181a19. I remain indebted to Mr Lee Bruce for the example set by him which, on a daily basis, fortifies me in my suspicions about Westminster life. Elie Kedourie, England and the Middle East: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire, 1914–1921 (London: Bowes & Bowes, 1956). Consult the works at footnotes 79 and 83 for examples. Consult the current author’s monograph, Attlee’s War (London: I.B.Tauris, forthcoming 2011). Jeremy Smith, ‘Bluff, Bluster and Brinkmanship: Andrew Bonar Law and the Third Home Rule Bill’, Historical Journal, vol. 36, no. 1, 1993, pp. 161–78; Jeremy Smith, The Tories and Ireland, 1910–1914: Conservative Party Politics and 184

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80. 81. 82. 83.

the Home Rule Crisis (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2000). Smith emphasizes his debt to Cowling on p. 10. Crowcroft, ‘The “High Politics” of Labour Party Factionalism’. Michael Bentley, Lord Salisbury’s World: Conservative Environments in LateVictorian Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Richard Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister, 1865–1898 (London: Allen Lane, 1999). Jonathan Parry, The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe, 1830–1886 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and, indirectly, David Brown, Palmerston and the Politics of Foreign Policy, 1846–55 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002).

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PART III RELIGION IN THE AGE OF SECULARIZATION

Chapter 8

As if Religion Mattered: An Alternative Reading of English Intellectual History since c.1840 S. J. D. Green

‘Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England showed what Cowling really cared about.’1 So Professor Timothy Fuller reflected, in piam memoriam, of his late departed colleague.2 It is difficult to disagree. Whether or not that ‘vast work’ really represented belated ‘penance’ for a vocation guiltily spurned, we shall probably now never know.3 Neither intimate acquaintance with its author nor fanciful imagination about his purposes is necessary to recognize this final work as a peculiarly arduous labour of love. To its conception, construction and composition, Cowling devoted very nearly half of his adult life.4 The result, running to nearly 1700 pages and amounting to more than three-quarters of a million words, surely constitutes one of the most exhaustive – not so say exhausting – exercises in historical investigation undertaken by any British scholar in recent times. Just reading it represents no mean personal achievement.5 This may be one reason why so few – whether indentured academics or intrepid laymen – have seemingly progressed even that far. The publisher’s blurb makes grandiose comparisons with Gibbon’s Decline and Macaulay’s History.6 Sympathetic observers cannot help but admire such audacity. All the same, Cowling’s great tome did not sell thousands of copies on the day of its publication, whether of volumes one, two or three.7 The passing years have only made such comparisons look worse. Second and third impressions of Religion and Public Doctrine were not hurriedly prised 189

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from harassed printers. There have been no pirate editions.8 To the degree that such dubious parallels are proper, it might have been safer to point to the common fate – anyway, to the initial reception – of Hume’s Treatise.9 This is not just because the commercial parallels were so much closer. For the most part, critical reaction to Cowling’s final historical statement reflected less professional gratitude than collective embarrassment – alternatively, not so much academic outrage as studied neglect. With the exception of one, early, riposte from a suitably riled provost of King’s, an intervention surely at once courted and coveted by its ostensible victim, Religion and Public Doctrine was generally ignored in the periodical press as each successive tome appeared.10 It was afforded similarly short shrift in the scholarly reviews. Such evaluative comment as did surface characteristically deprecated either the underlying purpose or ostensible method (usually both) while also invariably objecting to the tone, that is, to the ungenerous implications of its prose.11 To this day, no overall assessment of its achievement has been published anywhere.12 Worse still, related and relevant works continue to be published in the field that take no account of Cowling’s conclusions, seemingly discovering in his – let us at least agree to call them extensive – discussions of modern English intellectual history neither idiosyncratic inspiration nor even mutual concern.13 Such an unenthusiastic response should not necessarily surprise us. Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England is a difficult work. It also makes for an uncharitable read. The frontispiece of volume 3 advertised an ‘ironic, polemical and (from certain perspectives) venomous work’. That, at least, spoke no less than the truth. Cowling took few intellectual prisoners, particularly where sanctified secular reputations were concerned. Everyone will have his own favourite but I find it difficult to beat the following: In his old age, Forster was [continually] wheeled out as … a supposed arbiter … of sanity and as humanistic critic of religious and political obscurantism in the conservative England of the 1950s. In these respects, his positions were as boringly 190

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consonant with everything he had been saying since he became a public pontificator in the first decade of the century.14 Yet Forster still has his friends. So too did Cowling. He just treated them differently. Connoisseurs of the ‘vituperative arts’ can only admire a writer little less damning in apparent praise than obvious criticism.15 Consider the following remarks, made à propos an otherwise sympathetic account of the historiographical achievement of Owen Chadwick: ‘His strength, like that of his brother Henry, is that combination of blandness, dignity and learning which have been a special characteristic of the Anglican clergy.’16 Top marks there, surely, for a gratuitous side swipe at the younger, and, anyway in this respect, wholly blameless, sibling.17 So much intellectual effort that so determinedly pitted itself both against the self-consciously liberal (‘For as long as he can remember the author has hated these modes of thinking’) and the unproblematically academic (‘the past as it was is unknowable … and the search for it professionalized to the point of imbecility’) must also have quite knowingly placed itself in immediate danger of widespread repudiation.18 As one, occasionally caustic but invariably loyal pupil, put it: ‘The absence of footnotes other than as biographical summaries, the presence of endnotes that make it impossible to locate specific references, the juxtaposition of single word quotations with page-long extracts are all jokes at the expense of modern academic scholarship.’ More: ‘that is their purpose’. For no small part of Cowling’s concern was to ‘indicate the arbitrariness of the liberal cult of “reason” by subverting its most cherished form: the academic monograph’.19 This is all true enough. It remains no less true that what so casually offends much of its audience often teaches careful readers best. Put another way, jokes sometimes have serious purposes. To this reader anyway, Religion and Public Doctrine is a major work, nothing less than a contemporary masterpiece. In his judgement, the comparison with Gibbon and Macaulay is neither fanciful nor obviously overwrought. These three volumes display all the characteristics of what Bernard Bailyn once defined as the essential components of a great history. They describe a truly significant past, transforming 191

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collective comprehension of a common inheritance and creating a self-contained world of their own.20 In what follows, he will attempt to describe how and why they succeeded in doing so.

ŒŒ Some of the initially hostile reaction to Religion and Public Doctrine was rooted in understandable confusion. Cowling intended that work to be a culminating effort: the most complete statement of what it was he wanted to say to the world. But for many amongst its earliest audiences, the final product suggested something more akin to the eccentric expostulations of a declining mind. Certainly, nothing had prepared them – friend or foe alike – for what they were about to receive. All too obviously, this intellectual intervention was neither The Development of the Class Struggle nor The Impact of Inflation, vaguely promised five years earlier.21 Indeed, the contents of volume 1 of Religion and Public Doctrine bore no obvious resemblance to anything found in the painstaking investigations of The Politics of British Democracy. None of these studies had ever essayed an historical problem beyond a single political crisis, nor indeed over any period longer than seven years. This project pointed to an all-encompassing existential difficulty, spanning two centuries.22 Each of the earlier works had been grounded in relentless archival research, dispassionately presented. Initial chapters of Religion and Public Doctrine read more like the bilious tour round a retired clergyman’s library. Above all, Cowling’s political world had been in every appearance practical, earthy, even cynical, a place in which the absurd shenanigans of Horatio Bottomley sat on all fours with the brittle honour of Austen Chamberlain.23 Yet, his later religious writing posited an almost embarrassingly delicate – still worse, a seemingly sincere – alternative; the panegyric to Dom David Knowles even suggesting a hunger for the ethereal unimaginable in The Impact of Labour.24 All of this is perhaps only to observe that superficial differences often conceal profounder similarities. That Religion and Public Doctrine actually constituted no more or less than the continuation – to my mind, the completion – of earlier ends, alternatively expressed, was long ago established in a brilliant article by Dr Ian 192

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Harris.25 I do not propose to repeat his definitive demonstration of that proposition here. Suffice to begin with three essential observations: first, about Cowling’s extraordinary education; secondly, concerning his lifelong obsession with the problem of authority in liberal, democratic, societies; finally, pointing to the all-encompassing role of religion in his conservative cast of mind. Everything that Cowling wrote during the 40 years after his return to academic life in 1961 can be traced to the remarkable, not to say slightly bizarre, intellectual training he received during an interrupted decade – no less remarkable as an intellectual training precisely because it was interrupted – at Cambridge and beyond, from 1943.26 Its defining features were, in part, academic and to that degree largely, but not exclusively, historical in bent. Notable success in the tripos was quickly followed by deep immersion in the theoretical works of Butterfield (then at his most alluring) and Oakeshott (immediately prior to his infamous elevation at the LSE).27 But its informative input was no less practical and, to a striking extent, political. Four years as a commissioned officer, first in India then in the Middle East, left more than the usual mark on an impressionable young man during what were, by any stretch of the imagination, momentous years in their respective regions. But, above all, Cowling’s was a religious education. This was, in truth, little related either to his home life or schooling. It was not even the direct result of standard undergraduate immersion, certainly not in conventional Christian circles. Rather, it was the fortuitous gift of a war-depleted university, the complex outcome of his indirect introduction to a profound mind. Through Charles Smyth, his tutor at Corpus, Cowling gained access to the teaching of Edwin Hoskyns, late dean of that college. His sceptical, Christian, conservatism left an imprint on Cowling’s soul that never faded. It was always there for those with eyes to see, even in the early œuvre. It positively saturates the later work. To miss it is to misconceive everything he ever had to say.28 Each of these influences successively and accumulatively informed what became for Cowling a lifelong disquisition on the intellectual basis and political expression of authority, above all about the authority of elites in the modern, democratic, dispensation. Hoskyns taught him that the moral and political standing of all earthly powers 193

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was necessarily weak when compared with God’s unique goodness.29 Oakeshott suggested that, God or no God, the intellectually sustainable legitimacy of the modern state resided solely ‘in the completeness of the satisfactions [it] afforded to the needs of concrete persons’ – that is, in very little.30 Butterfield described a way of looking at history that conspicuously avoided taking sides, lent itself to no easy lessons and emphasized the prudence of modest expectations.31 These doctrines, taken together, justified all the epistemological scepticism and much of the moral relativism that permeated his historical thought. But their most important upshot was an understanding of authority that was inherently problematic, tended to the arbitrary and habitually emphasized the significance of practical conflict and contingent outcomes in the reality of political rule and its ideological legitimation.32 The principal implications of that view were negative. Certainly, they established altogether more about what could not be defended than about what could. In fact, they pointed to remarkably little that upheld traditional authority, at least as conceived according to conventional understanding. They also furnished all the necessary materials for an implacable conviction, early established and never ceded, that the modern, liberal claim to authority – the characteristic type of contemporary certainty – was wholly bogus, for it presumed a class of persons who knew better than everyone else, Coleridge’s clerisy transmuted into a secular intelligentsia. It also presupposed their privileged access to a superior form of understanding, unaided reason now passing for political science. Finally, it envisaged a great theoretical and practical project that would actualize both aspirations. This was the promise, or spectre, of rationalistic social reform, supervised by the intelligentsia, all in the name of the religion of humanity.33 The problem – to put the matter mildly – was that this scheme proceeded from a philosophical optimism that was unsubstantiated. Call that the naivety of the educated. It also entailed a political conflict, that of the new elites against the old, which it simultaneously pursued and denied. Categorize this as the bad faith of the liberals. Finally, it described a presumptuous and promiscuous attempt to replace one religion, historic English Christianity, by another, secular liberal rationalism, all under the guise of abolishing each and every religion for ever. The 194

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notion not merely of a misconceived but also of a disingenuous crusade – a great improving plan at once bound to fail and yet likely to do much damage in the process – Cowling did not hesitate to describe as the ‘peculiar false consciousness of the intelligentsia’.34 Judged from this perspective, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England was, in many ways, a very simple book. Certainly, it began with a very simple proposition. Characteristically, this took the form of an assertion. Thus: ‘[t]he intellectual history of modern England has not of late been studied very adequately.’35 Naturally, Cowling conceded that there had been ‘important studies of small subjects’. Nonetheless, he insisted, we continue to lack ‘synthetic essays of significant substance’.36 This was because all such efforts were fundamentally misdirected. Two generations of intellectual historians had conceived of their task as beginning with ‘the history of political, philosophical, literary, critical, aesthetic, economic or [even] educational activity’, but it ‘should … have beg[un] with religion’.37 That it failed to do so represented something more than a lacuna in the literature. It ‘register[ed]’ the reluctance of contemporary English ‘historians to give critical consideration to the culture to which they belong[ed]’.38 Religion and Public Doctrine was intended to fill those gaps – simultaneously, to write a modern English intellectual history with the religion put back in and to explore the historiographical problems exposed by its erstwhile absence. Notwithstanding any conclusions we may eventually reach on Cowling’s mature views about the truth of historical statements, both this initial observation and that subsequent prognosis are best taken – at least, initially – at face value. Conceived as simple descriptions of the matter, rather than interpreted as a serious critique of the enterprise, they still stand as unexceptionable summaries of the evidence. Ever since its emergence as a recognizable academic sub-discipline, intellectual history, certainly as practised in British universities, had developed as an overwhelmingly secular subject; modern English intellectual history, quite avowedly so.39 While other European, and to a lesser extent American, vistas necessarily took cognizance of a continuing Catholic tradition, indigenous perspectives were overwhelmingly dominated initially by laicized notions of the modern state; then, 195

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for a generation or more, alternatively by consideration of the rise and eclipse of indigenous collectivism and in discussion about the fall and revival of classical political economy.40 These days, the rage is all about the varieties of British ethnicity.41 Religion for a long time only got a look in among most mainstream practitioners, and still rates no more than a bare acknowledgement, in terms of the so-called ‘great deconversion’ of the 1840s and 1850s.42 Compare, even today, the sheer number, let alone respective quality, of modern studies of the pedagogy of Macaulay against that of Dr Arnold; of the natural philosophy of Thomas Huxley against the ideas of Bishop Wilberforce; and, most remarkably of all, of the world view of John Stuart Mill in juxtaposition with the thought of Master Whewell of Trinity.43 In remarking on the essentially ahistorical nature of so many such implied intellectual biases, Cowling certainly pointed to ‘serious gaps in the literature’. No small part of his concern – anyway in 1980 – was simply to argue that the case for historical revision in this respect was unassailable. That much, at least, should be unproblematically obvious today. His broader project, even then, was never limited to a simple restatement of the facts. He insisted, also from the outset, that critical consideration of the culture to which he belonged ‘would compel any serious’ English historian to conclude that modern English intellectual history, ‘properly conceived’ was intimately bound up with the history of the English intelligentsia. So much was this so, he argued, that the former was, and would for ever remain, incomprehensible except in the context of a proper appreciation of the latter’s development. That was true not just in the obvious sense that thoughts must come from thinkers but in the more subtle understanding that these particular thoughts, expressed to the ends and through the means that they actually were, powerfully reflected the particular context of their provenance. The growth of an English intelligentsia, Cowling argued, ‘ha[d] been a peculiarly twentieth century development’.44 It had also, in his opinion, been intimately connected with a concomitant project, to forge the secularization of English society. More precisely, it had not only facilitated but had also actively sought and eventually achieved an effective redirection of ‘public power’, sufficient to dismantle the ‘directive authority’ of indigenous Christianity over that same period.45 196

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It is easy to miss the striking originality of this thesis. Certainly, it was widely missed at the time. Perhaps because it had been pursued so polemically in earlier work, it was first dismissed as nothing more than illiberal hysteria. Perhaps too, because its subsequent articulation coincided with the rise of an historiography dedicated to ‘the social history of secularization’, the inevitably disagreeable dimensions of the thesis could easily be ignored as irrelevant interjections, effectively rendered redundant by the greater force of a contrary intellectual tradition.46 In general, they were. But the subsequent historiographical failure of so many of those purely ‘social’ explanations of religious decline and, to a lesser degree, the more recent historical problemization of liberalism itself, together considered alongside the determinedly open-ended approach displayed in these volumes, eventually established – anyway now points to – the real historical plausibility of Cowling’s most farreaching thesis. This was that any adequate history of ‘secularization and de-Christianization’ in twentieth-century Britain must ultimately recognize that these were great ‘intellectual and religious [events]’ in English life: never mere ‘mechanical, inevitable or sociological processes’, common to this, as any other, advanced society.47 As such, they were not only coterminous with the creation of a secular intelligentsia in England after c.1840. They also constituted its peculiar legacy. The intellectual historian’s principal task was to explain their evolution in ‘describ[ing] the line of this argument by which they established their hold on the English public mind’.48 It should go without saying that what may reasonably be concluded is not thereby definitively established. And it certainly has been said that Cowling’s History prioritized argument over process to a quite extraordinary degree. To be sure, it devoted altogether more attention (and much more space) to individuals and their doctrines than it did to institutions and social relations. At times, it even seemed to deny any significance either to the impersonal or the accidental in the developments it described. But this was not, in fact, so. As such, the widespread criticism founded upon that supposition is largely misplaced.49 What Cowling described was a battle, or rather the results of a battle. Ghosh has identified that struggle as the great contest in nineteenthand twentieth-century England between liberalism and Christianity. 197

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This is fair comment, as far as it goes, but it needs to be fleshed out. What Cowling’s History presupposed was the historical reality of a battle for and against three propositions – that Christianity is false; that both the existential hope and transcendental justice it promises are illusory; and, finally, that the institutions that sustain them must either positively hinder or residually embarrass both sustainable public doctrine and legitimate social arrangements and should therefore be disestablished and replaced. Cowling’s peculiar difficulty – by 1980 anyway – was while one study of Mill pointed to a conflict conceived in precisely those terms, broader historical investigation, not least work he had subsequently undertaken himself, had long since established that such stark conclusions had only ever been apparent to comparatively few among the various protagonists. For many more, they were just as much the result of argument ‘innocently advanced’ and implications ‘surreptitiously avoided’.50 So much had that ‘innocent and surreptitious … progress’ proved to be the commoner factor that its emergence in the form of modern English de-Christianization had often ‘passed unnoticed’.51 This apparent disparity between cause and effect in so crucial an aspect of contemporary cultural change demanded an intellectual historiography at once attentive but also ironic, also comprehensive but subtle. Put another way, it called for a History capable, in his own words, not only of comprehending why ‘resentment [was] a duty’ – because the wrong side had won – but also of ‘listen[ing] carefully behind the sounds of the battle’ – because the real mechanism of its victory still remained largely undiscovered.52 Cowling now belatedly set out to furnish its history in a work that was both exhaustive and polemical in almost equal parts. That explains, at least in part, both its length and tone.53 But it does not explain the method by which he chose to do so. There lay further difficulties. Some were all too visible from the start. Religion and Public Doctrine began in surely one of the most curious recollections of an éducation sentimentale ever written.54 Others only became clear towards the end. The final work constituted one of the most extraordinary exercises in intellectual prosopography ever attempted.55 The result may or may not have been ‘a definitive history 198

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of English thought from Edmund Burke to Terry Eagleton’. It was certainly much more than just ‘an argument conducted through a series of close encounters with individual thinkers’.56 Self-consciously eschewing such narrowing conceits as the idea of an ‘intellectual aristocracy’, or the evolution of ‘donnish dominion’ (in 2007 their decline and fall would make for more relevant reading), it attempted nothing less than a history of ‘public doctrine in England’. This it pursued as an integral aspect of the ‘history of the intelligentsia’, broadly conceived over the same period. That task, in turn, was interpreted in terms of multiple biography, that is, as a prosopography of the intellectuals, c.1840–2000. None of these methodological choices was, or is, unproblematic. Few were fully explained beyond simple assertion in the text. But an understanding of their justification (and connection) is crucial to appreciate the significance (and coherence) of the whole enterprise. The rest of this chapter will be devoted to an attempt to do just that.

ŒŒ By ‘public doctrine’, Cowling meant something at once quite precise yet also distinctly vague. It was precise in the sense that Hobbes and Locke had once used it, namely as an articulation of the assumptions that constitute the framework within which public action is conducted.57 It was vague to the degree that such assumptions, for Cowling, necessarily comprehended both the sacred and the profane. Taken together, they added up to what he defined as the indefeasible; namely opinions ‘about which there can be no fundamental argument’ for any viable society. These doctrines he characteristically described as ‘religious … opinions’. Within this definition, he included beliefs and attitudes both unproblematically religious and also similar such beliefs, often taken as irreligious but actually assuming all or most of the characteristics of indefeasible doctrine, for example, secular liberalism.58 Their study he took to be the proper substance of intellectual history. That was what he determined to chronicle in its modern, English, context. This posed another problem. Doctrine, so conceived, ought ostensibly to refer to a particular thing, ‘formal, authorized and 199

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explicit’. Self-evidently no such teaching exists in England. Nor has it done so, probably since the ‘Confessional Revolution of 1828–1832’, certainly from no later than the reform of the ancient universities.59 Thus, the ‘plurality of doctrines’, joined together only by ‘the liberal doctrine that plurality is desirable’, which Newman had identified as the characteristic feature of English intellectual life from the midnineteenth century onwards, determined that any putative history of public doctrine in modern England would have to be constituted out of, in effect, deduced from, ‘the whole history of the intelligentsia’.60 How could so amorphous a task be coherently conceived? Cowling’s answer to that question proved to be the most controversial aspect of Religion and Public Doctrine. That modern English intellectual history is best interpreted through a history of the modern English intelligentsia should not be, in itself, a particularly controversial proposition, not now anyway.61 That such a history might properly be essayed outside any easily recognizable institutional framework most definitely is. Yet the bulk of Cowling’s three great tomes comprised nearly two hundred such, seemingly contextless, intellectual biographies. These were devoted principally, though not entirely, to an examination of the lives, professional careers and published writings of those men and women who, in Cowling’s opinion, contributed most to general understanding of the ‘religious question’ – whether as directly addressed or implicitly inspired by their works – in England since c.1840. None of these case studies is without lasting interpretative value. By the same token few, if any, spurned the explanatory possibilities of very specific anecdotal detail. For instance, ‘A. C. Bradley was a schoolboy at Cheltenham and was then at Balliol, where he read Greats, played cricket and fell under the spell of Tennyson, Browning, Shelley, Goethe, Mazzini and Green, whose Prolegomena to Ethics he edited after Green’s death in 1882.’62 In this respect at least, similar principles were applied both to the saved and the damned. Thus, Chadwick ‘was an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge when he read Classics, History and Church History and played in the University Rugby Team’.63 Soccer blues are to the best of my knowledge nowhere identified among England’s more influential thinkers; naturally I stand to be corrected. 200

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Even incorrigible critics must concede that the prosopographical range of these three volumes is truly astonishing. Though Religion and Public Doctrine was, as its title suggests, a work overwhelmingly concerned with English intellectual life, its author seldom fell into the error of assuming that the modern sources of such activity were ever wholly indigenous. Accordingly, his treatment of the subject included passing influence (and sometimes more than passing reference) to the works of Comte, Freud, Goethe, Hegel, Kant, Leibniz, de Maistre, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer among others, not to mention Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas.64 Even when confined to a strictly English context, Cowling’s reading was never less than eclectic. He may or may not have harboured Tractarian sympathies, yet he did full justice to the Oxford Hegelians. It was also distinctly undonnish. It permitted as much space to Churchill as Gladstone, and this about each as thinkers.65 Of course, it occasionally posed as partisan. Hence, three ‘Anglican Reactionaries’ (Pickthorn, Smyth and Welbourne) were afforded more space than Stephen, Spencer and Lecky combined.66 But its real catholicity was more striking. There can be few other sympathetic interpreters of both Raymond Williams and Roger Scruton writing today. Moreover, this is to limit ourselves just to the obvious protagonists. Only fear of confounding himself in that famous, if fictional, game of competitive academic ignorance prevents the present author from revealing just who among Cowling’s assembled illuminati remained, for him, not merely unread but actually unknown prior to the publication of volume three. Readers of David Lodge’s novel, Changing Places, will understand what he means.67 Superficial appearances notwithstanding, this prodigious learning was purposefully deployed. Cowling’s first aim was radically to alter the preferred angle of English intellectual history. To this end, he set about subverting its long-established canon. With a thoroughness that would otherwise have been fêted in certain literary circles, he introduced swathes of new writers into an altogether more complex narrative; in that way he also restored legions of old authors to proper critical consideration. To be sure, his peculiar penchant was less about restoring women to their rightful place in modern thought (I counted eight, but a reader unconvinced by Mme Blavatsky’s claim to renewed intellectual 201

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attention will find little encouragement in these pages); or, for that matter, doing right by currently fashionable ethnic minorities (in fact, there are a fair number of Muslims who might profitably be consulted here, albeit generally at something of a distance).68 Rather, his goal was to restore the true, the historically ascertainable, Christian dimension to nineteenth- and especially twentieth-century English writing. Sheer force of numbers, if nothing else, points to a mission successfully completed. In returning Stanley, Whewell and Caird, among others, to their proper places in the national pantheon, it also suggests a righteous task, admirably wrought.69 For all that, some of Cowling’s critics have insisted that the result was little more than a contextless compilation of these thinkers’ innumerable and various thoughts – in effect, less a history than an unexplained juxtaposition not merely of the sacred and profane but also of the profound and passing. That objection is reflected in Ghosh’s comprehensive critique of the methodological individualism he takes to sit at the heart of Cowling’s philosophical scepticism: this is understood as an absolutely fundamental (and pervasive) presupposition in Cowling’s writing, one that he (Ghosh) concludes renders his (Cowling’s) earlier political writing penetrating yet flawed, but this later intellectual history pedestrian and banal.70 Conceived as a general methodological criticism, this argument is of limited force. At one level, the charge is simply false. To be sure, conventional social and political contextualization is afforded no explanatory priority in Cowling’s text. But many such contexts appear throughout its pages. And some pack real punch. For instance: In the last two centuries, the Church of England has suffered from the secularization of education, reduction in the relative importance of its own charitable functions, and the growth of leisure, information and the entertainment industries. In the last eighty years it has been spared any serious assault from Dissent at the same time as Dissent has receded in the face of urbanization, suburbanization, the patriotic solidarity of 1914 and 1939, the death of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party’s disengagement from political Anglicanism.71 202

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There is half a book in that short paragraph. The present author is currently engaged, at monograph length, in explaining less.72 Understood in another way, such objections are not so much untrue as misconceived. The true force of Cowling’s historical argument proceeded from his explicit repudiation of any over-arching analytical framework. It concedes no priority to the ‘political problem’, in the manner of Skinner.73 Mutatis mutandis, it describes none of those selfcontained paradigm shifts, after the fashion of Pocock,74 nor does it highlight any of that background institution-building to modern English intellectual life that has become so prevalent in contemporary historiographical practice.75 No one will discover the date of the founding of the British Academy here.76 Many will conclude that such supposed deficiencies take on more of the qualities of a strength than a weakness as the narrative unfolds. Certainly, the curious contention, all too commonly held, that Cowling effectively ‘misrepresented the English intelligentsia by concentrating [upon] its arguments rather than on the institutional milieux in which its arguments were developed’, is doubly spurious.77 First, it merely presumes an order of causation that it signally neglects to prove. Second, it fails to appreciate just how much of a context intellectual biography furnishes in itself. If it was and is ‘difficult for a thinking person to avoid religion’, there can be no doubt that the quality of that difficulty changes – and can be shown to have changed – over the course of any seriously intentioned life.78 The way in which that difficulty actually changed was often profoundly related to the course of other, parallel, lives. All such criticism ignores the extent to which prosopograpical method really does furnish a critical, perhaps the crucial context, of modern English British intellectual life. To state the matter at its simplest, any truly historical understanding, both of the twentieth-century English intelligentsia and of the public doctrine it bequeathed, must take proper account of that curious narrowing of the geographical, social and institutional bases of educated British life that took place after c.1850. To be clear, this was a narrowing, not a diminishing. Pace Matthew Arnold, England was probably never richer in ideas than at the time of Culture and Anarchy.79 Moreover, it remained the hub of Anglophone intellectual effort at least until the 203

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end of the Second World War.80 But, even in the years of Chester Square’s first distinguished resident, the lights of Edinburgh, and to a lesser extent those of Manchester, had begun to dim. In much the same way, the great literary reviews were losing ground to the reformed universities. Finally, the alumni of the revived public and middle-class (read grammar) schools were filling up the preferred positions of leisure as never before.81 Through these inexorable developments, far more than in dynastic alliance or by ideological affinity, a self-recognizing English intelligentsia had become not only possible but also inevitable. A small number of schools, an even smaller number of Oxbridge colleges and a truly tiny quotient of academic prizes came to matter as never before.82 The world they created – the world of the English intelligentsia c.1870–1950 – is probably best treated prosopograpically. That method will enable us to appreciate why so much seemed at stake not just between lifelong personal rivals but also among siblings. Much, in fact, of the history of Christianity and secularity in contemporary English life could, and can, be described in the debates, real and vicarious, between Hurrell and Anthony Froude in the 1830s and 1840s; from hallowed Remains to reviled Nemesis – the latter probably the last book to have been publicly burned in Oxford. Scarcely less can the same debate be similarly described nearly a century later, by way of the quiet but all too real differences that marked the lives of Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1961 and 1974, and his short-lived brother Frank, first exponent of the optimal theory of taxation in the 1920s.83 It is not even as if these were, or are, exceptional examples. For the earlier era, think of John Henry and Frank Newman; for the latter, of Ronald and Dilwyn Knox.84 The biographical method, so conceived, enabled Cowling to fashion an analysis capable of dissolving those self-conscious abstractions that had increasingly marked secular ‘subjects, professions or activities off from one another’ and, in so doing, he surreptitiously permitted a post-Christian culture to replace its (mainly) devout predecessor. It was precisely because religion was replaced by so many disparate deities – atheism, agnosticism and liberalism, also science, historiography and literature – that a critical history of that displacement was best 204

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conceived in the attempt to cast each thinker as answering the logically prior questions: ‘What should the English believe? Should they believe in Christianity? What role should religion play in public life?’85 But there remained the order of events. Cowling’s narrative eschewed simple chronology.86 Insofar as it can be reduced to an obvious organization, it began in exemplary autobiography and then proceeded through two separate schemata. Volume 2 considered explicit assaults (and defences) of Christianity. These juxtaposed Mill, Buckle, Lewis, Eliot, Huxley, Stephen, Harrison, Murray, Frazer, Wells, Shaw, Ellis, Lawrence and finally Russell against the various Tractarians, plus Mansel, Gladstone, Manning, Patmore, Mallock, Chesterton, Belloc, Green, Dawson and Copleston. This analysis neither presumed nor established the slightest meeting of minds.87 What it described was truly a battle of ideas, openly fought. Volume 3 investigated contemporary and subsequent ‘accommodations’ between those two positions: pitting, among others, Burke, (Thomas) Arnold, Disraeli, Stanley, Caird, Acton, Westcott, Temple and Tawney against the likes of Carlyle, Jowett, Sidgwick, Lecky, Haldane, Kipling and Keynes.88 For all the obvious fascination implicit in such curious combinations, Cowling’s critics once again argued that the result was little more than an arbitrary discussion of variously viable doctrines, contextlessly conceived across two confused centuries. Put bluntly, shorn of context and devoid of chronology, his History explained nothing.89 This objection is not merely unfair, it is obviously untrue.90 The rejection of simple chronology implied only that this was not a simple story – nor is it. Religion and Public Doctrine most definitely assumed a distinct narrative form. More to the point, it related a complex intellectual history. That history posited a locatable context, described a real process and even identified (tentative) outcomes. Intellectual historians today pride themselves on their understanding of an aspect of human activity ‘that is in this respect no different from “economic history”, “political history” and so forth’.91 Here was an example of someone actually doing it. Perhaps that was why they objected so much. There may, of course, have been another reason. Cowling’s presuppositional insistence that ‘the past owes its vitality to the historian’s 205

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present … sympathies’, still more his assertion that these sympathies themselves acquired intelligible meaning only in the light of eternity, instantly and definitively put paid to any putative respect for the ‘rigours of professional distance’ to which such an approach might otherwise have dutifully appealed.92 For those otherwise too blind to see, Cowling spelled his prejudices explicitly – also, characteristically, negatively – at the end of the work: It is only in dealing with a couple of dozen thinkers that the reader will detect anything resembling sympathy, not so much because the author identifies himself with them, even less, in some cases, because he shares either their intensity or their political opinions but because they were enemies of the opinions of which he wishes to be an enemy.93 Yet Cowling’s History still told a tale. It was just a very different yarn from the one that mainstream intellectual historians had been so used to relating. Above all, it determinedly refused to begin the story with the great (English) deconversion narrative of the 1840s. This was because Cowling attributed altogether great historical force to an (earlier) Tractarian critique of the dismantling of Anglican privilege after 1828.94 That chronological relocation of the critical events enabled him to establish the essentially religious context of English deconversionism. Social and intellectual historians of religion have long pointed to how much this peculiar development itself depended on the preceding revival of evangelical sensibility in England before, during and after the French Revolution.95 Cowling now emphasized how deeply embedded it actually was in a profounder argument about doctrine and practice in early Victorian England. Conceived in that way, the ‘great de-conversion’ represented no bolt from the blue. Nor did it mark an inexorable separation of God and nature. Rather, it constituted an argument about doctrine and practice that could be contextually located within English religious history itself. In a lamentably unpublished first draft of his ‘Foreword’ to Volume 2 – unpublished for fear of prosecution – Cowling amused himself by thanking not only the master and fellows of Peterhouse for continuing to 206

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provide conditions in which work could be done but: ‘Lord Dacre, in particular [who] by reason of the brilliance of his rancourness, the Enlightened nature of his sympathies and the chronologically locatable character of his distaste for intellectual Toryism and ecclesiastical Christianity, provid[ed] goods and spurs of the impact of which he has almost certainly been unaware.’96 Behind the (un)collegiate joke, lurked a serious point. In fact, two serious points: first, that English agnosticism was forged in the context of English religious life; that, in a sense, was obvious. Secondly, that it emerged from within English religious disputation; this was rather less well understood. Indeed, the question of doubt was by no means even the most important part of the argument. As recent studies of Newman attest, he aimed his contemporary fire as much at evangelicals as at liberals.97 Moreover, as Cowling’s revised intellectual genealogy established, no small consequence of the surfacing of doubt was the emergence of what he called a ‘reanimated Protestantism’.98 If that was true, then the story of secularization among English educated classes was something altogether more complicated than Lord Annan and his successors had ever contemplated.99 It was not one story, but several. And these proceeded according to a complex, not a linear, path. It was no easy victory because it was made up of many battles. Few of these had ever been seriously analysed. Many of them had even been forgotten. Their recollection might prove a disturbing quest. But it also suggested some intriguing possibilities.

ŒŒ In this way, Cowling’s History actually anticipated much recent work in nineteenth-century religious history. Certainly, in locating the ‘deconversionist turn’ within a broader debate about doctrine, his work pointed to the significance of those sequential waves of religious feeling – in effect, of crisis of faith followed by crisis of doubt – that Professor Timothy Larsen has recently proposed as constituting a truer picture of nineteenth-century belief.100 To this extent, the Christian optimism that is embodied in Larsen’s work, for instance his gleeful observation that successive, secular, lives of Christ – from Strauss’s 207

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Das Leben Jesu, through Renan’s Vie de Jésus and Sir John Seeley’s Ecce Homo became ever less radical in their doctrinal implications – is reflected in the substantive content, if not always in the passing tone, of Cowling’s Accommodations.101 To be sure, Larsen’s purpose was scarcely Cowling’s goal.102 These were significantly different. Larsen’s project fits in neatly with a contemporary orthodoxy that now emphasizes not merely the intellectual incompleteness of nineteenthcentury debate but also the snail’s pace of twentieth-century secularization.103 That insight was never lost upon Cowling. Indeed, it had always informed his historical judgement. After all, no less an authority than Butterfield had insisted, well into the 1940s, that England ‘had never [definitely] broken with the Christian tradition’; similarly, it had ‘never lost its attending benefits’.104 Even at the end of his life, certainly in his last published work, the master still emphasized just how significant that tradition and those benefits had remained up to and beyond the ‘first third of the century’.105 Cowling happily acknowledged this much too. He also argued that such a slow death might still be described as a decisive transformation. More pointedly, he suggested that precisely those sorts of ‘accommodation’ that had arguably saved agnosticism – saved it, that is, from its otherwise fatal intellectual flaws – had done for ecclesiastical Christianity.106 This was the real point of his third, and final, volume. The very starkness, the profound paradox, of that thesis demanded considerable subtlety of argument. This allowed for the little victories of scheming secularists over ingenuous believers. That was Jowett’s legacy. It was also Shaftesbury’s fate.107 But it emphatically denied that so vast an historical transformation could be reduced to so unequal an intellectual contest. Thus, Accommodations demonstrated not so much how liberalism had won but that Christianity had lost. This defeat was far from preordained in 1840. And Cowling’s narrative delighted in highlighting the ironic possibilities that such subtle sequential development allowed. Thus, not only did scholarly accounts of Jesus become even more doctrinally sympathetic after 1840, but historiography itself proved less of a scourge to belief than the orthodox initially feared. It was not just that Westcott put Strauss in his place, though for many, he surely did just that.108 It was more that 208

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the new academic discipline of History proved – at least in the shortterm – to be a quite unanticipated boon to English Christian consciousness. For which Bishop Stubbs be praised; and he is, to quite unusual and refreshing effect, in these pages.109 One outcome of that unexpected turn of events was that so many secularists turned increasingly to ‘science’.110 The irony of this development was that most proponents of ‘scientific Salvationism’ – namely, the idea that ‘science’ should replace ‘religion’ as the fundamental basis of public doctrine – were not scientists at all.111 The latter were characteristically much more cautious. In a notably extended, detailed and sympathetic account of Darwin’s natural philosophy, Cowling emphasized just how tentative his conclusions were in this respect. The father of evolutionary theory was ‘not an atheist’. And the main part of his life work ‘did not involve the rejection of the idea of God’. Even the element of his thought that actually undermined conventional Victorian pieties was advanced with a ‘modesty which resembled Sidgwick’s more than it resembled Voltaire’s manner’.112 In fact, socalled ‘scientists’, conceived as a pack, scarcely came to reject religion at all until Pearson. Even then, they did so less because religion ‘stood in the way of knowledge’ than because religious sentiment, anyway as men like Pearson, J. B. S. Haldane and (more politely) Julian Huxley perceived it, increasingly stood in the way of what they conceived as moral and political progress.113 Reactions to that challenge varied. C. S. Lewis accepted the prognosis but rejected the idea of progress instead. He is afforded a notably unsympathetic obituary here.114 Inge sought to reconcile the two. Cowling was unimpressed by his attempt.115 Most pursued those kinds of ‘accommodation’, that is, the accommodation of Christianity with agnosticism in the latitudinarian progressivism that Temple exemplified and Hoskyns deprecated. In this way, Liberalism so infected Christianity that the struggle was – rather lamely – given up. Worse still, most intellectual territory was ceded at precisely the time, during the 1930s and 1940s, when so many of the preferred secular alternatives were revealing all their inherent weaknesses; even their general wickedness. Some understood the historic irony this involved. None appreciated it more than Hoskyns. A few even resisted the trend it 209

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entailed. Another Corpus man, R. A. Butler – that is, Butler of the Education Act – was one.116 Most did neither. Thus, in much pusillanimity and no little ignorance, ‘the gut [went] out of English protestantism’ and the old ship went down, not with a bang, but with a whimper.117 What of the triumphant U-boat? Both vessel and crew emerge pretty soiled, even occasionally silly, from this account. Restated as indigenous socialism, still worse as literary criticism and modernist aesthetics, the new secular religions emerge as poor imitations for the real thing.118 Certainly, their contemporary ridiculousness furnished Cowling with plenty of opportunity for polemical payback. Read him on Orwell for an example of a notably well-informed settling of scores.119 But there was also a point to such fun and games. They were meant to highlight ‘a perspective in which religion is indestructible and there is a continuity between Christian and the post-Christian and antiChristian religion[s] which deny continuity with it’.120 It certainly was, and is, a perspective. But it is also an assertion that can read like a selfaffirming banality. To be sure, it was and is rooted in a philosophically respectable insistence that Christianity survives rational scrutiny. But that is a view that Cowling presumed rather than argued for.121 Considered a little deeper, it was a doctrine he justified through an historical account informed by a very particular hermeneutic, one that ‘encouraged an equality of consideration between Christianity and its enemies and demolishing the claim to self-ratifying superiority, which has been so consistent a feature of most post-Christian and antiChristian thought in modern England’.122 That ‘equality of consideration’ is precisely what is laid out, in such unrelenting detail, throughout the pages of Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. Whether it is fully substantiated is something for each reader to judge individually. Some part of his or her judgement will inevitably be influenced by the additional force conceded or denied to another argument repeated in Cowling’s invocation of Butterfield’s last historiographical reflections, namely his tentative considerations about ‘whether Christianity does not give men a clearer vision of the facts and the factual than the pagan beliefs either of the past or the present often have’ and his suggestion that it might ‘only [be] through Chris210

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tianity that one can acquire a healthy kind of worldly-mindedness’.123 This is another matter for each reader to judge; individually once again. Of course, Butterfield, advocated a very particular kind of ‘worldlymindedness’. The old master beseeched the faithful to ‘Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted’.124 Whether or not this was ever really practical advice, he never wrote the History that might have enabled his followers truly to observe so vital an injunction much beyond the breach. It is surely not fanciful to argue that Religion and Public Doctrine represented Cowling’s most pious attempt to address that pressing imperative. One might go further: it is surely the real point of the book. He may or may not have succeeded in this quest. This is for each reader to judge, one last time. But the abiding merit of Cowling’s efforts lies in the fact that by fulfilling his religious duty so idiosyncratically and his historical calling so faithfully, he simultaneously furnished all open-minded readers not merely with a decent range of argument for and against all or any such sacred and profane commitments, but also with sufficient evidence to reach their own conclusions about whether or not ‘secularization’ is truly ‘just a phase of intelligentsia life’, whose ‘permanence it would be absurd to assume’. Thus informed, they might also fruitfully ponder whether or not ‘that instinct for religion which looks beneath the (contemporary) indifference of the public mind may yet surprise by its willingness to be led astray by Christianity’.125 Notes 1. Timothy Fuller, ‘Maurice Cowling, 1926–2005: RIP’, The Political Science Reviewer, vol. 35, 2006, p. 7. 2. Ibid., especially pp. 5–7. Timothy Fuller is Lloyd E. Warner Distinguished Service Professor at Colorado College. He is, inter alia, editor of numerous writings, by and about Michael Oakeshott. He is also a quondam visiting fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Cowling visited Colorado College on numerous occasions during the latter part of his career. 3. Fuller, ‘Maurice Cowling’, p. 7; Cowling, RPD I, p. xiv refers only to his having ‘drift[ed] away from ordination’, presumably between 1944 and 1953. 4. Cowling, IH published in 1975. In the ‘Foreword’ to RPD I, p. v, he refers to a ‘problem of composition’ dating back to 1976. RPD III was finally published 25 years later. Cowling died in 2005, aged 78. 211

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5. To be precise: RPD I, xxiv + 475 pp; RPD II, xxvii + 375pp; and finally, RPD III, xxiv + 766pp. The word-count is an estimate. 6. Cowling, RPD III, frontispiece; also p. xxiii. 7. Richard Fisher, ‘Publications of Maurice Cowling with Cambridge University Press’ (privately circulated mimeo, Cambridge University Press, 2007); Cowling, RPD I, hardback sales to date, 1180, paperback 125; RPD II, 823 and 103; RPD III, 507 and 77. Figures correct on 1 January 2007. I am grateful to Mr Richard Fisher for this information. 8. See, inter alia, Edward Gibbon, The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, edited by John Murray (London: J. Murray, 1896), pp. 310–15; and Gibbon to J. B. Holyroyd, 29 June 1776, in J. E. Norton (ed.) The Letters of Edward Gibbon, vol. 2, 1774–1784 (London, 1952), no. 345, pp. 112–13; for a modern interpretation see David Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’: The Historian and His Reputation, 1776–1815 (Oxford, 2002), part 1. On Macaulay, T. B. M. to Charles Macaulay, 27 November 1848, to Sir Charles Wood, 7 December 1848 and to John Finlaison, 25 December 1848, in Thomas Penney (ed.) The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay, vol. 4, September 1841 to December 1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 382–3, 384 and 391; also G. O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (vol. 2, London: Macmillan, 1923), chapters 11, 12, 13 and 14, especially pp. 506–21, 621–4 and 659–67. 9. As recorded in David Hume, My Own Life, 1776; David Hume, Essays: Moral, Political and Literary, edited by Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), p. xxxiv: ‘Never was a literary attempt more unfortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. It fell dead-born from the press, without realising such distinction as even to excite a murmur amongst the zealots’. For a slightly less melodramatic account, see Richard B. Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and their Publishers in EighteenthCentury Britain, Ireland and America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 43–61. 10. Maurice Cowling, ‘Conspicuousness’, London Review of Books, vol. 3, no. 8, 7–20 May 1981, p. 4 and Cowling, RPD II, p. xviii; Bernard Williams, ‘How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song?’, London Review of Books, vol. 3, no. 6, 2–15 April 1981, pp. 22–3. 11. Following Williams, try C. H. Sisson, ‘The English Ideology’, TLS, no. 4062, 6 February 1981, pp. 129–30 or Paul Addison, ‘Getting On’, London Review of Books, vol. 8, no. 17, 9 October 1986, pp. 3–4, p. 271; Peter Clarke, ‘General Reviews’, History, vol. 67, 1982, pp. 103–4; and G. I. T. Machin, ‘General Reviews’, History, vol. 72, 1987, pp. 100–1. 12. The fullest to date, by far, remains that of Ian Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics: The Thought of Maurice Cowling’, The Political Science Reviewer, vol. 26, 1997, pp. 434–81. I refer to this work below, see especially pp. 4–5. Peter Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History: Mr Cowling’s Doctrine 212

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13.

14. 15.

16. 17.

18. 19.

(1992)’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 273–321, remains a serious, scholarly, yet curiously unengaged critique. It is also, unavoidably, incomplete. Thus Ghosh refers to two, ‘of perhaps five [projected] volumes’ on p. 273 (fn. 1) and the envisaged reservation of Cowling’s ‘treatment of liberal Christianity’ for Volume III, on p. 296 (fn. 122). Ghosh also believed that the ‘first three’ volumes of Religion and Public Doctrine would examine ‘about eighty biographies of “representative individuals’” (p. 302); in the end, a serious underestimate. For a strictly Oakeshottian interpretation of Cowling, largely oblivious to Religion and Public Doctrine, see Charles Covell, The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986), chapter 5; this was an important work, written under Cowling’s supervision. See, for instance, Bart Schultz, Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe, an Intellectual Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); or, more generally still, Laura J. Snyder, Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), an extended account of the debate between Mill and Whewell which makes no reference to Cowling’s treatment of either; ditto, Stefan Collini, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Given what follows, it is perhaps more striking to observe that Cowling’s latter-day influence was acknowledged in Noel Annan, Our Age: Portrait of a Generation (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) especially pp. 441–2. Cowling, RPD III, p. 565. On Cowling and his friends, see Michael Bentley, ‘Prologue: The Retiring Mr Cowling’, in Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine, pp. 1–13, especially 1–8; also, Peregrine Worsthorne, Tricks of Memory: An Autobiography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993), pp. 166, 239–42. Cowling, RPD I, p. 414. Professor Henry Chadwick, 1920–2008: Regius Professor Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, 1959–69; Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, 1969–79; Regius Professor Divinity, University of Cambridge, 1979–83; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1987–93! In addition, author of Origen Contra Calium (1959), Lessing’s Theological Writings (1956), Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966), Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy (1981), Augustine (1986), Heresy and Orthodoxy in the Early Church (1991), The Church in Ancient Society from Galilee to Gregory the Great (2001) among many other distinguished works. I owe the phrase ‘the vituperative arts’ to the late Mr Auberon Waugh. Any offence these remarks may cause to Professor Chadwick’s surviving relatives is still regretted. Cowling, RPD I, p. xvii; Cowling, RPD II, p. xxvii. Richard Brent, ‘The Religion of Liberalism’, The Cambridge Review, June 1985, p. 126. 213

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20.

21.

22.

23. 24. 25.

26.

27.

28.

Bernard Bailyn, ‘History and the Literary Imagination’, Carl. L. Becker Lecture, Cornell University, 1975, cited in John Clive, Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), p. 200. In Cowling, IH, p. ix. The precise words were ‘it can only be a hope that’. Neither volume ever appeared or, it seems, was started. Professor Philip Williamson’s National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, Economy and Empire, 1926–32 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) fills some part of the gap. As outlined in Cowling, RPD I, ‘Preface’; Cowling, RPD II, ‘Introduction’, and RPD III, ‘Introduction’. Whether these separate accounts actually add up to an outline of the problem is, perhaps, a moot point. Cowling, IL, especially chapters 2 and 11. Cowling, RPD I, p. 155. Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 437ff. For Cowling’s own, slightly different formulation, see Cowling, RPD I, p. xxiii. The notion of a radical break between the ‘political’ and ‘religious’ books advanced in Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, especially pp. 300–1, is thereby rejected. Cowling, RPD I, pp. xiv–xviii, 90–6 and 220–50; Anon., ‘Maurice John Cowling’, Jesus College, Cambridge, Annual Report, 2006 (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 93–4. Cowling, RPD I, pp. 220–50 and chapter 8; Cowling, NLPS, pp. 1–7; Cowling, ‘Obituary of Herbert Butterfield, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 65, 1989, pp. 595–609; C. T. McIntyre, Herbert Butterfield: Historian as Dissenter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 201 and chapter 8 more generally. One might also note the significance of Michael Oakeshott’s editorship of the Cambridge Journal between 1947 and 1954; not least for the origins of his Rationalism in Politics (London: Methuen); this was reprinted in Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and other Essays edited by Timothy Fuller (2nd edition, Indianapolis: Hackett), pp. 1–36. Finally, see Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 448–52. Cowling, RPD I, pp. 91–5; for Smyth on Hoskyns, see Charles Smyth, ‘Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, 1884–1937’, in E. C. Hoskyns, Cambridge Sermons, edited by Charles Smyth (2nd edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. vii–xxvii. This essay was originally published in 1938, just one year after Hoskyns’s death and five years before Cowling came up to Cambridge. Cowling was an undergraduate at Jesus College in November 1943 to June 1944 and January 1948 to June 1949. Cowling was taught by Smyth at Corpus, mainly in the earlier period; see ‘Maurice John Cowling’, Jesus College Record, p. 94. Still, that influence can be missed, even by the most assiduous critics. Ghosh’s critique, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, makes no mention of Hoskyns, in 50 pages of otherwise dense analysis. 214

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29.

30.

31.

32.

33.

34.

35. 36. 37. 38. 39.

E. C. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, (London: Faber & Faber, 1940), vol. 1, pp. 7ff; E. C. Hoskyns and Noel Davey, The Riddle of the New Testament (London Faber & Faber, 1931), pp. 261ff; Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 443–6. There is no critical biography, only an (unflattering) account in Gordon Stevens Wakefield, ‘Hoskyns, Sir Edwyn Clement’, in H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 28 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 245–6. Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Authority of the State’, in Michael Oakeshott, Religion, Politics and the Moral Life, edited by Timothy Fuller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 78–87; cf. the later incarnation (and thorough development) of this theory in Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), part 3. Finally, see Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 453–4. Cowling, ‘Obituary of Herbert Butterfield’, pp. 597–8, 602–5. For an important analysis of Butterfield’s altogether broader influence in this respect, both in Peterhouse and beyond, see Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: High Politics and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, pp. 943–54. Finally, note the important remarks in Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 448–9. See especially Cowling, NLPS, pp. 61–4, 76, 81–3, 193 and 203; and related remarks in Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 278–9. This analysis is developed much more fully in Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 443–59. Above all, perhaps, in Cowling’s ‘Preface’ to Mill, pp. xlv and 142ff; and later, Cowling, RPD I, pp. 328ff. In truth, almost anywhere in Cowling’s œuvre will do! Cowling, RPD III, p. xvi. For a sense of what that all eventually added up to, see Maurice Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, in Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978), pp. 1–24. Cowling, RPD I, p. xi. Moreover, ‘there has hardly been any incandescence’. Who can gainsay that? Ibid., p. xii. Ibid. For an extended critique, see Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 300ff. For an almost comically unself-aware account, in effect, depicting such bias as progress, see Stefan Collini, ‘General Introduction’, in Stefan Collini, Richard Whitmore and Bryany Young (eds) History, Religion and Culture: British Intellectual History, 1750–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 1–21: for the accumulated evidence, see H. J. Hanham (ed.) Bibliography of British History, 1851–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), part 9, especially sections A, C, D and E; also Keith Robbins (ed.) A Bibliography of British History, 1914–1989 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 215

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40.

41.

42.

43.

44. 45.

1996), part 12. Some of the reasons why are discussed in Stefan Collini, Donald Winch and John Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Intellectual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapter 11 and epilogue. Hanham, Bibliography, pp. 971–5; Robbins, Bibliography, pp. 620–1; put another way, from J. N. Figgis to Donald Winch. There have always been exceptions, notably Winch’s collaborator, John Burrow, whose writings concentrated on the embryonic natural and social sciences of the nineteenth century, also now a fashionable subject. The seminal nature of Winch and Burrow’s contribution is discussed in S. J. D. Green, ‘A Land Unfit for Ideas? British Intellectual History, 1750–1950’, History of European Ideas, vol. 26, nos 3–4, 2000, pp. 240–60. A proper appreciation of the religious dimension to nineteenth century economic argument was a product of the historiography of the 1980s, itself both consciously and unconsciously influenced by Cowling; see especially Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1785–1865 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) and A. M. C. Waterman, Revolution, Economics and Religion: Christian Political Economy, 1798–1833 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). No doubt following on the popular success of Linda Colley, Britons: The Forging of the Nation, 1707–1834 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). This is not to say that some of this work, particularly for earlier eras, has not been of the highest quality – often by incorporating religion in its analysis; see especially Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) especially part 2. Above all, in many ways the exemplary writings of Noel Annan; as such, compare Noel Annan, Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to their Time (London MacGibbon & Kee, 1951), chapters 3–6 with Noel Annan, Leslie Stephen, the Godless Victorian (London: Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 1984), chapters 5–9. There is still no modern Life of Arnold worthy of him. The most recent study was Michael McCrum, Thomas Arnold, Headmaster: A Reassessment (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1989); the best book on Wilberforce remains that of Standish Meacham, Lord Bishop: The Life of Samuel Wilberforce, 1805–1873 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970). There is still relatively little on Whewell; though, note Snyder, Reforming Philosophy; also the essays collected in Menachem Fisch and Simon Schaffer (eds) William Whewell: A Composite Portrait (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Cowling, RPD I, p. xiii. Ibid., p. xiv. The distinction between secularization (a failed project) and deChristianization (a temporal achievement) is of course, crucial to Cowling’s argument; see below, pp. 21–2. 216

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46.

47.

48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

54. 55. 56.

57.

58.

Exemplified in Alan Gilbert, Religion and Society in Industrial England: Church, Chapel and Social Change, 1745–1914 (London: Longman, 1976) see especially part 3; painstakingly set out in Robert Currie, Alan Gilbert and Lee Horsley, Churches and Church-goers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), see especially chapter 5. This historiography is evaluated and criticized in S. J. D. Green, ‘Introduction’, in S. J. D. Green, Religion in the Age of Decline: Organisation and Experience in Industrial Yorkshire, 1870–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 1–30. Cowling, RPD III, p. x; prefigured in Cowling, RPD I, p. xii. The rejection of the conventional ‘secularisation thesis’ informs Callum Brown’s The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800–2000 (London: Routledge, 2001); and of religious decline, tout court, Grace Davie, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (Making Contemporary Britain) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). Their counter-arguments are, of course, very different from Cowling’s. Cowling, RPD III, p. x. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 303–4, 306–8. See also, note 70. Ibid., pp. 279–80, 291–2, 296–9, 303–4. Cowling, RPD III, p. x. Cowling, RPD I, p. xvii; Cowling, RPD III, p. 438. Justified in Cowling, RPD I, pp. xiv–xxv. Noted by even some of his most sympathetic readers; see T. E. Utley, ‘For God and the Right’, in Charles Moore and Simon Heffer (eds) A Tory Seer: The Selected Journalism of T. E. Utley (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989), pp. 64–8; inevitably emphasized in Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 293–4. Fuller, ‘Maurice Cowling’, p. 7; S. J. D. Green, ‘The Non-Resisters’, TLS, no. 5165, 29 March 2002, pp. 6–7. Cowling, RPD III, frontispiece. See Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 469–71; Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by Michael Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 233ff; Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, edited by Michael Tuck and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 80–1, 133–7; John Locke, Essays on the Law of Nature, edited by W. von Leyden (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), pp. 129ff, 167ff. Cowling, RPD III, p. xx; for a more general view earlier expressed, see Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 21; also Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics’, pp. 470ff. On the alleged ‘thinness’ of Cowling’s understanding of religion, see Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, p. 296. The present author can see no justification for that criticism. No better account of that process can be found than in Cowling, RPD II, part 1, passim. For others, see J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1660–1832 (2nd 217

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59.

60.

61.

62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67.

68. 69.

70.

71. 72. 73.

74.

edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), chapter 6; and Boyd Hilton, A Bad, Mad and Dangerous People? England 1783–1846 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), chapter 6. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiii. For an earlier consideration, see Maurice Cowling, ‘Intellectuals and the Tory Party’, Spectator, vol. 220, no. 7289, 8 March 1968, pp. 292–3. Cowling, RPD II, p. xvi. Newman’s original argument can be traced to the essay he published as ‘Home Thoughts Abroad’, in the British Magazine, over several instalments between January and April 1834. Cowling, RPD I, preface, passim; on the standards envisaged, note earlier remarks in Cowling, NLPS, pp. 126, 141–6, 204. On the significance of publication, note the remarks of Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, p. 297. Cowling, RPD III, pp. 452–3. Cowling, RPD I, p. 414. Ibid., pp. xv–xvi and passim; contra Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 274–5, especially note 5. Cowling, RPD I, chapter 9; ibid., pp. 368–70; Cowling, RPD II, chapter 3, pp. 78–85 especially; Cowling, RPD III, passim. Cowling, RPD I, chapter 3; Cowling, RPD II, pp. 160–7, especially 126–40; Cowling, RPD III, pp. 174–82, 447–9 and 164–9. David Lodge, Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (London: Secker & Warburg, 1975), pp. 83–4 and 119–21. In a desperate attempt to win an otherwise trivial party game (a kind of truth-or-dare), one academic contestant claims never to have read Shakespeare. Cowling, RPD III, pp. 68–70; Cowling, RPD I, chapter 10. Hence the fatuousness of Ghosh’s remarks in ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, p. 292, note 101. Put another way, by comparison with what they corrected, the choices made were far from arbitrary. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 303–4, 306–8, 317 note 211. For a more careful consideration of the problems involved, see Michael Bentley, ‘Party, Doctrine and Thought’ in Michael Bentley and John Stevenson (eds) High and Low Politics in Modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) especially p. 144 note 12. Cowling, RPD III, p. 328. S. J. D. Green, The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change c.1920–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). As now set out most accessibly in Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol. 1: Regarding Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) especially chapters 4–6. For a certain, salutary, care in the use of this subtly updated source, see David Wootton, ‘The Hard Look Back’, TLS, no. 5215, 14 March 2003, pp. 8–10. Perhaps most intelligibly set out in J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: 218

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75.

76. 77. 78. 79.

80.

81.

82.

Princeton University Press, 1975), part 1; alternatively, J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) ‘Introduction’ and passim. For a magisterial overview, see J. G. A. Pocock, ‘A Discourse of Sovereignty: Observation on the Work in Progress’, in Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner (eds) Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 377–428. See, for instance, Stefan Collini, Public Morality: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850–1930 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) especially chapters 1 and 6; Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 203–4, 306–8. Collini, Public Morality, pp. 21–7; 28 June 1901 is a good a date as any. Cowling, RPD III, p. xxiii, presumably referring to Ghosh, among others. Cowling, RPD III, p. xx. For Arnold’s bizarrely low opinion of the intellectual life of England during the 1860s, see Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings, edited by Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 64–5; cf. Maurice Cowling, ‘One-and-a-Half-Cheers for Arnold’, in Samuel Lipman (ed.) Arnold, Culture and Ancestry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 202–12. Perhaps even as late as the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. For British comparison, see A. H. Halsey and Martin Trow, The British Academics (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), part 1. On the particular rise of the American university, see Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, The Academic Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1968), chapters 1 and 5. For transatlantic comparisons, see Edward Shils, ‘Great Britain and the United States: Legislation, Bureaucrats and the Universities’, in Hans Daalde and Edward Shils (eds) Universities, Politicians and Bureaucrats: Europe and the United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), chapter 12. Ghosh takes Cowling to have approved of this development; see Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 303–4. But his mature views seem strikingly neutral; see Cowling, RPD III, pp. xxi–xxiii. Christopher N. G. Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, vol. 4, 1870–1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chapter 8; M. C. Curthoys and Janet Howarth, ‘Origins and Destinations: The Social Mobility of Oxford Men and Women’, in M. G. Brock and M. C. Curthoys (eds) The History of the University of Oxford, vol. 7, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, part 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 24; also J. R. der Honey and M. C. Curthoys, ‘Oxford and Schooling’, in M. G. Brock and M. C. Curthoys (eds) The History of the University of Oxford, vol. 7, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, part 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 23; also Daniel I. Greenstein, ‘The Senior Members, 1900–1990: A Profile’, in Brian Harrison (ed.) The History of the University of Oxford, vol. 8, The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), chapter 3; W. H. Walsh, ‘The 219

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83.

84.

85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90.

91. 92.

93.

94.

95.

96.

Zenith of Greeks’, in M. G. Brock and M. C. Curthoys (eds) The History of the University of Oxford, vol. 7, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, part 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), chapter 11. Piers Brendon, Hurrell Froude and the Oxford Movement (London: Paul Elek, 1974) especially part 4; Owen Chadwick, Michael Ramsey: A Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) see especially chapters 3 and 4 and, on Frank and his faith, pp. 13ff; Waldo Hilary Dunn, James Anthony Froude: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961) see especially chapters 13–15. On the elusive Frank Newman, see most recently, Rosemary Ashton, 142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London (London: Chatto & Windus, 2006), chapter 1; on the Knox brothers, Penelope Fitzgerald, The Knox Brothers (2nd edition, New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 2000) remains unsurpassed. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiii; also Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, pp. 3–4. Cowling, RPD III, p. 695 offers an explanation as to why. Cowling, RPD III, parts 2–4. Cowling, RPD III, part 2 especially. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 305ff; for Cowling’s response, see RPD III, pp. xxiii–xxiv. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, p. 308. ‘The book is necessarily incompetent to answer the historical query it purportedly raises … since this is not to be done by mere assemblage of the arguments of individuals’. See above, note 71. Collini, ‘General Introduction’, p. 2. Cowling, Mill, pp. 1209; Cowling, NLPS, p. 152ff; Cowling, RPD I, especially pp. 86–90; for Ghosh’s caustic observation on the above, see Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, pp. 302–4. Cowling, RPD III, p. 697. They were Burke, Bishop, Wilberforce, Mansel, Newman, Gladstone, Stubbs, Salisbury, Church, Manning, Pusey, Liddle, W. G. Ward, Forsyth, Dawson, T. S. Eliot, Milbank, Mallock, Belloc, Chesterton, Waugh, Knowles, Powell, Norman, Macintyre, and ‘some thinkers discussed in volume I’, namely J. B. Mozley, Haddan, Hoskyns, Douglas Jarrold and Muggeridge ‘in his final phase’. Which is not to say that Cowling did not recognize the significance of the 1840s; far from it. See Cowling, RPD I, pp. xi–xii, and also Cowling, RPD II, pp. xvii–xviii. Annan, Leslie Stephen, chapters 5 and 6; Richard Brent, Liberal Anglican Politics: Whiggery, Religion and Reform, 1830–1841 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), chapters 1 and 3; Hilton, A Mad, Bad and Dangerous People, chapter 7; W. R. Ward, Religion and Society in England, 1790–1850 (London: Batsford, 1972), chapter 8. Cowling, RPD II, p. iv (unpublished version). I am grateful to Mr Richard Fisher of Cambridge University Press for having furnished me with a rare 220

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97.

98. 99.

100. 101. 102. 103.

104. 105. 106. 107. 108.

109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114.

example of the original encomium. The slightly blander, published, version reads: ‘The Master, Lord Dacre, in particular, by reason of the brilliance of his enmities, the enlightened nature of his sympathies and the chronologically locatable character of his distaste for intellectual Toryism and ecclesiastical Christianity, providing goods and spurs of the impact of which he has almost certainly been unaware.’ On which, most recently, see Frank M. Turner, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), chapters 1, 3 and 6; cf. the earlier account of Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), chapter 3. Cowling, RPD III, chapters 1 and 3. Which is not to say that this complication cannot be – or has not been – achieved by other methods. Thus, compare Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, chapter 8 with Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (London: A & C Black, 1970), vol. 2, chapter 8. Timothy Larsen, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) especially chapters 1 and 10. Ibid., pp. 247–8. Religion and Public Doctrine does not appear in Larsen’s bibliography; and Cowling’s name does not appear in his index. See note 12 above. In sources too numerous to list here; for a summary of the arguments, see S. J. D. Green, Religion in the Age of Decline: Organisation and Experience in Industrial Yorkshire, 1870–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), chapter 1. Herbert Butterfield, The Englishman and His History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944), pp. 40, 121. Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of History (New York: Basic Books, 1981), p. 211. Cowling, RPD II, ‘Conclusion’, pp. 346–50; and RPD III, part 3, passim. Ibid., pp. 56–61, especially 253–8. Ibid., pp. 267–71. On the significance of historical thinking more generally, ibid., pp. xxiii–xxiv. For some sense of how far the historiography has moved on, cf. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, part 1, chapter 8. Cowling, RPD III, pp. 227–37. Ibid., pp. 392ff and, more generally, chapters 15–18 and 21–2. Ibid., especially chapters 18–20. Ibid., pp. 395–406, especially pp. 399 and 402. Ibid., especially pp. 406–10. Ibid., pp. 308–18; see especially p. 316. ‘What was awful about Lewis was not so much his politics, the rhetoric of “fact” about the Incarnation or a defence of sexual eccentricity that was so much at variance with his moral doctrine, as his sermonizing, his slang and the vulgar wish not to be part of the “inner ring”.’ 221

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115. Ibid., pp. 192–202; for an earlier and more sympathetic account of Inge, see Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 23. Note also the remarks in Andrew Jones and Michael Bentley, ‘Salisbury and Baldwin’, in Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978), pp. 34–5. 116. Cowling, RPD III, p. 691. And, for a surprisingly positive judgement on Butler more generally, see Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, p. 14. His contribution is discussed at length in S. J. D. Green, ‘The 1944 Education Act: A Church–State Perspective’, in J. P. Parry and S. Taylor (eds) Parliament and the Church, 1529–1960, Parliamentary History (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), pp. 148–64. 117. Cowling, RPD II, pp. xxiii, 99ff; RPD III. For an interesting early statement about the consequences, see Cowling, ‘The Present Position’, pp. 2–3. 118. Cowling, RPD III, especially chapters 19 and 20. 119. Ibid., pp. 529–36. At least for those who have not previously read Maurice Cowling, ‘The Nasty Mind of George Orwell’, Sunday Telegraph, 22 November 1987. 120. RPD III, p. xiv. 121. As, for instance, debated in J. J. C. Smart and J. J. Haldane, Atheism and Theism (2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003); and restated recently, in Keith Ward, The Case for Religion (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2004) especially part 1. For the Wittgensteinian possibility, see especially D. Z. Phillips (ed.) Rush Rhees on Religion and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), part 1. 122. Cowling, RPD III, p. xxiv. 123. Butterfield, The Origins of History, p. 198. 124. Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1949), p. 146. The present author possesses Cowling’s (heavily annotated) copy of this book; purchased by Cowling in 1949, apparently read in 1951. This passage is marked in the text. 125. Cowling, RPD III, p. 701.

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Chapter 9

The Anglican Mind of Maurice Cowling Ian Harris

There is a book entitled Christianity Not Mysterious.1 This essay identifies a body of religious opinion that presumed that Christianity is mysterious and explored its consequences for historical writing. That version of Christianity, known as biblical theology, was developed with reference to an Anglican situation. The implications that Maurice Cowling drew from that doctrine informed his own historical thinking about politics and religion in modern England. Cowling did not develop the Christian doctrine he inherited, but instead used it to fertilize historiography, especially to develop fresh thought about the recent past. The purpose of this essay2 is to examine the character of those religious opinions and how Cowling used them in developing his historical writings. This exercise is necessary if these are to be properly intelligible. He wrote eight books on a wide range of subjects.3 If each is considered alone, they do not disclose the unity of thought and its single-minded development through a connected choice of topics that make the full extent of his achievement clear to the reader. Close examination will show how these topics were linked in Cowling’s mind: but close examination is required. Cowling’s fundamental positions appear in the course of books about specific subjects rather than themselves being explored in their own right. His books deploy rather than explicate his assumptions and disclose these only to the extent that explicit statement advances the argument in hand. As to the manner of those books, Cowling once remarked that he did not wish to be turned into a smooth writer.4 223

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This essay addresses first matters that Cowling took for granted. That he assumed them helps us grasp why central features of his development of them have not been understood properly. Christian thought and the Anglican situation have been far from central to how Cowling has been read.5 This neglect, which in its place is not unreasonable, has two deleterious effects. One is that it does not illuminate the sources, development and purpose of Cowling’s work. The other is to isolate him in a ‘sect of one’.6 He is better understood as a creative exponent of a powerful tendency in Western thought. Our task, then, is to explore Christianity as Cowling presupposed it, starting with the Christian thought embodied in the New Testament most fully by the Johannine writings. Their content was vindicated in a critical historiography developed principally by Anglican divines. In an English setting, this historiography underwrote the special duty of the Established Church to teach the nation. This doctrinal content underlies much in Cowling’s work, especially his conception of the historic, public role of Christianity. He used this Christianity as an explanatory hypothesis. He was not for that reason neglectful of ‘the transcendence of God’.7 Instead, he treated all human devices, reflective and practical alike, as action to be understood in terms of Christian truth. This view allowed Cowling to identify liberalism as an attempt to usurp Christianity’s place as the proper religion of England, as well as to argue against liberal claims to understand the world. More especially, it served as his basic presupposition in developing a Christian historiography that established a model of successful, if unintended, rationality in producing stable outcomes in politics and that also emphasized the unsuccessful rationality of recent attempts to achieve the same in religion. Thus, both politics and religion – the twin preoccupations suggested by a state church – were shown to have characteristics that demonstrated the fertility of Christian presuppositions. As such, they pointed not only to past and present, but also to the future. Christianity implies truths about all three. Assumptions: biblical theology and the Anglican situation What is the clue to a mysterious Christianity? The conception of Christianity Cowling received from Charles Smyth8 as an under224

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graduate derived from the New Testament scholarship Edwyn Hoskyns9 and his co-author Noel Davey10 developed in the 1920s and 1930s, a reading that emphasized the Johannine writings and especially the Gospel according to John.11 Their content, the Hoskyns–Davey assessment of them, Hoskyns’s application of them to contemporary England, and its implications for the character of historiography, are all fundamental to understanding Cowling’s thought about historiography, politics and religion. The Johannine writings are distinguished by their argument: its content and factual basis answer fundamental questions about Jesus Christ and His work. The content of the Gospel according to John is that He was the Son of God, as such informed fully about God’s plans for mankind, so that His work upon earth, incarnated as a man redeeming other humans, was authoritative. The factual basis is that His claim to be the Son of God, and therefore the claims He made in that character, were evidenced by acts that could proceed only from God. The most important of these was the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, a manifestation of such power that neither human being nor inferior spirit could perform it. The Epistles of St John continue this theme into the situation after the Resurrection. In particular, the first Epistle emphasizes the prevalence of antichrists and false prophets, claiming authority for their idols, contrasts this claim with the ubiquity of sin, which it identified in terms of lust and pride, and underlines the human need of redemption. It emphasizes that belief in Christ derives from ascertainable knowledge. The Epistles thus emphasize that Jesus is the only true prophet – and so imply that His return to earth to establish His rule is to be awaited. The Revelation of St John the Divine discloses a future understood as eschatology: Christ’s work constituted a preface to His later return to earth to establish the kingdom of God. His first coming had planted the kingdom of God on earth, by inducing some people to believe in His divinity and His message; His second coming will establish His role in terms so obvious that no one can deny them rationally. His reign will persist forever and thus marks the end of significant historical change. These future facts are so important that all human achievements matter only to the extent that they serve it: the most important task for mankind is to accept Christ’s offer of eternal life and its implications. 225

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The Johannine writings are of the first importance for Christianity. They contain, much more clearly and fully than the synoptic gospels, an account of the coming to earth of a divine person – ho logos – made flesh as a human being called Jesus and therefore a warrant for the authoritative character of His teaching. This combination of Incarnation and Resurrection gives an authority to Christian claims, including claims about the future return of Jesus, which they would otherwise lack. These writings also treat the central facts of Christianity as a mystery. Musterion is what God discloses but what neither human agency nor human faculties can produce. To grasp musterion, we must understand aletheia. This includes at least two conceptions. One is reality, the being that causes all other being, and that is itself not known by the means generated by the human mind. The other is truth in the sense of valid propositions. When Hoskyns insisted of St John’s Gospel that ‘the theme of this book is beyond human knowledge’, he did not mean that the theme suggested invalid propositions but rather that it concerned reality – reality disclosed in a most exceptional way; and if the Gospel was beyond human knowledge, it need scarcely be added that the actions it outlines are beyond human power.12 If Jesus Christ was not to be understood as a product of human agency other conclusions followed: above all, that the human mind and will, without His intervention, are inadequate to identify and to achieve the righteousness that would earn eternal life, so that justification by faith is a necessity. These doctrinal positions imply a church, and one that teaches the New Testament. What it teaches is that God’s love for mankind – providing a way to eternal life through the Incarnation and Resurrection – continues into the present through the invisible medium of the Holy Spirit and the visible means of divine grace that the Church provides. The Johannine writings emphasize Christ’s divinity and its effects on human life. They do not do so alone among the books of the New Testament. But they declare them with especial clarity, and develop them most powerfully. What did Hoskyns and Davey contribute to understanding these writings? They rejected liberal deconstruction in biblical criticism. They also constructed a critical alternative. The liberal view may be summarized thus: Jesus is better characterized only 226

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as a man of religious genius, who died a martyr to the belief that an ethical doctrine was the distinctive feature of the kingdom of God, and lived on in the memories of His disciples.13 The liberal view thus endeavoured to emphasize the ‘Jesus of history’.14 It discounted the doctrinal character attributed to Him in the Johannine and Pauline writings, by arguing or implying that the latter were wholly human accretions rather than the Word of God and inferences from it. If this position was valid, out went the divine warrant of Jesus’s mission, the authority of the Church, and the reading of human existence – past, present and future – that arose from the Johannine writings. The Johannine writings were therefore the place where distinctively Christian conceptions needed to be established securely. This need became very pressing in the nineteenth century, for reliance on very particular facts to disclose reality was odious to more than one school of philosophy. More, the credibility of the Gospels – and especially the Gospel according to John – was questioned severely from the 1840s, in particular by Strauss and Baur.15 Thus, the validity of the Fourth Gospel as historiography, along with its continuity of content with the Epistles of St John and Revelation, their consistency with Pauline doctrine, and their continuity of thought with the post-apostolic church was a high priority for Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort from the next decade.16 Conversely, the dissection of the liberal Jesus as a figure ‘who never had any existence’, but rather as merely one ‘designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb’ was effected in 1906 by Schweitzer.17 Hoskyns reflected in 1910 that Schweitzer had overlooked ‘the real value’ of his own argument, which suggested that the doctrine of the early church originated ‘in our Lord himself’, that ‘our Lord is really the founder of Christianity’, and so had explained what liberals had failed to understand, ‘how their Gospel of the love of God and your neighbour preached by a great prophet became a … mystical religion centring on their prophet as God’.18 Hoskyns was able to develop this insight after 1918.19 His work had two aspects. One was to show that Christian doctrine in the Church not only originated from Jesus’s teaching but also developed it positively.20 The other was to identify liberalism as the 227

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obstacle to a correct understanding of Christianity. The first demonstration, principally in The Riddle of the New Testament, showed Christian creeds as logical developments from the theological claims of the Johannine and Pauline writings, and the latter as embodiments of the implications of Jesus’s words and actions, as recorded there and in the synoptic gospels. There followed from this critical historiography the second aspect of his work – that Christian doctrine had authority from Him, and that the Church is its bearer. Not only was the validity of Christianity found in historical facts but also and at the same time the significance of these facts is not localized: ‘the results of a purely historical investigation of the origins of Christianity have a more than purely historical importance.’ Christian doctrine had its ‘origin in our Lord’s interpretation of His own Person and of the significance of His disciples for the world’.21 The significance of the validity of the Incarnation was that it sustained Christian belief, righteousness and love. The Church was both distinct from the world and able to work upon it effectively. This conclusion ‘is worked out with great care in the Gospel, the purpose of which is to show that Christian salvation was from the beginning dependent upon the manifestation of the Son of God in flesh, and upon His death’. It was dereliction of this redemptive power in the Church that the Gospel according to John precluded, along with the very inferior substitutes offered by nonChristians. The author of the Johannine writings: deals with their assertion that the true knowledge of God can dispense with the belief that the Son of God has come in the flesh, and shows both that it is a well-founded belief and that it is the ground of the righteousness and love characteristic of genuine Christian knowledge of God. The denial of the Incarnation and of the Passion of the Son of God is therefore ultimately the source of pseudo-Christian esoteric religious experience devoid of righteousness and lacking in charity.22 This passage implies that to abandon Johannine Christianity is to invite substitute religions; the latter being both false and of inferior ethical content. Their lack of righteousness and love suggested a new ground 228

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for thinking that the Christian experience of the period until the second coming might be one of conflict and persecution, that these substitute religions were the new enemy in the time ‘between a supernatural order characterized by a radical moral purification involving persistent moral conflict and the endurance of persecution, and a supernatural order in which there is no place either for moral conflict or for persecution’.23 In other words, liberal biblical scholarship was a preface to the introduction of substitute religions and attacks on Christianity. What was the role of the Church of England in such a situation? Its Articles of Religion, argued Hoskyns, reflected ‘insecurity’, and offered protection to England from tyranny. This was ‘the protection of England less from the tyranny of Rome than the tyranny of sin’. Sin included humanity forgetting its need of God. The fear reflected in the Articles ‘is fear lest the power of the Word of God may be obscured by human activity and lest the Church may proclaim its own merit rather than the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’. In other words, it was fear of people supposing that the Incarnation and Resurrection were beside the point.24 Plainly, the business of the established Church was ‘the protection of England … from … the tyranny of sin’, and a necessary part of that was to militate against contrary suppositions. Hoskyns located those suppositions in liberalism. If liberal biblical criticism removed divine warrant from Jesus, it implied that mankind’s greatest needs did not require divine aid. Rather, they would be met out of humanity’s own resources. This supposition suggested that the human mind and will were adequate to meet those needs and, as the matter was so important, could do so with certainty. That suggested Christianity, or any other source of denial or doubt about human sufficiency, was irrelevant or dangerous. Hence arose what Hoskyns called the ‘tyranny of liberalism’. As Smyth put it, ‘It is an inevitable mark of what … Hoskyns used to call the “tyranny of liberalism” that the liberal is not only convinced that he is right; he is also convinced that other people secretly agree with him – how could they do otherwise?’ In other words, liberal claims to certainty implied a closed mind and a willingness to impose liberalism on others.25 Hoskyns identified 229

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such intellectual smugness with pride. Pride was the sin that arose from self-love. For attention only to the self implied forgetting God, and therefore overlooking man’s relation of dependence on Him. It also supposed that human faculties were adequate to achieving eternal happiness. They were not. In fact mankind depended for its permanent welfare on the grace provided by God through His son and the Christian church.26 In Cowling’s succinct summary, Hoskyns argued that ‘sin was inseparable from humanity, that it was insuperable without God, and that God’s love alone had made redemption possible through the historic Church’.27 Hoskyns emphasized that the ‘historic Church’ of England had its particular duty to address ‘the realm of England … the people of this country’. But ‘it must speak only about God’. In other words, its task was to present humanity only in relation to God as if ‘the whole of our world were destroyed to-morrow, and we stood naked before God’. What that exercise implied was that ‘the ultimate moral duties’ of ‘Love of God, and Charity’ to man would stand out ‘in all their luminous simplicity’. It was by making people conscious of their relation to God that love and righteousness would be fostered. As Hoskyns wrote: The true function of the Church is to bring men into the presence of God, and to believe confidently that a new love and a new charity will thereby be formed in them. Only when our religion can foster such ultimate morality have we a right to hope that England will be a better country, or that we shall be better citizens, or that employers and employed will work together for the common good, or that parents will adequately provide for the education of their children. In short, true religion generates valid morality and thereby genuine improvement in society.28 If Christian truth is so great a benefit to society, it follows that orthodoxy should be a basic constituent in social order. This is not to say that religious truth alone redeems mankind. It is to remind us of diffusive Christianity. The history that had made England part of the corpus Christianum did not imply that all the English were redeemed, but 230

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it did diffuse conformity of conduct to Christian truth, worship and morals. Diffusive Christianity was understood to be the work of the Church of England. ‘I hold the Establishment to be not only a great Christian good, but [also] one indispensable to the upholding of a diffused Christianity throughout the land’ declared Chalmers, for ‘the ministrations of your Established Church … would never be replaced by all the zeal, energy, and talent’ of private enterprise in religion.29 So it made sense for Cowling to declare that ‘the point of an Erastian establishment [is] as a way of diffusing a Christian mentality into the nation’s life’.30 Any reading of Cowling’s writings soon discloses the presence there of this rendering of Christian doctrine. As Cowling put it, Hoskyns ‘show[ed] that the Bible was not the work of human reflection or experience or an anticipation of modern, liberal, or commonsense philosophy and radical politics, but was God’s word, the record of his redemption of the world through the historic Church which Christ had established’.31 This is a conception of Christianity that makes the Church and its teachings of the greatest importance, and one that requires the Church to stand in contrast to the world in order to redeem it.32 If Hoskyns inferred that Christianity was a ‘riddle’, Cowling mentioned its ‘oddness’.33 But a loyalty to Christianity continued: in 1980 Cowling affirmed his ‘certainty’.34 Present, too, was a strong sense of the established Church, not so much as an institution, rather as a locus for duty. Cowling’s published works treat England as the primary object of attention, and there he focused on authority and its exponents’ ability to construct national unity around doctrine. He supposed that the basis of consensus should be found in ‘historic Christianity’,35 and that this Christian truth should be the doctrine taught by an established Church. In his words, ‘Orthodoxy … requires the presence of … a Christian state.’36 By contrast, other religions would be offered as candidates for national belief, and conflict will arise: Cowling’s Religion and Public Doctrine examined these phenomena. His position, then, was Anglican both in its emphasis on Christian doctrine and in its role for the established Christianity in England. His position, correspondingly, entailed rejection of the liberal alternative: this clashed with Christianity in its root claims about the 231

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New Testament and about the human need of the God it disclosed. Its claims about its own certainty and its enmity to the Church placed it as an intolerant rival, so Cowling emphasized the ‘arrogance of … liberalism’.37 If the business of the Church of England was to combat the enemies of ‘true religion’ in the country,38 the reader of Mill and Liberalism cannot doubt that Cowling performed this task con amore. The intellectual character of his Mill displayed ‘more than a touch of something resembling moral totalitarianism’. Mill ‘was hostile to Christendom … [and] his agnosticism (if that is the word) has about it a quality of inquisitorial certainty’. Moreover, he was ‘a proselytizer of genius: the ruthless denigrator of existing positions’.39 Cowling’s Mill, in other words, sought to remove Christianity from among the assumptions of the English mind and to replace it with a substitute religion, with ‘the religion of humanity’. Mill’s intention for his new religion was to supply social cohesion and moral improvement in ways more effective than those of Christianity.40 There, as in those whom Cowling took to emulate Mill, he found ‘arrogance masquerading as altruism and dogmatic certainty disguised as open-mindedness’.41 Cowling felt in retrospect that he had absorbed from Smyth, whom he termed ‘a destructive intellectual’, more odium theologicum than theology.42 But it is true also that the notion that biblical theology was the core of Christian doctrine for both church and state in England achieved considerable salience in the 1940s. Hoskyns may have been the most influential theologian of the decade in Britain.43 In his wake, the theological environment was highly conducive to a development of non-liberal conceptions. Still, the presence of biblical theology and Anglican responsibility in Cowling’s thought leaves much to consider. Much else was different, by virtue of both absence and presence. Cowling showed no interest in biblical criticism or logos theology as such.44 He found nothing in Hort’s The Way, the Truth, the Life, which contains some seeds of Hoskyns’ account of Johannine Christianity,45 though he did acknowledge that ‘Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort laid the bases’ of ‘modern assumptions’ for ‘English Christianity’.46 Cowling assumed what he had learnt, and turned it in other directions. How Johannine Christianity and Anglicanism could become assumptions of his historiography – and why he should use them in writing about 232

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English politics and religion – is the question that now needs to be examined. Augustinianism and historiography Smyth called the Christianity that Cowling encountered ‘objective to the core’.47 It followed that if Christianity’s doctrinal validity was vindicated by Anglican historiography and if the Anglican body was a central feature of the English state, its business was to teach the English nation in order to improve character and conduct. There was something else. This might be called, conveniently if misleadingly, Christian subjectivity. It focuses attention on a central aspect of Christianity: the question of assent. That question is important here. For Cowling’s conception of belief in Christianity – as distinguished from the grounds of its credibility – was important to the character of his historical writing. To assent to Christian claims is an act of will, understood in a way Augustine would have recognized. This implies that commitment is logically prior to understanding. Cowling interpreted this in a way that made both commitment and understanding products of the will. As a result, he treated thought as a manifestation of will just as much as practical conduct. This had effects on his writing that are hard to underestimate. Its origins were partly Anglican, partly Augustinian. The view that Christianity is not a system of thought but an allegiance to a person corroborates the critical historiography that vindicated Christ’s divine status. Lightfoot had declared that the substance of the Gospel ‘is neither a dogmatic system nor an ethical code, but a Person and a Life’.48 Closer to Cowling was Smyth, whose The Friendship of Christ related this ‘to God as its final end’.49 A more powerful source still was David Knowles.50 Knowles’s account of Augustine put before Cowling a conception of personality that located in self-consciousness the grounds for each person to intuit God’s existence. By self-knowledge he knows that he exists and knows; knowledge, moreover, is of its essence the knowledge of something existent, something real, therefore, of something true; truth is immutable and eternal, it therefore possesses divine attributes. … Thus … the 233

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certain knowledge of God arises directly from the realization of the soul’s own existence and knowledge,51 and from this consciousness comes not only knowledge of God but also consciousness of one’s will. In Augustine’s own words, ‘there is nothing which I feel with such firm and inner assurance as that I have a will.’52 Self-consciousness, the intuitive knowledge of God, and the will’s power to move the self towards satisfaction were new when Augustine formulated them, and thus initiated ‘a specifically Christian philosophy’.53 The consequences for Cowling’s thought are evident. This philosophy validated God’s existence in self-knowledge, not in historical or other evidence. It followed that the most basic truth about Christianity was logically prior to the latter. So Cowling could distinguish the achievements of Anglican scholarship from that truth. If ‘one of the most important achievements of … biblical exegesis has been to confirm far more of a supernatural understanding of the Bible than it seemed likely to do in the 1840s … [the] rediscovery of a supernatural Bible … says nothing about the Bible’s truth’.54 To Cowling’s mind the truth basic to biblical veracity is to be apprehended intuitively: if Cowling exists, so does God. It follows, too, that assent to Christianity is logically prior to the evidence that the Bible presents. It is a matter of intuition. So assent to Christianity becomes ‘a matter of hunch’.55 By the same token, assent is a matter of decision, not reasoning: ‘a silent effort of the will’.56 It is reasonable to think that reality, once intuited, attracts the soul, so it is drawn towards God as the greatest satisfaction. From this, Cowling generalized the Augustinian understanding of Christian truth into the broader claim that commitment to religion is arbitrary. That word denotes what relates to the will. In Cowling’s writing, it connotes especially what is willed but is not within the range of reasoned argument, an understanding that fits the character and role of Augustinian intuition.57 Religion, then, becomes a matter of expectation rather than demonstration, ‘the expression of a hope, the acting out of a commitment to believe’.58 It follows that religious commitment, as well as being arbitrary, is action based on assumption. One’s intuition of God’s existence is certain to oneself, but not to others, 234

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who do not have it.59 So when Cowling reaffirmed Christian belief he described his ‘assent’ in terms not of certainty but in certainty, ‘no recession in certainty’.60 Religion is action before it can be demonstration. Moreover, the scope of demonstration is limited; as we have seen, reason and evidence do not necessarily reach ‘truth’. Nor does reason dominate will. Action springs from the will, seeking satisfaction, and the mind does its work by reasoning to the ends that draw the will: reason, then, finds itself justifying many conclusions: ‘most opinions … can be moulded into regular, rational shape’.61 Christian belief implies that the essence of God cannot be apprehended through human faculties alone. All that can be known about Him are the effects He produces and our inferences from them. Man’s intuition of His existence is the most important of these effects, followed, of course, by His revelation through Christ and its continuation in the Church.62 This ineffable character of God places a high premium on the continuity of the Church, because that is where religious truth can most readily be apprehended.63 Indeed, Cowling went so far as to say that ‘ecclesiastical Christianity … is Christianity’ and ‘gives Christianity such continuity as it has in the salvation of souls’.64 The intuitive origin of the apprehension makes it something to be assumed and, therefore, most effective as ‘an habitual sensibility’ and when it ‘avoids self-consciousness’.65 If Christian belief is understood in this way, what follows? The first effect of the Augustinian proof of God’s existence in Cowling’s hands was his insistence that demonstration has the status of persuading others, and possibly oneself, that one’s intuitions are justifiable and fruitful. Thus, what others would call Christian scholarship Cowling called ‘apologetic’ and ‘defensive tactics’.66 This effect was not felt in scholarly thought alone. All thought was a technique for developing intuitions in ways that had yielded results. The effect, on academic subject matters, was to treat material in the terms that intuitions had suggested, and the criterion of judgement was success in bringing the material into order through them. The effect, on practical subject matters, was to persuade and to produce agreement. The second effect was to suggest that the most important feature when one considered thinkers or practical figures was their assump235

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tions. For what is intuited serves in one’s train of thought or action not as itself an object of attention but as assumption – the source from which one proceeds. An assumption in thought or action, because it is not established but is unargued, is quite as arbitrary as an intuition in religion, and to question it is only to replace it with a further assumption.67 It follows that if we are looking for origin and consequence alike when we consider thought and action, we need to look for assumptions. Cowling therefore chose to concentrate on assumptions as the initiation of action, whether in politics or in the study. He emphasized ‘the deepest layers of the … mind … at levels where assumptions are generated prior to explicit consideration’.68 In political conduct, therefore, he thought ‘temperament impregnated everything’ that politicians did.69 When he turned to religious writing he sought ‘to unearth assumptions’.70 The third effect was Christian relativism. By this, Hoskyns meant to emphasize a Christian anthropology, indicating the difference between man and God. God was absolute. He was omnipotent and omniscient. By contrast, man was dependent on God because of his limited powers of mind, will and body; in short, a being who existed only in connection with God, who supported man’s being and prescribed his destiny, and who, compared with God, fell far short of Him in all respects. Hoskyns developed these relations of connection and comparison to suggest that whatever man achieved was fragmentary and incomplete – it arose from limited understanding, circumscribed will and limited power – and required God’s work to make it complete and sustainable.71 Cowling probably did not grasp this very well at first, but came to draw more useful inferences later.72 If intuition came first, it became assumption and so guided action, and it follows that the first place to look in explaining action is the possessors of will, that is to say, individual persons, and the first task is to trace out the course by which their mental states become manifest. All Cowling’s books concern individual persons, and in all the inner side of their being, so far as an historian can infer it, is delineated before it is unpacked into action. It is also, especially in the later books, a consideration of persons in relation to each other, for it follows from the ‘relative’ character of each human being that their intelligence, benevolence and 236

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power are inadequate to produce a non-trivial result. Interaction must be the place where worthwhile results arise – a theme, as we shall see, central in Cowling’s political histories. Fourth, Augustine treated Christianity in terms of divine initiative. Intuition was not given to all; human pride implied that God must redeem man, moving him from self-love to love of God and neighbour. This suggests a motif – that constraint originating outside the agent is necessary to achieve the best ends; alternatively, form descends upon matter. So the business of the Christian church is to prescribe true religion, and the business of the state is to limit pride. That is to say, its business is to coordinate wills through law so that there is civil peace. Augustine went further; he defined a commonwealth in terms of shared objects of love, which springs from agreement about right and from the common pursuit of interest.73 This implies a conception of polity in which direction descends from church and state to the governed, with the intention of producing agreement. That is exactly the focus of Cowling’s thinking. The Church of England was central to his thought as the bearer of a duty to promote religious truth and moral development. Parliament provided grounds of national unity for the electorate and intellectuals generated substitute religions or defended the true one. His emphasis on institutional form was a complementary aspect of this mentality. It is the inherited structure within which parliamentary politics work. That is a vital factor in producing beneficial results, and it was ‘institutionalized impregnability on which a predominating religion depends’.74 These Augustinian elements in Cowling’s thought are more obvious on the printed page in respect of effect rather than origin or connection. But his Augustinianism tout court is less surprising when one considers his teachers. The continuity of Cowling’s views with those of Hoskyns via Smyth is obvious. Hoskyns was identified by a pupil as an Augustinian thinker: his emphasis on pride cannot be mistaken.75 The same could also be said about Butterfield and, to an extent, Oakeshott.76 Knowles, a Benedictine and historian of monasticism, was not more sympathetic to the Dominican Aquinas than to the Benedictine exponents of Augustinianism.77 Cowling translated Augus237

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tinian intuition about God and the will into a way of regarding human action, whether in thought or in practice, and therefore of understanding it and writing about it. Perhaps one can describe Cowling as ‘the most intuitive’ and ‘the most pertinacious of … historians’.78 We may follow the possibilities of these conclusions in two ways. One is to consider Cowling’s attitude to philosophy; the second is to identify how his thought pointed out the general preoccupations of his books. The two are connected: philosophy requires attention in relation to Cowling because he learnt from it but denied it authority. That denial connects us to the problem he sought to address through his historical writing. Cowling assumed that Christian doctrine was true, yet he devoted most of his intellectual energies from 1948 onwards to writing history. So what was the relationship he identified between Christian doctrine and historiography? And was it appropriate? The answer to the latter, he might have replied, depends on your assumptions. Assumptions figured prominently in the conception of historiography that Cowling received from Bradley, Oakeshott and Collingwood. Bradley insisted that there is no testimony or recorded experience that indicates incorrigibly any fact from the past. Oakeshott inferred from this that it was impossible to separate ‘what has come to us’ from ‘our interpretation of it’.79 Collingwood went further. He argued that the historian’s ‘web of imaginative construction … cannot derive its validity from being pegged down … to given facts’, and concluded that ‘the historian’s … a priori imagination … has to justify the sources used in its construction’.80 In short, the historian’s task is to provide a continuous and coherent picture in which source material is justified to the degree that it is capable of being made intelligible. The result is a conception concerning the past rather than a direct knowledge of it. To use Bradley’s lapidary formula, ‘in every case that which is called the fact is in reality a theory.’81 Theories proceed from assumptions. These are intuitive, unexamined and unjustified. But what do they produce? That depends on the content of the historian’s mind. Evidence about the past is part of that mind. Thus, figures from the past exist as conceptions in his mind. They are not dead but constituents in his judgements.82 This 238

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presence of conceptions about the past as operative in the mind makes it impossible to divide an historical religion from current thinking. The current thinking of the Christian historian, which includes Christ, has a role in his historical thinking, and affords an example of the more general truth that ‘there is no single history … which does not derive its individual character from the particular standpoint of the author’.83 The question of whether Christian doctrine is part of the historian’s mind is thereby answered. As such, it is otiose to ask whether it ought to be there. For it is an embodiment of assumptions drawn from intuitions, and that is how minds are nourished. So why does philosophy have no authority over Christian doctrine? Here, the answer can be found by exploring how Cowling considered the authority of philosophy. Cowling’s works rest upon a position about logic – that philosophy is not authoritative in relation to any other activity. No discipline is. This applied permissively: disciplines were not to be understood in terms that implied their subordination to philosophy, and that freedom applies also to practice. ‘In particular, it need not be suggested that philosophers have authority to undermine the certainty with which the majority of men engage in politics, believe religions, pursue interests, do good, procreate and live as men have usually done in civilized societies.’84 How did Cowling arrive at this position? It sounds Oakeshottian. Oakeshott had supposed that all experience depended on postulates and that these postulates were imperfect. But there was an exception: philosophical experience was without such postulates – it was ‘without presupposition or postulate, without limit or category’.85 But Cowling did not make this exception. If he accepted as an ideal that philosophy was thought ‘with as few assumptions as possible’, this implies that some are necessary, and he was perfectly clear that in fact ‘philosophy presents the world … according to convention’.86 He certainly failed to find any philosopher who had attained an assumptionless, passionless tranquillity. This difference from Oakeshott allowed Cowling to ascribe to all pursuits of thought and action the same limitation: all were based on assumptions, and the assumptions were in all cases arbitrary. This was evidence enough that these ways of proceeding enjoyed no authority from God or nature, and were 239

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merely conventional constructions. They stand, in that respect, on an equal footing, all equally arbitrary. So ‘Christianity does not depend on philosophy for validation or authority’.87 Christian scholars had understood the critical character of historiography. Hoskyns had emphasized that in the Gospel according to John the thought of the historian and his statement of facts were indivisible: ‘the gospel stubbornly refuses to be dismembered, refuses to be divided into history and interpretation’.88 This, no doubt, was because the minds of the agent – Jesus Christ – and his historian converged so closely that the understanding that animated conduct and the understanding that interpreted it mapped closely into each other. But, at a greater distance of thought and time, matters were less easy. Hoskyns and Davey were conscious that the critical historiography of the New Testament was a ‘reconstruction of the original history’ of Jesus.89 They were aware, too, that such reconstruction implied that ‘assured results’ were impossible.90 Assurance was only such that human understanding could provide. If the New Testament bears ‘witness to a Unique History, and it discovers the Truth in the History’ so that it ‘records historical facts which demand the consideration and judgement of every man and woman’, yet that was only to challenge ‘a decision’.91 In other words, critical scholarship made propositions credible, but did not imply religious assent; or, if one prefers, critical historiography terminated in St Augustine’s view that Christian belief implies a logically prior intuition. If Christian doctrine had a foundation in Cowling’s mind, it was not one that rested on nature, reason or even a scripture of absolute hermeneutic purity. This was not to say that it was without any intellectual support. The most distinguished of Anglican theologians had recognized that revelation might have a low degree of probability, and thought that was an adequate basis for action.92 That, of course, makes an act of faith consistent with the view that the object of Christian belief is improbable by human canons of judgement93 – though religion answers to needs94 – and beyond to the view that natural theology is not a wholly adequate idiom,95 not least because reason answers to our passions.96 In short, belief and practice alike depend on custom and habit97 in a world where understanding is, like 240

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benevolence and resources, limited.98 Thus, it was not whimsy but continuity of mind that led Cowling to contemplate as a sequel to Religion and Public Doctrine a book about David Hume. Hume’s attitude to self-love, however, is not Christian.99 And that difference put some matters beyond the scope of his thought. These would have found a place in another projected book of Cowling’s, one about Christianity in early modern political thought.100 Cowling discussed this in his lectures long before it became fashionable to emphasize the religious aspects of Hobbes’s thought.101 It was natural that he should, for Leviathan is the ruler of the children of pride.102 In Hobbes’s account Leviathan converts the dangerous results of pride into the bases of civil order, makes the laws of nature the law of the land, and institutes common worship in the commonwealth.103 The attractions of such unity for Cowling, however, did not draw him to a Hobbesian sovereign; nor did they draw him to Rome. One writer hinted obliquely that Cowling might convert to Rome: and then would go mad.104 There is insight in that observation. But the intellectual tendencies of his mind flowed in quite another direction, for a critical historiography that recognizes our understanding of the Bible as a ‘theory’ or a ‘reconstruction’ is inconsistent with papal infallibility if the latter depends on a biblical warrant. In other words, the official philosophy of Rome would have been inconsistent with Cowling’s assumptions. If it is significant that he began a book about Acton in the 1950s, it is just as significant that he did not complete it.105 Certainly, his relation to Rome would have been as uncomfortable as Acton’s, though for different reasons. If Cowling approved of some papal conclusions, he could not defer to their sources. To whom or what, then, could he defer? If not to Aquinas, then he could not defer to philosophy, and especially not to the belief that the human intellect is adequate of its own resources to understand everything, and consequently to judge or revise Christian truth. Christology, on Christian assumptions, was sovereign over both philosophy and theology.106 Cowling incorporated philosophical elements in his thinking where they cohered with and extended his religious position, but not further.107 His technique was that of the Augustinian thinkers identified by Knowles, who used philosophy to the extent that it was 241

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an auxiliary to faith, but neither constructed a philosophy of their own nor made any their master.108 Some philosophers were congenial. Mansel emphasized that the ‘conditions to which reason is universally subject … necessarily imply the existence of truths which are above reason’.109 Cowling used Mansel’s conception of the relativity of human knowledge to curb Millian optimism about human knowledge.110 But he also thought Mansel’s Kantianism may have been unnecessary.111 More strikingly, he developed his thinking about assumptions with the aid of Oakeshott and Collingwood, but, unlike them, he emphasized that assumptions were ‘arbitrary’. If, like Oakeshott, he was an enemy of liberal claims to certainty, we should also note that Hoskyns had rejected them on theological grounds that Oakeshott could not share.112 If philosophy is not the authoritative source of truth in the world, what is? The answer is there is none. Hoskyns had stated starkly that: by our Christian language, by the express doctrine of the Church and by its worship, we are being thrust into the whole relativity of human life, … where men are men and not God, where their ideas and notions are not the absolute Truth …, where at best men speak in parables, and where their actions are not the righteousness of God. ‘[T]he relativity of human life’ reminds us that not truth but assumption is the lot of the human understanding and that the satisfactions of the will are not all righteous.113 What remains is religion and the management of human wills in order to secure peace with God and peace with man, and, for both, the need of a political community to embody diffusive Christianity. The verdict of Smyth in this connection makes compelling sense – that ‘the two primary intellectual interests of the human spirit’ are ‘Religion and Politics’.114 Yet Cowling became neither a priest nor a politician, though he considered both vocations. What he did instead was to write about politics and religion. Moreover, this writing was historical. Why? One possibility is that Cowling’s assumptions made him sensitive to the development of a situation in which Christian doctrine had 242

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ceased to provide the assumptions of public action in England. The question of how far non-Christian doctrines had been or could be effective for national ends in politics and religion was therefore a very important one. Nature and Limits furnished Cowling’s initial answer. This was that the assumptions of Christian doctrine and its liberal enemies were alike arbitrary, that the latter had triumphed in English universities some time before 1963, and that liberalism had done no more to advance academic understanding than Hoskyns thought religious idolatry advanced love and righteousness. ‘Much … is said about religion: and … with good reason’, Cowling wrote, because: Moral and political studies grew to independence in English universities in the shadow of assaults, sometimes in the name of science and enlightenment, sometimes in the name of historical criticism, on the dominance of theology, the truths of Christianity and its authority in moral practice. Studies emerged which professed to exercise over all right-thinking men the ‘moral’ and ‘scientific’ authority which Christianity had amongst Christians but which these studies were supposed to have greater authority to command. Assumptions, nevertheless, continued: presuppositions remained: and arbitrary certainties appropriate to religion were maintained by an intellectual interest which lacked a church, a special revelation or any particular God. A religion, however, without these conveniences is a religion nonetheless; its priests, secular by profession, high-minded by inclination and dissenting sometimes by manner and tradition, affected an authority in distributing moral and practical advice even more extensive than the religion they had abandoned. Philosophy in place of theology, morality in place of religion, political science instead of Christian duty seemed an impressive advance towards an ethically commanding sociology; whereas all that had happened was that one set of unarguable assumptions (supported by a Visible Church, an ecclesiastical establishment and an extensive educational system) had been 243

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replaced by another which did not escape a basis of arbitrary belief which its exponents supposed they had avoided. In short, the arbitrariness of Christian thought and action had not so much been superseded as challenged.115 If liberalism offered nothing much in understanding the world, it did offer an alternative religion and an alternative source of social orthodoxy. Mill was said to offer ‘a dogmatic, religious’ liberalism in the interests of ‘social cohesion and moral consensus’.116 This style of religion, as Hoskyns had predicted, was ‘barren and uncharitable’.117 Cowling’s first two books can be considered in at least two ways. One is as expressions of Augustinian thought as developed through Anglican scholarship about an Anglican situation. Their accent upon arbitrariness, assumptions, liberalism as anti-Christian and as an idol or substitute religion, and about the Church of England as the proper source of public assumptions are all readily recognizable. These were ‘brash essays in debt repayment’, as Cowling later described them.118 Yet, in the second place, they were also markers for the future, in two respects. The first was that their identification of a problem in modern England was a cue for Cowling’s major histories. They focused on an intersection of politics and religion, specifically on the assumptions appropriate to understanding and governing England. These assumptions were those of the people to whom the conduct of politics fell, and those of the people who proffered opinions about religion in its public capacity. It requires no great interpretative skill to see that Cowling’s three political histories – 1867, The Impact of Labour and The Impact of Hitler – explore the former and their role in political action, and that the three volumes of Religion and Public Doctrine concern the character of the latter. It is more interesting to observe that these two trilogies concern the dual aspect of one problem – the problem of the sources and character of public action in England. It was a large question, as well as an important one, and Cowling took nearly forty years over answering it. The second respect was that the two books of 1963 laid programmatic demands upon their author: they required him to show that his assumptions provided a more effective way of writing about the development of English polity than others had furnished. 244

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Christian historiography I: national decision-making in modern England Cowling’s manner of rejecting liberalism, then, implied a sequel, a demonstration that Christian assumptions, in particular his understanding of them, provided a better way of interpreting the world. His Christianity fed off scholarship and philosophy. So it was natural to think that ‘[i]t is the business of history to reveal as much of … [the world’s] rationality and regularity as it can.’119 The world is quite a large subject, and the part on which Cowling concentrated first was rationality in the politics in and around Parliament from 1866 to 1940. This choice suggested a shift in interests. But we should bear in mind two points. One is that Cowling’s implied position about the Church of England was, for the foreseeable future, incapable of development. Cowling, looking back in 1990, recognized that his desire of 1963 that Anglicanism should underpin the solidarity of the English nation had ceased to be practical politics by 1903 (or by 1833).120 In the 1960s he had not known what could be said about Christianity ‘in a modern context’, and so wrote about political history.121 The second point is that Augustinian Christianity, as Cowling had developed it, lent itself to further development as a political historiography. Cowling presumed the settled outline of a Christian understanding of history, and explored the considerable scope for development within it. The outline was formed by the triptych of the world between creation and Christ’s coming, the period between it and His second coming, and after that return to earth. So Christian historiography presumes a definitive end to the current state of human life on earth, but also a high degree of ignorance about how and when it – or other significant developments – will work out in the present and future. What is apprehensible more firmly is that the kingdom of God on earth is as yet far from fully realized. In this situation, where self-love and its consequences continued to reign, political authority remained a necessity in order to channel external conduct through law and its enforcement into courses that promoted civil order rather than permitting these propensities to take a destructive course – a necessity, too, in supporting the church in its witness against pride.122 This was not to attribute to the church special 245

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sanctity – in it, as much as outside it, people willed advantages and enjoyments as ends in themselves, inhabiting civitas terrena, the City of Man – but it is to say that in it only was found civitas aeterna, the City of God, the people who loved God and their neighbour, and who considered terrestrial life as a means to divine ends.123 Diffusion of Christianity by the church was as necessary as restraint by the state. Cowling presumed all of this. It is obviously with respect to diffused belief that he wrote that ‘the gospel and the Church will not be heard if the visible panoply of public power is directed towards Christianity’s subversion.’124 For the astonishing success of the Apostles and their successors before Constantine, and the obstinate patience of later Christians under hostile political regimes indicated that enduring belief itself was independent of civil coercion or support. But behavioural recognition of Christian truth required an agency external to the agent, whether divine grace in a direct form or a terrestrial prompt. Cowling suggested that human nature was such that this applied in respect of all conduct. For he thought that: Arbitrary procrusteanism is unavoidable, a consequence of the fact that moral, legal and social norms are manifestations not only of power … but of the power which external authority alone can claim to exercise over them. It may be disagreeable that this should be so, but nothing will be altered by pretending that it is not, or by imagining a form of society (or of morality) from which compulsion and arbitrariness have been removed or, in other words, the prevalence of self-love implies that external regulation is necessary.125 Self-love takes many forms, of which ‘the power which all men wish to exercise over other men’ is only one. The evidently defective character of human conduct present in most politicians is plain in many of Cowling’s characterizations. One paragraph contains virtually an adjectival catalogue of vice – ‘lazy’, ‘forgetful’, ‘disobedient’, ‘imperfect’, ‘ignorant’, ‘careless’, ‘weak, tortuous, impertinent’, ‘personal, grandiloquent and offensive’ – and this, the first paragraph of an essay, is not belied by the conclusion.126 Yet, churchmen had their share of pride too, as the slighting phrase 246

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‘Anglican grandeur’ makes clear.127 That there is no reason to think that politicians – or priests – are different from anyone else in their motivations reminds us that civitas terrena is more fully populated than civitas aeterna: ‘altruism’ and ‘simplicity’ do appear, but most of the descriptions have a different moral hue.128 These characterizations also tell us why politics is necessary. Augustine insisted that it was necessary in order to produce civil order. So he focused upon rulers and the constraints they achieve. Cowling, who wrote under a different polity, focused in a different way: he looked for political decision not to the originating will of an individual, but to the eventual will of a group and to the ways in which its circumstances of institutional form, time and place constrained it – in other words, to interaction. It is interaction that turns self-love into the decisions that the governors of modern England take for the governed. It is interaction that determines the character of Cowling’s political historiography. His account of an individual commences with that politician’s assumptions and the satisfactions he wills for himself. But these are soon caught up in his relations with other politicians and their positions within the system of mutual reaction implied in their relations. These relations are the circumstances that contribute most powerfully to the course of the action at Westminster, though circumstances external to Parliament do too: ‘a shift in one element changed the position of all others in relation to the rest’ and politicians reacted ‘in full awareness of the relationship and in conscious knowledge of the need to move whenever it moved’.129 Cowling treated decisionmaking in national politics as a matter not of conformity to the known character of a rational universe by a virtuous mind, but rather as a willed and relational activity. It was thus that the true character of modern English political decision was to be found. To that degree, his books were sociological in character. Certainly, what investigation of the elite disclosed was described by its author as ‘an essay in political sociology’, and an exploration of ‘sociology of power’.130 This historical sociology came nearer the present by each stage of archival candour, ending in 1975 with a political decision as recent as 1940. The very existence of these three stout volumes underlines another point. Butterfield did not translate his Christian suppositions into 247

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large-scale historical explanation. Oakeshott remained, in Cowling’s phrase, the great historian who never wrote any history. But Cowling succeeded in allying his religious postulates with extended historical explanation. So what did he contribute to the understanding of the political sociology of modern England? First, he showed that political rationality consists in working through a situation under conditions that imply throughout the limitations bearing on understanding correctly and acting successfully. Each politician proceeds from his own assumptions, which are necessary to generate understanding and action, but which circumscribe both. These assumptions work with a will that aims at its own satisfaction. The work takes place under conditions of acute ignorance about what is happening. Still, the politician must act. That means that he acts through contingencies that are highly variable. These circumstances of mind, will and situation will remind some of the night battle in Thucydides: in any battle one sees only what happens around oneself, rather than the whole scene, but in a night battle no one can be sure of what happens at all, or see who is friend and who foe.131 But the point is that there is no choice: politicians cannot transcend either themselves or their setting. They must ‘work through contingency and accident’.132 Second, a most surprising outcome – the development of national consensus in politics, that is to say the emergence of decisions on points of importance for the character and future of the specific civil order in the politicians’ charge. This result was never intended by any person or persons, by one interest group or political movement or social class. But it was one capable of becoming ground of agreement once it has arrived, and in that role coordinating collective action, whether in ‘the primary task of reconciling all classes and all bodies of potential alienation to the politico-social structure’ or ‘a regime … of … national regeneration’.133 Third, Cowling unravelled the paradox of political power in respect of an advanced society. Political authority embodies a paradox because the instrument that controls and directs pride is an organized expression of pride itself, and that in one of its least attractive forms – selflove as the desire for domination and grandeur. This defect is a real one: unjust and imprudent wars sacrifice lives for nothing, while in a 248

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different way folly in educational and health legislation can damage a generation. No one has provided a sure remedy for this condition. But Cowling showed how the interactions of pride-ridden politicians, under parliamentary conditions, can produce results that benefit the governed (as well as some of the governors). Interaction is the key because, individually, the understanding and will of a politician is no better than that of the next person, and the terrestrial setting of all people is one that is not conducive to altruism. It is ‘the fragmented nature of God’s handiwork’, as Cowling called it,134 that requires the fragments to be assembled and made whole. However, the whole cannot be made by any human’s plan or power: instead it is made by circumstance, as the historian calls it, alternatively known to the theologian as the grace of God. How can this be? The process of which people are part but the character of which they do not comprehend until it is over is what turns individual action into collective outcome. For instance, ‘each politician entertained a variety of opinions which became practical commitments in the light of the possibilities including an instinct for the possibilities for himself or the various sorts of national unity to which he or his party might come to be committed’ in 1920–24, when Labour arrived as a major force in parliamentary politics.135 The outcome of these opinions, in a complicated setting, was that a Baldwin– MacDonald polarization was found by exploration, accident and initiative to provide greater satisfaction – at least for the Conservative and Labour parties – than anything else. A basis for national consensus was found through that polarization. Such an outcome, then, implies that individuals must act. So if the motives of politicians, like those of others, are self-referential, their perspective is circumscribed and their thinking tentative, their action is a necessary condition if the good of the governed is to be realized. They serve an end. Thus, institutions and occasions form and direct the matter of pride to specific outcomes scarcely conceived by the politicians themselves, for good ends that were not the ones most of them intended. A politician, then, dwells in the solipsism of his own limited understanding and limited benevolence. Neither his mind nor his desires in themselves rise above personal goals to collective good. But when the 249

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actions of one politician are placed in relation to others’, to events and to institutional form, the upshot is just that outcome. The historian’s task is to identify these relations, and show how they produce the unintended good of the governed. As Cowling put it: Politicians understand as much as they need to of the situations in which they work. This need not be much. But their actions follow from the solipsisms in which they are located. In locating them … history need not deny that conflict can be good or its outcome better than its parts.136 Thus another Augustinian motif is realized. God brings out of human inadequacy a providential result. The ‘corporate venality’ that Cowling attributed to the politicians had a use in the large scheme of things; it was ‘prudent, necessary’.137 The Augustinian is conscious of the fragmentary character of human achievement, in Cowling’s words ‘the fragmentary character of God’s handiwork’.138 Human capacities, unaided by divine grace, can produce only what is incomplete. The roots of this include the incomplete character of our perceptions. Politicians lead from positions of ‘ignorance and eccentricity’.139 The roots include, too, the pull of satisfactions that are those of self-love – ‘antipathy, self-interest and mutual contempt’.140 The triumph of Augustinian thought went along with the triumph of Augustinian historiography. The crooked and circuitous conduct that constituted collective advantage required an appropriate historiography. If the emergence of consensus was not a simple process, the historian’s business was to demonstrate its complexity. So complication became the order of the intellectual day. Even the role of a leading politician was ‘complicated’;141 and complication was throughout a ruling conception. Cowling thus did for political decision what Hoskyns had done for the New Testament. He demonstrated that a valid rendering of the evidence is not simple, but complex. If Jesus was not simply the ethical figure depicted by liberal biblical criticism, but also had a complex historical and theological message that required the most careful attention, so also politicians of the highest order exercised ‘innumerable opportunities … for … creative power’.142 If biblical 250

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theology required historical, linguistic, philological and theological learning, so too did politicians ‘require for their appreciation a comprehension as critical as the comprehension required for the appreciation of poetry’.143 What was more, the drive to discover the assumptions and relations of politicians called forth concentrated archival energy in order to mine deep seams of evidence, and these yielded copious material to fuel Cowling’s hypotheses about political action. His assumptions proved illuminating.144 This approach had the effect of uprooting liberal explanations. If liberalism likes a simple creed in religion, this suggests a simple method of explanation. Mill thought that ‘there really is one social element which is … almost paramount, amongst the agents of social progression’. This was ‘the state of the speculative faculties of mankind’. In particular ‘a common system of opinions’ was necessary to ‘social existence’, so that ‘the state of the speculative faculties of mankind … essentially determines the moral and political state of the community’.145 Such an account fades beside the point made by Cowling in distinguishing Disraeli from four other politicians not by their opinions – which were identical to his – but by their relations: ‘nothing distinguished them from Disraeli except that their position in the political system indicated one reaction where Disraeli’s indicated another.’146 It is clear in Cowling’s books that no one can be identified with the cause of goodness and truth or supposed that these produced the future by themselves. It is clear that good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, are not the property of any one group of people.147 It requires some independent thinking to digest the implications of these positions, and sometimes the liberal merely presumes that Cowling simply inverted a liberal preference, replacing ideology with selfinterest as the key source of action.148 If so, an interesting new light illuminates the stubbornness of the liberal’s view that ‘other people secretly agree with him … and are only restrained from saying so by unworthy motives arising from worldly prudence, material interest, and so forth’: evidently, the liberal cannot think of a third alternative.149 Historical explanation in Cowling’s political trilogy, in short, was a triumph of Christian relativism. Politicians acted out of understanding and motives that were relative to their situations, but that were mere 251

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drops in the buckets of truth and benevolence: and so, taken individually, they were inadequate in relation to the responsibilities of governing. These drops, if simply aggregated, would not have slaked the governed’s thirst for direction and stability. But because they were related by institutional and circumstantial constraint, they acquired a distilled quality that gave them the power to satisfy national needs. Cowling’s development of Augustinian assumptions generated not only this content but also a manner of writing about national decisionmaking. This was political historiography written as divine drama.150 The conception that history is a drama, in which pride produces its tragic consequences, is familiar. But this has been treated more often in theatre than historiography, let alone integrated into studies resting upon detailed archival research. The dramatic element in Cowling is present both as tragedy and comedy.151 The national will to oppose Hitler in 1940 implied the jettisoning of overseas empire. Cowling attributed a tragic character to the war. He considered it as sacrifice – his word was ‘holocaust’ – and the sacrifice was deliberate, since the politicians understood the character a total war could have. Their war was not tragic in its character only; its consequences included mass slaughter in the Partition of India. Cowling’s verdict on the politics of the 1930s was dry. But: an unedifying story is relieved by the consideration that, of the millions who died in the holocaust which destroyed the peace [the British empire] … needed, comparatively few were its citizens, of whom fewer perished [during it] than perished at a stroke in Bengal and the Punjab three years after the holocaust was over. If this implies that England suffered less loss than others, it implies too that political decision, however inadvertently, generates as well as constrains evil.152 These dramatic conceptions are not just setting or commentary: they are substance. Cowling, who categorized political agents as ‘actors’ and regarded historiography as ‘a morality play’,153 treated politicians as the characters in a Christian drama. Just as their actions, and 252

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sometimes their beliefs, arose from their situation, so that situation cast them in ‘roles’. The roles were played out in homes, clubs, offices and the Houses of Parliament, and by their interaction developed a plot line leading to a – mostly unexpected – denouement.154 Emphasis on plot implied the narration of each step in the drama, and concentration on a small number of actors in each scene, for their interaction produced the next development in the drama. Hence, there was a preoccupation with the unfolding of high politics – and so arose an identifiable method of delineating the process of political decision.155 High politics in Cowling’s hands was an Augustinian conception. If we understand that what is necessary for the terrestrial survival and well-being of the human race is generated or secured by civil order, as Augustine and Hobbes indicated, then the interactions of political rulers constitute a feature of existence that is necessary to us all. High politics, though the activity certainly involved ‘stygian factionalism’, and though it generated writing ‘gorged with ruthless enjoyment of the unsavoury’, and with ‘the trivial and nasty’, was neither an activity that was merely optional nor a conception of purely secular reference.156 If a reader long ago understood that the assumptions of Cowling’s political historiography ‘are identical with those informing his earlier books’, we now see that these assumptions are those of an Augustinian Christianity.157 Cowling generated an account of how the fundamental human need of political stability and consensus has been satisfied by English politicians, and he did so from religious assumptions about human character and conduct. Thus, high politics pointed beyond itself. It is thus fitting that Cowling proceeded from political to religious history. Christian historiography II: England put in mind of Christianity Augustine would have understood ‘public doctrine’. Cowling’s decided to treat ‘historic Christianity’ as a tool with which to deal ‘the foundations of modern thought and the limitations of modern thinking’.158 Cowling’s claim that he had been unclear about how to discuss Christianity in a ‘modern’ setting is in some respects obviously untrue: the resources provided by biblical theology and Augustinian tenets were not negligible, as his use of them in political historiography 253

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demonstrates. What Cowling had still to do, however, was to expand his conceptions of 1963 into a form suitable for writing about English beliefs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To do so, Cowling moved from a species – diffusive Christianity – to genus – public doctrine. If diffusive Christianity implied that Christian truth, worship and conduct were fundamental to public assumptions, times had changed since Chalmers’s endorsement of 1830. Christian intuitions, Cowling thought, had ceased to be taken for granted by English thinkers, and had therefore ceased to be fundamental in many minds. Erosion of the unselfconscious certainty of the truths of Christianity, which occurred to a significant degree amongst a significant part of the English intelligentsia between 1840 and 1900, was of the greatest consequence. Once an unselfconscious Christianity had become difficult, ‘reasons’ had to be given for what had previously been believed without ‘reasons’: and once ‘reasons’ became necessary, Christianity became merely one set of opinions with no more necessary authority than any other.159 Thus, a broadening of focus was necessary in order to discuss a situation in which Christianity had ceased to be the chief postulate for public discussion. Where, then, was Cowling to go? The idea of public doctrine, that is to say a framework of thought generated by authority to guide action, derived from an Augustinian understanding in which direction is external to the agent and comes from authority. There is also a seed in Hobbes. His doctrina civilis was a body of truths that public authority should require to be taught: ‘I judge it is the office of the supreme power that the true elements of civil doctrine be stated, and to command that they be taught in all colleges of their commonwealth.’160 This ‘publique Instruction, both of Doctrine, and Example’161 concerned political obedience as much as religious observance, as was fitting for the mid-seventeenth century. The plant that Cowling grew from this seed was certainly still instruction in ‘Doctrine’ for the ‘publique’, because Cowling, like Hobbes, 254

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thought that ‘Doctrine ought to mean a teaching that is formal, authorized and explicit’.162 But Cowling’s emphases, as befitted an era in which Christianity had been questioned, concerned assumptions. ‘A public doctrine adumbrates the assumptions … within which teaching, writing and public action are conducted, and those assumptions “constitute” the “framework” of those activities.’163 Thus, the species of doctrine in which Christianity was assumed formerly gives way to the genus, the character of doctrine as such. This expansion is evident – any doctrine can be considered, not only Christian doctrine – but the contents of this category are conceived in a settled way, in respect of assumptions. The assumptions of most interest are those that are made in religion and that provide the guidance of a ‘framework’. The next move was a shift away from preoccupation with liberalism in Hoskyns’s sense. This was not a recession from the position of 1963,164 rather a broadening of attention. The notion that infidelity had sought to replace Christianity was not abandoned, but other dramatis personae were now introduced. Four different attitudes were delineated: historic Christianity, aggressive opposition to it, the ‘latitudinarian’ preference to smooth away grounds of difference between these two, and the belief that it was simply unnecessary to discuss Christianity at all.165 There were, in other words, four frameworks to discuss, no longer two. How were their exponents to find a medium of expression? The questions that Augustinian assumptions generate are: what is the institutional framework for expressing views, and what are the circumstances? The Church of England was reckoned to have lost institutional predominance in state and education after 1828–32, whether due to Whig subversion or to industrial and urban expansion. The institutions that were reckoned to sit alongside it were politics, literature and universities. Literature is the main focus in Religion and Public Doctrine because Cowling had treated politics already and because the post-Christian consensus of silence was institutionalized in or by modern universities.166 The question on which the enquiry focused was specific to England, or, more precisely, to the remit of the Church of England: ‘what should the English believe? Should they believe in Christianity? What 255

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role should religion play in the public realm?’167 The answer is therefore about doctrine for England, as distinguished from the more general content of thinking about Christianity, whether there or in the wider world. This is evident in both omissions and inclusions. Likewise, for the included thinkers the emphasis fell less on their most general views and much more on those that bore on English religion in particular. It is evident, too, in the manner of treatment. Cowling wished to examine answers to the question ‘what should the English believe?’ To that end, he looked at thinkers, their assumptions and their development of these only insofar as they bore on the answer. Moreover, he attended primarily to meaning, not to the sociological, economic and political processes by which, say, Protestant Nonconformists became mainstream figures, or urbanization left Anglican churches in numerically marginal places, or the university legislation of 1870 and 1882 made Anglicanism one option among several at Oxford and Cambridge. None of these contained the answers to his questions. ‘Meaning’ itself bears the impress of the project. Certainly, it was neither content nor reference to the time of writing that was placed primarily in view. Words for Cowling, as for Augustine,168 were signs of willing.169 He attended to the result they were intended to produce rather than to their content. That implied attention to his authors’ reasoning and the use of evidence only when it was important as an indication of positions about religion and their intended effect.170 Cowling’s interest was in ‘those fundamental predispositions from which all public statement begins’, specifically in how these were converted into positions about religion for England and what those positions were.171 He had very little interest in the processes of reading, reasoning and writing that produced the latter. The meaning, as it was taken to apply to modern England, was not for all places and all times, but it was located in a period that Cowling took to be a continuous present: the situation was England from 1840, and the enquiry concerned the answers offered to Cowling’s question.172 In that way, the very choice of subject matter bore the marks of Cowling’s religious position. A diffusive Christianity was a condition of genuine improvement in human conduct, which makes it intelligible why public doctrine should be understood in terms of religion, and 256

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specifically of Christianity, and made Cowling alert to its presence and role in thought. It also focused attention on what religion for the nation should be. By a like measure, the Augustinian belief that important direction is external to the agent made ‘high thought’ the focus in considering the nation’s mind, just as it had done with ‘high politics’. In both thought and conduct, leadership becomes a basic question. This was properly so, for competition among candidates for leadership is just as marked in thought as in politics. Writers are just as much moved by self-love and situation as politicians.173 Their competing conceptions about belief are ways of making careers or turning in copy on time. Competition is evident, too, in the contrasts between the four attitudes to religion. That Religion and Public Doctrine was structured around a contrast between ‘historic Christianity’ and the idols contrasted with it is obvious, but the attempt to weaken both in ‘latitudinarianism’ and in post-Christian consensus was not less aggressive. It was another attempt to ‘smother’ Christianity. The focus on national unity so evident in Cowling’s political historiography was equally evident in his discussion of religion. For the tale was about replacing Christianity with other religions of human invention to provide ‘a generally received doctrine by which all actions could be judged, according to which all men could regulate their lives and to which they could expect their rulers to conform’.174 ‘[S]ecularization’ meant disposing of Christianity; the discussion was about which religion merited the first place. Above all, such discussion was an act of will: ‘no one who did not want to create a post-Christian religion need have done so and … the effort which was made to do so between 1840 and 1930 was deliberate’.175 Why were infidelity and other substitute religions taken to be intellectually infertile? The answer is found in Cowling’s conception of human action. Action in high thought, as in high politics, is generated by situation, interest and all the other features that Augustine called self-love. All these answered to a search for satisfactions that originated more deeply than articulate thought. So, religious thought, of itself, does not escape the relativity of the human situation any more than political action. What is to be expected of thought generated by 257

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people in this way? The answer is that nothing was discovered in respect of religious truth, only a reflection of their own mind and selflove, these being ‘embedded … in the interests, sympathies and aversions of its creators’.176 It certainly offers no illumination of reality. If one of the properties of orthodoxy is to convey ‘a properly conceived understanding of the nature of existence’, non-Christian mentalities had failed to do so. For reality of the relevant kind is disclosed through intuition of God and acceptance of His logos, not by neglecting them.177 Put another way, religion does not lie within the limits of reason alone, or again, ‘if a man make gods, lo, they are no gods’.178 This was laid bare by the relativism Cowling deployed as an explanatory tactic. Each thinker’s assumptions were identified and their development considered. The results are sometimes ridiculous. More importantly, they were always inadequate.179 In other words, they failed to fit the expectations of religion that historic Christianity had generated and left as a latent deposit in English consciousness. We are left, by implication, where Cowling entered in 1943–44, namely with a transcendent God and His revelation in Christ, and with the contrasts that Christianity generated by way of opposition. That is the intellectual result: in the absence of ‘the institutionalized impregnability on which a predominating religion depends’ the practical result is an absence of effective consensus – no orthodoxy, Christian or otherwise; at best, it is a consensus that religious opinions of any kind need not be discussed in polite company.180 So Babel prevails,181 not national unity of assumption. There was a profound contrast with Cowling’s politicians in this respect – they do not claim to know better. On the whole, they work within the form of rationality imposed by their inherited framework. They do not aspire to produce their own, even if they are Labour leaders.182 Whereas politicians turned conflict into consensus, the conflict about English religion remains unresolved. Cowling’s political histories are narratives because they treated action that led to a destination. His religious history is a picture because an overall decision has not been reached. But this picture displays the opposite of Leslie Stephen’s tale of the irresistible triumph of anti-Christian ideas, in 258

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which Christianity can be ‘like a ship ready for launching; knock out a single bolt and the whole structure will glide into the deep waters of infidelity’.183 It is complicated, and the battle is unfinished intellectually. Christianity has not been eliminated. It is by no means intellectually inferior to its rivals. There is no hegemonic doctrine in England.184 What persists is conflict about the position of Christianity. The future That these books constitute a Christian historiography means that they point towards the future as well as explaining the past. True, Cowling did not reproduce any position commonly used nowadays in commenting on the position of religion in modern England, though he did confess to ‘sad sorrow about the condition of the Church of England’.185 This was not convenient inattention to historical fact. It was rather reservation of attention for the elements in the past and present that in his judgement adumbrated the future. Cowling’s position suggests that a basic question is how to turn will into action. If historical writing as a way of questioning other people’s conceptions in order to open their minds to Christian truth was effective, that was the way to proceed. More broadly, Cowling’s historiography leaves little grounds to think that the leadership of either politicians or religious teachers in a post-Christian England consists in successful didacticism. A conception of human nature that insists on how little man knows in contrast with God, and that emphasizes deviations of his will from truth and justice, does not lend itself to that conclusion. It suggests that political leadership is the art of limited rationality and that devising doctrine about religion without revelation is likely to be an exercise more in imagination than in truth. Human action was and is conducted according to assumptions rather than according to truth. To that, indeed, most people have had only limited access – at least until now. Although political reasoning, for example, is to be judged now ‘according to its own conventions’, that judgement is not definitive. The time will come – and come ‘ultimately’ – when ‘like any other activity’ it will be subject to ‘the judgement … of God’.186 Whether the activity is directly practical or speculative, eschatology will interrupt the 259

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unfolding of history by judging the continuing misconduct and limitations of people rather than perfect and enshrine the developments of secular progress. Meanwhile, human motives in most instances will not be love of God, truth and man undiluted by limitations and vices. Hence, historical writing is a morality play in a deeper sense than being merely a spectacle.187 But the judgements of the spectator are uncertain, because the denouement is the second coming, as yet in the future, on which no definitive judgements can be passed by academic disciplines. There ‘the judgement of God’ is for the moment ‘absolutely unknowable’.188 Hence historiography tells a tale, but it does not point a moral. So, in various ways, Cowling treated past and present as a continuum, and looked towards the future. He could do so through two conceptions. One was his conception of historiography, and the other his conception of action. The former places an accent on the constitutive role of the historian’s mind and its antecedent contents in determining the thought of which evidence about the past is an aspect. This role implies that the hypotheses the historian produces may apply to more than one conjuncture: in other words, they form a model rather than claims applicable to only one situation. Whether that is so or not depends on their contents: if these contents include terms, whether historical or otherwise, of relatively wide reference, that is likely to be so. So this conception of historical thinking gives us permission to suppose that it can devise models that may be applicable to the future. In this light, Cowling’s conception of a contest between Christianity, rightly understood, and its rivals will be relevant in the future. It delineates a situation that began in about 1840 and continues to the present, assumes an account of Christianity that if valid at all is valid always, and has a congruent view of the arbitrariness of human activity. When one looks at his hypothesis in the light of his view of action, the future begins to look open. The commentator who found Cowling’s writing ‘strangely optimistic’189 probably did not have in mind the Augustinian point that Christianity is strange because it is so different from civitas terrena, but he was nevertheless right to detect that it implies the openness of the future to Christian action. 260

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Whether either opportunity will be exploited is a question to which there can be no answer. If, as Cowling noted, ‘each generation has its own task’, that task is an arbitrary and therefore unpredictable action.190 So Cowling, in this respect, left his readers with a Johnsonian conclusion. If Rasselas has ‘A Conclusion, in which nothing is concluded’, so has the trajectory of Cowling’s eight books. For, if ‘religion spells mystery’ with Hoskyns, Cowling more suo generated from that mystery a historiography, which, treating thought and action alike as arbitrary, produced a new account of recent history.191 He used this view in forming hypotheses about England that interpreted its politics and religious thought in ways that corroborated the mystery through historiography by using it as an instrument in historical understanding – and ways too that implied that not only the past but also the future may belong to ‘historic Christianity’. Here, where religious intuition makes historiography yield a new account of the past and where both point to the future, ‘an arbitrary prejudice may well turn out to have a rational place within the framework of God’s Providence’.192 Notes 1. [John Toland], Christianity Not Mysterious (London: Sam Buckley, 1696). 2. Compare Ian Harris, ‘Religion, Authority and Politics: The Thought of Maurice Cowling’, Political Science Reviewer, vol. 26, 1997, pp. 435–81. The acknowledgements given there are repeated here. Thanks are due for comments on earlier versions of this chapter to Gerard Cook, Charles Covell, John Dunn, Richard Fisher, Andrew Jones, Geraint Parry, Jon Parry, Tom Pink, Tim Stanton, John Walsh and Richard Whiting. Simon Green very kindly edited it into its present form at a time when I was unable to do so. 3. Maurice Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (2nd edition 1990, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, first published 1963); Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963); Maurice Cowling, 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967); Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971); Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); and Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3 vols published in 1980, 1985 and 2001 respectively). 261

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4. Here and elsewhere in this chapter I make statements without references: these derive from conversations with Cowling over many years, the last on 27 July 2005. 5. For example, Charles Covell, The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986), chapter 5; Jeremy Rayner, ‘Philosophy into Dogma: The Revival of Cultural Conservatism’, British Journal of Political Science, vol. 16, no. 4, 1986, pp. 455–73; Richard Brent, ‘Butterfield’s Tories: High Politics and the Writing of Modern British Political History’, Historical Journal, vol. 30, 1987, pp. 943–54; Peter Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History: Mr Cowling’s Doctrine (1992)’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 273–321. 6. Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict’, p. 296. 7. Cowling, RPD I, p. 94. 8. Charles Smyth (1903–87). Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1925–32, 1937–87. Rector of St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, 1946–56. 9. Edwyn Hoskyns (1884–1937). Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1916–37, Dean of Chapel 1919–37; MC, 1918. 10. Noel Davey (1904–73). Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1937–42. 11. See especially E. C. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, edited by Noel Davey (London: Faber & Faber, 1940, 2nd edition 1947), but also his brief commentary on the Epistles (as note 22 below). 12. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, p. 20. 13. This summary follows A. M. Hunter, Interpreting the New Testament, 1900–1950 (London: SCM Press, 1951), p. 134. 14. The title of a book by T. R. Glover, The Jesus of History (London: SCM Press, 1917). See especially chapter 9. For another account of Glover, see Cowling, RPD III, p. 681. 15. F. C. Baur, The Church History of the First Three Centuries, translated by Allen Menzies (2 vols, London: Williams & Norgate, 1878–9) for example vol. 1, pp. 26–39; D. F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, translated by Marian Evans (3 vols, London: Blackwood, 1846). 16. J. B. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays (London: Macmillan, 1893), essays 1–3 on the Fourth Gospel; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St John (London: John Murray, 1880); Lightfoot, St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (London: Macmillan, 1865); to the Philippians (London: Macmillan, 1868); to the Colossians and Philemon (London: Macmillan, 1875); Westcott, St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (London: Macmillan, 1906); Westcott, The Epistles of St John (London: Macmillan, 1883); F. J. A. Hort, The Apocalypse of St John I–III (London: Macmillan, 1908); Hort, The Way, the Truth, the Life (2nd edition, London: Macmillan, 1894); and Lightfoot’s publications on the Apostolic Fathers from 1869 to 1890 summarized and extended in Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (2nd edition, London: Macmillan, 1893). 262

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17.

18. 19.

20. 21.

22.

23. 24.

25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, translated into English by W. Montgomery (3rd edition, London: A & C Black, 1954), p. 396. Printed in J. O. Cobham, ‘E. C. Hoskyns: The Sunderland Curate’, Church Quarterly Review, vol. 158, 1957, pp. 292, 291. Schweitzer and Hoskyns were reacting against their teacher Harnack. Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity?, translated by T. Bailey Saunders (London: Williams & Norgate, 1901), especially pp. 124–30, 191–2. Hence Cowling’s reference to ‘Christianity … liberated from the historical Jesus’, Cowling, RPD III, p. 697. E. C. Hoskyns, ‘The Christ of the Synoptic Gospels’, in E. G. Selwyn (ed.) Essays Catholic and Critical (3rd edition, London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1931), p. 178. E. C. Hoskyns, ‘The Johannine Epistles’, in Charles Gore, H. L. Goudge and Alfred Guillaume (eds) A New Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: SPCK, 1928), pp. 658–9. Hoskyns, ‘The Christ of the Synoptic Gospels’, pp. 177–8. Printed in J. O. Cobham, ‘Sir Edwyn Hoskyns on Justification by Faith: His Course of Sermons on “The XXXIX Articles”’, Church Quarterly Review, vol. 159, 1958, pp. 327, 333–4. Charles Smyth, ‘The Importance of Church Attendance’, The Recall to Religion by Various Writers, with an introductory essay by William Temple (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1937), p. 120. E. C. Hoskyns, ‘Sin’, Cambridge Sermons (London: SPCK, 1938), pp. 49–50, cf. pp. 93, 202. Cowling, RPD I, p. 94. Hoskyns, Cambridge Sermons, pp. 156, 163, 37–8. William Hanna, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers (4 vols, Edinburgh: Sutherland & Knox, 1849–52), vol. 3, p. 266. Cowling, RPD III, p. x. Cowling, RPD I, p. 94. Cf. ibid., p. 85. Cowling, RPD III, p. 700; Hoskyns, Fourth Gospel, p. 39; E. C. Hoskyns and Noel Davey, Riddle of the New Testament (London: Faber & Faber, 1931), p. 261, ‘entirely foreign’. Cowling, RPD I, p. xvii. Cowling, RPD III, p. xviii. Ibid., p. 699. Cowling, NLPS, p. 122. E. C. Hoskyns, We are the Pharisees, edited by Noel Davey (London: SPCK, 1960), p. 53. Cowling, Mill, pp. xlix, 81, 93, cf. pp. liii, 27, 88, 113, 143, 160. Ibid. pp. 5, 87 cf. pp. 90, 91. 263

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41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.

51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62.

63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74.

Cowling, NLPS, p. 1. Cowling, RPD I, pp. 95, 94. The judgement of Stephen Neill, Anglicanism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958), p. 399 note 1. Those of its exponents who figured in RPD, notably Westcott and William Temple, were treated in other terms. See vol. 3, pp. 267–74, 285–91. Hort, The Way, the Truth, the Life, pp. 48–51, 70–72. Cowling, RPD II, p. 289. Charles Smyth, The Art of Preaching (London: SPCK, 1940), p. 220. Lightfoot, St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, p. ix. Charles Smyth, The Friendship of Christ: A Devotional Study (London: Longmans, 1945), p. 62. Michael Clive (in religion David) Knowles (1896–1974) OSB, 1914; Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1944–63; Professor of Medieval History, 1947– 54; Regius Professor of Modern History, 1954–63. David Knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought (London: Longmans, 1962), p. 40. Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio, III.i.3. Knowles, Evolution, p. 39. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxii. Cowling, RPD III, p. 698. Ibid. p. 699. For example, Cowling, NLPS, p. 10. Cowling, Mill, p. 132. ‘A man believes whatever he can. … But the act of believing does not in itself provide guarantees that … others are obliged to believe also’, loc. cit. Cowling, RPD I, p. xvii. Cowling, NLPS, p. 204. Compare Cowling’s commendation of Copleston, ‘his most significant claim was that grace gave the will the power to ‘love God’ even when the intellect could not know Him’, RPD II, p. 345. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 85.8. Cowling, RPD III, p. 698. Loc. cit. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxii. Cowling, NLPS, p. 145. Cowling, RPD III, p. xxiv. Cowling, IL, p. 9. Cowling, RPD II, p. xiii. Hoskyns, Fourth Gospel, p. 208; Hoskyns, Cambridge Sermons, p. 161. Cowling, RPD I, p. 94. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX.17; XIX.23–4. Cowling, RPD II, p. 289. 264

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75. 76.

77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92.

93. 94.

95. 96. 97.

Cobham, ‘Hoskyns on Justification by Faith’, p. 336. For Butterfield, see C. T. McIntire, ‘The Renewal of Christian Views of History in an Age of Catastrophe’, in C. T. McIntire (ed.) God, History and Historians (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 14, 25 note 33. For Oakeshott, see especially Michael Oakeshott, Lectures in the History of Political Thought, edited by Terry Nardin and Luke O’Sullivan (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006) where Augustine is one of only two thinkers (the other being Aquinas) to receive separate treatment. Knowles, Evolution, chapters 8 and 21, especially pp. 99 and 268. Ian Harris, ‘Burke and Paine: God, Nature and Politics’, in Bentley, PPD, p. 35. Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p. 94. R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, edited by T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), pp. 244, 245. F. H. Bradley, ‘The Presuppositions of Critical History’ (1874), in F. H. Bradley, Collected Essays (2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), vol. 1, p. 17. F. H. Bradley, ‘What is the Real Julius Caesar?’, in F. H. Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914), chapter14. Bradley, ‘Presuppositions’, p. 20. Cowling, NLPS, p. 129. Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes, p. 347. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 124, 144. Cowling, Mill, p. 137. Hoskyns, Fourth Gospel, pp. 34–5. Cf. Hoskyns and Davey, Riddle, p. 262. Hoskyns and Davey, Riddle, p. 110, cf. pp. 102, 104, 257. Ibid., p. 288. Ibid., pp. 262, 264, 263. Joseph Butler, ‘Introduction’ to The Analogy of Religion, in J. H. Bernard (ed.) The Works of Bishop Butler (2 vols, London: Macmillan, 1900), vol. 2, p. 3. Compare Cowling’s references to Butler, in Cowling, RPD II, pp. 83–4. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, s.10, ‘Of Miracles’, edited by Tom L. Beauchamp (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), p. 99. David Hume, ‘Natural History of Religion’, in Tom L. Beauchamp (ed.) A Dissertation on the Passion: The Natural History of Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007). David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, edited by Norman Kemp Smith (2nd edition, London: Nelson, 1947). David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by David F. Norton and Mary B. Norton (2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006) 2.3.3.4, p. 266. Hume, Treatise, especially Abstract, s.16, p. 411, ‘Tis not, therefore reason, which is the guide of life, but custom.’ Compare Treatise 1.4.4.1; 1.1.7.7; 1.3.13.10, pp. 148–9, 19, 101. 265

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98. 99.

100. 101.

102. 103.

104. 105. 106. 107.

108. 109. 110. 111. 112.

113. 114. 115. 116. 117. 118. 119. 120.

121.

Hume, Treatise, 3.2.1–2, pp. 307–22. For an analysis, Donald Davidson, ‘Hume’s Cognitive Treatment of Pride’, in Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982). As Philip Williamson informs me. The fashion began with an essay by another Butterfield pupil, J. G. A. Pocock. See J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Time, History and Eschatology in the Thought of Thomas Hobbes’, in J. H. Elliott and H. G. Koenigsberger (eds) The Diversity of History: Essays in Honour of Sir Herbert Butterfield (London: Routledge, 1970), pp. 149–98, reprinted in J. G. A. Pocock, Politics, Language and Time (London: Methuen, 1972), pp. 148–201. Job 41, 34. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London: Crooke, 1651) especially II.31, p. 405, ‘seeing a Common-wealth is but one Person, it ought also to exhibite to God but one Worship.’ David Watkin, ‘George Gilbert Scott Junior (1839–1897): “The History of a Narrow Mind”’, in Bentley PPD, pp. 168–80. Cowling, RPD I, p. xix. E. C. Hoskyns, ‘Jesus the Messiah’, in G. K. A. Bell and Adolf Deissmann (eds) Mysterium Christi (London: Longmans, 1930), pp. 69–89 at 89. Thus he came to recognize that his early Oakeshottian interest in philosophy and historiography without a ‘practical’ character, for example Cowling, NLPS, p. 10, was not for him, Cowling, RPD I, p. xxii. But in any case, see Cowling, NLPS, p. 111. Knowles, Evolution, p. 92. H. L. Mansel, The Limits of Religious Thought Examined in Eight Lectures (5th edition, London: John Murray, 1867), p. xvi. Cowling, Mill, pp. 133–6. Cowling, RPD II, p. 77. Compare especially an Oakeshottian text: S. R. Letwin, The Pursuit of Certainty: David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Beatrice Webb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965). Hoskyns, Cambridge Sermons, pp. 142–3. Smyth, Friendship of Christ, p. 21 note 1. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 8–9. Cowling, Mill, pp. xlix, xlviii. Cowling, NLPS, p. 98 (on Baroness Wootton). Ibid., p. xiv. Cf. Cowling, RPD I, p. xviii. Cowling, NLPS, p. 139. Cowling, Mill, p. xi; compare Cowling’s judgement on the Tractarians: ‘whatever they said to the contrary, [they] did not expect to prevail’, Cowling, RPD II, p. xx. Cowling, RPD I, p. xviii. 266

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122. 123. 124. 125. 126.

127.

128. 129. 130.

131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141. 142. 143. 144. 145. 146. 147.

148. 149. 150. 151. 152.

Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX.17; XIV.14–15; XIX.13. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX.17. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiv. Ibid., p. 280. Cowling, RPD I, p. 280; Maurice Cowling, ‘Lytton, the Cabinet, and the Russians, August to November 1878’, English Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 298, 1961, p. 59. ‘One-and-a-Half Cheers for Matthew Arnold’, in Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism, edited by Samuel Lipman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 211. Cowling, NLPS, p. 184. Cowling, IL, p. 6. Cowling, NLPS, p. 174; Cowling, 1867, p. 3. For recognition that the latter book was both historiography and social science, see J. R. Vincent, ‘Review of Cowling, 1867’, Economic History Review, vol. 20, no. 3, 1967, pp. 563–4. Thucydides, VII.44. Cowling, IH, p. ix. Cowling, IL, p. 428; Cowling, IH, p. 387. Cowling, IH, p. ix. Cowling, IL, p. 418. Cowling, IH, p. ix. Loc. cit. Loc. cit. Cowling, IL, p. 4. Ibid., p. 6. Cowling, IH, p. 9 (Halifax). Cowling, 1867, p. 312. Cowling, Mill, p. xv. See Philip Williamson, ‘Maurice Cowling and Modern British Political History’, chapter 6 in this volume. John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, VI.x.7, in J. M. Robson et al. (eds) Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (33 vols, London: Routledge, 1963–95), vol. 8, p. 926. Cowling, 1867, p. 339. F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (2nd edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), p. 189; Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1931). Cf. Cowling, Mill, p. 88; Cowling, NLPS, p. 133. P. F. Clarke, ‘The New History’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 12, no. 1, 1981, p. 47. Smyth, ‘The Importance of Church Attendance’, p. 120. For early recognition of Cowling as a dramatist, see Michael Ratcliffe, ‘A Masque of Democracy’, The Times, 24 July 1975. For a comic episode, see, for example Cowling, IL, p. 22. Cowling, IH, p. 400. 267

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153. For actors, Cowling, 1867, pp. 2, 322, 346; Cowling, IL, p. 431; Cowling, IH, p. 401; for morality play, Cowling, RPD I, p. 412. 154. Perhaps the best example of an unexpected twist in the tale is Cowling, ‘Lytton, the Cabinet and the Russians’, p. 78. 155. Cowling, of course, invented neither the activity nor the phrase ‘high politics’; for the latter, see, for example Keith Feiling, A History of the Tory Party, 1640–1714 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), p. 196. 156. The comments of disconcerted reviewers, Peter Fraser, ‘Review of Cowling, Impact of Labour’, Political Studies, vol. 20, 1972, pp. 112–13; James Hinton, ‘The Beginnings of Modern British Politics’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, vol. 24, 1972, p. 65. 157. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Review of Maurice Cowling, ‘1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution. The Passing of the Second Reform Bill’, American Historical Review, vol. 73, no. 3, 1968, p. 822. 158. Cowling, RPD I, p. 454. 159. Cowling, NLPS, p. 9. 160. Officij … summorum imperantium esse arbitror, Elementa vera doctrinae civilis conscribi facere, & imperare ut in omnibus civitatis Academiis doceantur, in Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, edited by Howard Warrender (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) XIII.9, p. 199. 161. Hobbes, Leviathan, II.30, p. 376. 162. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiii. 163. Ibid. p. xi. 164. See especially Cowling, RPD II, p. 108 for assuming the argument of Mill because ‘it expressed so exactly Mill’s significance for our present enquiry’. 165. Respectively: Cowling, RPD II, parts 1 and 4; Cowling, RPD II, parts 2–3; Cowling, RPD III, part 1; and Cowling, RPD III, part 2. 166. Cowling, RPD II, pp. xxii–xxiv. 167. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiii. 168. Augustine, De Magistro, 1.2. 169. ‘[T]he power … [an historian] has to will by words the creation of a world that is as it should be’, Cowling, RPD I, p. 397. 170. ‘These volumes attend primarily to meaning and to content insofar as it illuminates meaning’, Cowling, RPD III, p. xxii. 171. Cowling, RPD II, p. xviii. 172. Cowling, RPD III, p. 695. 173. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxii. 174. Cowling, Mill, p. 5 (attributed to Mill). 175. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxiii. Cf. xvi. 176. Loc. cit. 177. Cowling, RPD II, p. xxv. 178. Jeremiah 16, 20. 179. Cowling, RPD III, p. 697. 268

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180. Cowling, RPD II, p. 289. 181. The metaphor seems to have been suggested first by G. I. T. Machin, ‘Review of Cowling RPD II’, History, vol. 72, 1987. 182. Cowling, IL, p. 11. 183. Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (3rd edition, London: Macmillan, 1902, as reprinted, 2 vols, London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962), vol. 1, p. 126. 184. Cowling, RPD III, p. xxiv. 185. RPD I, p. xvii; vol. 3, p. 697. 186. Cowling, NLPS, p. 178. 187. Cowling, RPD I, p. 412. 188. Cowling, NLPS, p. 136, ‘the absolutely exact, but in a philosophical context absolutely unknowable, judgement of God’. 189. Mark D. Chapman, ‘Review: Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. Volume 3, Accommodations’, Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 54, no. 1, 2003, p. 433. 190. Cowling, 1867, p. 313; compare Cowling, Mill, p. xlvii. 191. Unpublished manuscript, quoted by A. M. Ramsey, From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology (London: Longmans, 1961), p. 132. 192. Cowling, NLPS, p. 135.

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Chapter 10

Conclusion: The Impact of Cowling Robert Crowcroft, S. J. D. Green and Richard Whiting

The first thing that strikes any fair-minded reader of Maurice Cowling’s massive oeuvre is just how refreshingly different it was and still is. Launched into a world that characteristically thrives on conformity – call it ‘ordinary science’ if you wish – Cowling’s many and various writings proved immediately invigorating and remain lastingly nutritious because he paid so little attention to, other than to drop passing abuse on, the prevailing academic orthodoxies of the age.1 Studying him today, several decades after the first appearance of his earliest efforts, the great body of his work still excites the cerebral sensibilities because he took such a distinct line on so many significant issues. Cast adrift in a culture suffused with secular, liberal, certainties, he pointed to the sometimes frightening possibilities of its (and their) underlying pretensions.2 Living low through an era of seemingly tamed, even frivolous, national politics, he revealed the real and often disturbing forces that actually animate modern parliamentary democracy.3 Isolated among the heathen at their smuggest, he insisted on the enduring importance of Christian ecclesiastical thought in the indigenous intellectual tradition.4 There is, in short, no need to agree with anything that Cowling actually said in order to recognize his standing as one of the most important – because so cogently and plausibly contrary – thinkers in modern British life.5 Sadly, not all readers are fair-minded. Certainly, Cowling endured more than his fair share of ill-conceived criticism. This scarcely mat270

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tered when it originated from the merely outraged. Indeed, their indignation generally just amused him. It was more deleterious when it emanated from the wilfully unreflective. Their flat-footedness too often constituted a real barrier to fruitful understanding of what it was he had to say. Locating Cowling’s ‘situation’ – one of his favourite words – in the 1970s, when he was most actively working at Peterhouse, Cambridge, thereby serves to give a sense of his contextual importance. It also suggests some reasons why so many were so suspicious of him for so long. Cowling came to intellectual maturity at a time when nineteenth- and twentieth-century British political history had at last achieved a position of real intellectual significance in the research and teaching profiles of the ancient universities.6 But for him, and for more than a few of his readers, such novel prominence often came at a hefty price. This was because it fast assumed an almost unbearably earnest historiographical tone: a seeming clatter of so much characteristically clunking prose in so many pious chronicles of unproblematized progress.7 The self-satisfaction, not to say the banality, of it all was well nigh insufferable. In this atmosphere, those students who turned to the introductions of 1867 or The Impact of Labour first caught a breath of fresh air and then found an alternative explanation – for everything. Thus it became clear that the march to democracy was the product of a cynical ploy by Disraeli.8 The Home Rule crisis was really about Gladstone’s will to power.9 Labour became the second power in the land as a result of a calculated decision by Baldwin to replace one party of opposition with another.10 The crusade against Hitler was undertaken because Halifax feared that otherwise the national government might lose the next election (in 1940).11 And so on. But such excitement typically reflected a minority taste. However much Cowling’s painstaking research commanded the respect of his peers, even to the extent that its illumination of hitherto unappreciated political relationships was ruefully admired among fellow professionals, the major conclusions he drew failed to carry conviction among the majority still sold on the improving consensus.12 Similarly, the type of historical writing his commitment to this form of historical explanation entailed – namely, the very detailed exposition of short-term political outcomes – failed to alter the preoccupations of mainstream scholar271

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ship.13 To be sure, Cowling was in some ways unlucky in his timing. His most important intellectual interventions coincided with the very moment when the social sciences – and in the 1960s that meant social science much coloured by period Marxism – seemed to offer more exciting and original explanations of social and political behaviour than those previously on offer.14 Consequently, historians who followed his self-consciously narrower path often found themselves ignored, even ostracized, by their colleagues. Partly as a result, Cowlingites made little progress in the historical profession after 1970. Converts faired, if anything, worse still. When a young John Vincent, then ironically a fellow of Peterhouse, furnished a powerful example of what might be achieved with his brilliant analysis of mid-nineteenth-century political behaviour in Pollbooks: How Victorians Voted he was hailed a future academic star.15 But when the new professor of history at the University of Bristol later published a distinctly outré interpretation of Gladstonian politics in The Governing Passion, the general consensus was that he had gone to the bad under the woeful influence of his new and nefarious mentor. How else to explain that one who had produced such startling insights into the way ‘the people’ participated in politics seemed now content to amuse himself in that gossip associated with so-called ‘high political’ manoeuvre?16 However, there was another explanation; moreover, it was one that critics and apologists alike of the Cowling version frequently ignored. For what Vincent had abandoned was not enlightenment but illusion. This was the illusion of theory. Cowling argued – frequently and vigorously – that the problem with the social sciences in general and political science in particular was that they (and it) were constructed out of broad abstractions and still vaguer speculations about the presumed behaviour of interested agents seldom if ever grounded in any clear analysis of the motives of the key actors actually involved. In other words, they (and it) were too far removed from anything that really mattered to explain anything that an intelligent person might actually wish to know. For all that, Cowling was no mere empiricist. He never rejected everything that social science had to offer for historical understanding. Indeed, he happily acknowledged that the political historian might occasionally learn something useful from 272

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sociological theory. He famously observed that ‘historical understanding on any period would gain from intellectual infusion of the range and intelligence of Schumpeter’.17 He provided no further elaboration on this occasion. But it is striking, in retrospect, to note how Schumpeter advanced a general explanation of democracy remarkably close in character to Cowling’s narrower thesis about how modern politics really worked.18 Certainly, no small part of a proper understanding of Cowling’s thought is rooted in an exact appreciation of what he made of that unlikely continental ally. To recall, the critical theme of Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy was the unappreciated force of socialism in the advanced world, together with the uncomprehending weakness of liberal capitalism’s characteristic efforts to resist its claims. As a result, Schumpeter insisted, the main components of industrial capitalism – mass production, private property and the family, even the rational approach to life – had hitherto proved and were likely to turn out as ineffective barriers to the universal drive for the socialist utopia. But Schumpeter’s most scornful observations were devoted to normal understanding of democracy. This lay in the erroneous belief that democracy was government ‘from below’. On the contrary, Schumpeter assured his readers, democracy was about politics conducted from above, before which the people were largely helpless.19 This meant that capitalism could rely neither on its own resources nor on the instincts of the people to preserve a liberal order. On the contrary, inherited institutions might be, and sometimes actually were, insufficiently robust to withstand the alien juggernaut, and an intelligent conservatism could not simply ‘trust the people’. The way politicians ‘ran’ politics could, and often did, effectively reduce the people’s conservatism to nought. This applied particularly to socialist politicians of a respectable type: think of Mr Attlee. All this suggested one vital question: what were politicians up to? Schumpeter’s answer was blunt. They were, for the most part, pitted in competition against each other. The very nature of democracy determined that priority of action. As such, administration and legislation – seemingly such huge dimensions of the modern political order – were essentially ‘byproducts of the struggle for political office’.20 This was not to say that 273

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they did not have potentially catastrophic consequences, far from it. Take just one, tragic, example. Why did Asquith not make greater efforts to forestall the First World War? Thus, as Schumpeter put it: ‘it is just possible that the gentlemen on the treasury bench were so absorbed in the political game that they did not wake up to the dangers of the political situation until it was too late.’21 Cowling extended the possibilities of this argument far beyond the subversion of constitutional and administrative history that Schumpeter had made possible. It could also be applied to modern intellectual history. That opportunity Cowling would later exploit to the fullest degree.22 During his earlier years, he was content simply to let it work to occasional perverse effect. So, when Michael Oakeshott (a thinker he otherwise much admired) criticized Quintin Hogg’s Case for Conservatism (1947) as philosophically ungrounded, Cowling sprang to the slighted statesman’s defence, insisting that an academic critic had neglected the instrumental purpose of a politician’s surreptitious writings. This, Cowling insisted, was simply to establish that the socialists then held no monopoly of brains. Quite what the future Lord Hailsham thought of it all is not recorded.23 More to the point, if a few old masters like Schumpeter survived the Cowling test, most contemporary practitioners, such as Robert McKenzie, failed.24 Their schema were too vague, the resulting insights insufficiently hard-won, the sweeping account they offered adding up to little more than journalism plus jargon.25 From a distance of 50 years, it is difficult to disagree with this judgement of political science, even if we might disagree with Cowling’s dismissal of McKenzie.26 That said, it is at least worth bearing some of the similarities of the two approaches in mind. In a curious sense, Cowling’s otherwise subversive ideas – and they were intellectually subversive in the early 1960s – did not always take him so very far away from some of McKenzie’s preoccupations.27 Both proposed a view of politics that emphasized its top–down organizational structure. Both emphasized the prior and pre-eminent significance of elites in the vital decisionmaking processes. Both maintained a profound scepticism about the ability of democratic institutions to determine political action.28 McKenzie’s political science was, of course, more concerned about the 274

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explanatory force of such analysis as applied to political institutions, a subject about which Cowling evinced strikingly little interest. Cowling’s political histories were concerned, above all, with the impact of individual action. To that extent, his understanding of politics pointed to something all but divorced from the practice of government. Moreover, that detachment, and with it a concomitant lack of interest in organization, may yet be seen as a weakness in Cowling’s framework of understanding. They point to an absence of interest in how bureaucracies both facilitate and impede activity that limits the explanatory purchase of his otherwise exhaustive efforts. Viewed up close, this remains surprising, for the parallels between Cowling’s work and a considerable body of sociologically-inspired political science are actually more striking than perhaps either side fully perceived at the time.29 Still, there were differences and these endure. The critical divergence is perhaps best identified through the matter of history. Without doubt, Cowling’s view of politics, at least how politics are best understood, laid a powerful stress on the significance of historical study. Only this vehicle of interpretation, he believed, allowed for the differential impacts of situation, motivation and agency to be respectively judged in the full and proper appreciation of political action. That view may or may not be correct. It can scarcely be dismissed as obviously incorrect. To see why, just compare the sheer content of Cowling’s histories with most fly-by-night political science.30 Alternatively, try to appreciate the ‘impact of Cowling’ on the best kind of contemporary political journalism. In his emphasis on the historical understanding of politics, Cowling aimed to achieve something more than merely outflanking pseudo-scientific understanding of that activity. He was trying to demonstrate how political authority was actually won and lost in the real world of democracy – as opposed to the fantasies of democratic theorists. Yet his real intellectual ambitions in this respect have frequently been misunderstood. Thus his stress on the concreteness of historical events and insistence on the understanding of short-term situations has often been taken as his way of reducing politics to the frivolousness of a self-sustaining game.31 Nothing could have been further from the truth. Few can have upheld that cynical view less. On the contrary, 275

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Cowling took politics very seriously indeed. In fact, he took them far more seriously than those simply content to conceive of politicians as empty vessels, ever in need of external intellectual instruction. As such, he poured scorn on the efforts of academic political scientists to ‘tell politicians what to do’. He took very seriously indeed the labours of politicians to tell us what it was they were doing.32 He understood, as an insider and intuitively, that in political activity there was a process at work that was part of the totality of human experience; similarly, he understood that this amounted to something more than the mass of sordid detail subsequently discovered by empirical investigation. What political history exemplified – often all too poignantly – was the tension between the world as it is and what it might become. In his own words, ‘History, properly executed, should reveal mind unsatisfied with its surroundings, thought cheated, and men wrestling with the difficulties of the world.’33 To be sure, historical understanding of this totality was different from that furnished by philosophers. But this did not mean that there was no tragic quality in the political life, as it struggled to control and master what is necessarily contingent and unpredictable, far from it.34

ŒŒ It is worth repeating that the kind of political history that Cowling spent so much of his time so manfully revising was already becoming a minority preoccupation even by the time of his most productive writing.35 Economic and social history – above all, ‘history from below’ – were already coming to the fore.36 By the early twenty-first century, it and they had been subordinated to social, ethnic, gender and sexual history. Even to the extent that it and they survive, all are increasingly influenced by these fashionable modes of explanation. Indeed, it is now almost required practice in the academic profession apologetically to account for any failure to be properly informed by them.37 The prevailing authority of such contemporary pieties probably accounts for another part of the recent failure to take Cowling and his works seriously. But this should not deter the intellectually intrepid from considering the full force of what he had to 276

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say – the present, credulous, climate points to the even greater value of taking it very seriously indeed. British historians today like to think of themselves as being academically ambitious, that is conceptually bold and empirically far-reaching, in a way that their timid predecessors – locked in insular debates about the special evolution of national politics – seldom were. Yet the truth may be something closer to the opposite. An open-minded reading of Cowling’s oeuvre might help all but the hopelessly self-deceived to see some of the reasons why.38 What Cowling did was to elevate an all pervasive scepticism about the nineteenth and twentieth century into a doctrine of itself. He did this in three ways. First, he forced his fellow historians to look far more critically at their source material than they had ever done before. Starting with the trilogy of studies on ‘high politics’, he cast an altogether more powerful searchlight than previously deployed to probe the historical nooks and crannies of a hitherto overly respectable subject. As Peregrine Worsthorne once put it, he thereby made much ‘high politics’ look very low indeed.39 Second, and this over eight books, he forged a coherent interpretative framework that outlined – often let it be said more by subtle implication than through explicit formulation – a profound view of what a ‘Christian’ and ‘Conservative’ understanding of all of this might actually look like. And third, he turned that key to the unlocking of all manner of modern historical problems. The results were often original and occasionally disturbing. They certainly disturbed the world of post-1960s academia.40 There, Cowling came to represent the proverbial hand grenade that could go off at any moment. Underlying such anxiety was the sense that all decent people will somehow reach the same conclusion on any given, great, issue. But they did not and do not. This proved Cowling was on to something, at least in one respect. He did not believe that there was one correct manner of thinking about the major problems of life. He took no truth to be self-evident. Indeed, he insisted that to assume ‘homogeneity of all rational judgement’ was merely to indulge in a fantasy of self-deception.41 Long before the ‘post-structuralists’ and ‘new historicists’ made such awareness their defining by-words, he sought out the unacknowledged assumptions that underpinned all historical work, demanded to know the hidden agenda of other 277

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scholars, and remorselessly invigilated their private attitudes. But this was never just for the sake of it: it was because he knew just how different the past might look if some of those prevailing certainties were replaced by otherwise neglected alternatives. In one sense, none of this was so very remarkable. After all, one reason why Cowling’s boldest historical ideas initially seemed so much at odds with other interpretations of his chosen period was that the first great tide of ‘historical revisionism’, so called, had never really reached the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain: it ebbed sometime in the eighteenth century.42 To that degree, Cowling was just part of the final wave of historiographical rethinking that swept over English historical consciousness in the late 1960s. Still, his peculiar contribution wreaked mighty vibrations all of its own. ‘Revisionism’, broadly conceived, described a concerted effort to challenge entrenched assumptions about the British past; specifically, it was to question whether the received narrative of Britain’s story was the correct version, even extended to a simple unwillingness to trust anything we had previously been taught about our past other than (perhaps) that James I and Pitt the Younger actually lived. In this way of thinking, inherited wisdom was inherently untrustworthy because it was founded in a cosy domestic consensus. Revisionism’s first task was a ‘breach of the historiographical peace’.43 Lewis Namier was its first exponent.44 Partly through his disciples, partly as a result of his broader example, the movement gathered pace through the postwar era.45 It did not wash over the whole of modern British history. Much nineteenth and twentieth-century British historiography remained immune, even as related work suggested other ways forward. Thus, few considered the implications of Gallagher and Robinson on empire across modern British history more generally.46 Fewer still read Kedourie at all.47 As a result, indigenous modern British historiography proved remarkably immune to historical demythologization. Cowling set about that task. With characteristic bluntness, he later admitted that one reason he became so interested in the period was simply ‘because I was teaching it’.48 But there was a bit more to it than that. In his own words: ‘What always interested me were the relations between religion, politics and thought. I’ve always believed … that something happened 278

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between 1800 and today which is important for understanding the present.’49 The new, neo-Whiggish, orthodoxies that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s overwhelmingly concentrated, just like their predecessors, on tracing a line, albeit a different line, of carefully selected past developments that seemingly culminated in, and determined, contemporary circumstances. They also justified such developments in highlighting their deep-rootedness; and they attacked the supposedly malign, reactionary forces that had once attempted to impede them.50 Cowling believed that, in this largely unproblematized process, most of the wrong things got emphasized. It was not just that all had not turned out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. To a remarkable degree, things had not turned out how the best people thought at all.51

ŒŒ As he developed these thoughts, Cowling’s work came to contribute something more than mere academic ‘revisionism’ to the historiographical debate.52 This was conceived through an entirely alternative framework. It is best described as ‘Christian’ and ‘conservative’. Its Christian presupposition may have become easily apparent only in his later writings, but both were present at all times. Their specific origins and particular concerns have been extensively explored elsewhere in this volume. There is no need to recapitulate these arguments here.53 Suffice to say that if a Christian perspective in historical scholarship is more openly acknowledged in contemporary American contexts, it then remained largely silent – and still lurks largely ignored – in postwar British historiography.54 But it was always there. It can be found in the contrasting medievalisms of Dom David Knowles and Sir Richard Southern.55 It is clear in the reformation studies of Anglicans such as Geoffrey Dickens and Catholics like J. J. Scarisbrick.56 And it pervaded the later work of Cowling’s mentor, Herbert Butterfield.57 Cowling’s specific contribution lay less in its reformulation than through a novel representation of the argument. First, he insisted on the religious basis of all serious civilizations. Then he judged contemporary England by that standard.58 His peculiar boldness lay in applying this model to the study of contemporary English intellectual 279

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history, namely in applying a Christian model to the study of the indigenous intelligentsia at the very moment of its self-conscious and self-defined liberation from the shackles of traditional faith.59 In judging its achievement at something less than its own evaluation, he naturally diminished many inflated historical reputations and offended not a few contemporary sensibilities. But he revived a number of unjustly benighted thinkers of the recent past while also putting many present certainties back into the melting pot of historical contingency.60 As a result, he forged an alternative perspective in English intellectual history that makes the story of indigenous secularization look very different from the heroic and final victory once so recently taken for granted. Through his efforts more than any other it has become a serious historical subject again.61 Cowling may thereby have denied the ‘secularization thesis’, anyway in its most common form, but he treated with the greatest possible seriousness those efforts to ‘dismantle … the directive authority of Christianity’ that had characterized English intellectual history ‘over the last two centuries’. To a large degree, he believed that these had – contingently anyway – succeeded. They had done so to the extent that theology had effectively been displaced in our time as a vehicle for the intelligent discussion of great matters. The effect of this profound intellectual alteration was that theological questions had henceforth been treated through literature, criticism, politics, philosophy, history and science. Highlighting the impact of that change united the seemingly unconnected strands of his work. He showed how some ‘thinkers’ had tried to subvert Christianity, while others had sought to defend it; he showed how it had been replaced and with what. By implication, he also suggested how politicians had cast around for new signs and symbols with which to direct a much changed world. The result was a startlingly original image of British society as a shifting environment of authority and allegiance. It was also something as close as he ever achieved to the synthesis he sought in his understanding of the relationship between public doctrine and political practice. What it certainly did show was just how much of that idealism derived from religious values had continued to inform indigenous political practice during the twentieth century – had, indeed, continually marked the 280

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conduct of contemporary political figures, both great and small, by ‘suppressing their encounter with self-awareness’. Scarcely less, it pointed to those many ways in which so much of the modern infatuation with ‘ideas’ betrayed a religiosity reduced to the merely expressive.62 To be sure, Cowling’s conservative Christianity afforded him some curious intellectual company in common criticism of secular liberal certainties.63 For all that, it was always accompanied by his ‘conservatism’. And it is in that conservative Christian guise that his mind assumes its full significance. He often contended that his was a ‘narrow’ mind.64 That scarcely seems true. It actually displayed a breadth of interests – indeed, it connected so many things seemingly unconnected – that was startling. It might more fruitfully be judged capacious. To say so much is not to suggest that Cowling definitively exemplified what a conservative intellectual might look like.65 Certainly, he did not do so any more than a single scholar similarly exemplifies the liberal or socialist position.66 Kedourie suggested much that was both important and different in a conservative disposition.67 So too, and differently again, did Oakeshott.68 From quite other perspectives, Kenneth Minogue, Roger Scruton and Christie Davies still do so.69 But Cowling created a body of work that – while it evolved significantly over time as his understanding of the critical issues developed too – nonetheless displays a powerful cohesion that binds it together despite the many concerns about which he wrote. To that degree, anyway, it is at least an exemplary conservatism. Above all, it hints at the utility of conservatism as an analytical tool; indeed, as an intellectual weapon that can be used in the same way as rival dispositions are, in fact, routinely deployed. It is almost as if Cowling stumbled upon a prism for interpreting the past that had never been picked up before, a gem that promised new ways of looking at familiar problems, new ways of blending together disparate areas of human experience, and new ways of thinking about the relationship between politics and the ideas that held society together.70 Put another way, Cowling showed how conservatism could be used as a means of humane enquiry: just how to describe his method of doing so is more problematic. It could lie, indeed it often did lie, in the 281

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application of scepticism, pure and simple – that is the elevation of scepticism into a doctrine. This certainly is a tenable explanation of some of the things he did and said. Cowling, after all, often affected to be a cynic.71 But his conservatism was never reducible to cynicism. The intellectual framework he suggested was invariably richer, more nuanced and cast at greater depth. Thus, we should resist Paul Addison’s assertion that Cowling’s view of politics explained only the ‘periphery’ – that it ignored the core of the matter. We might conclude that there is something of greater value in his assertion that Cowling’s instincts described and explored a ‘Christian Conservatism’ that revealed a certain kind of Protestant mental world.72 This was reminiscent of a faintly tortured Calvinism. Certainly, Cowling communicated a sense of the frailty of man better than any other contemporary historian. This insight lay at the heart of all he wrote. More, he used that insight to forge a structure for his writings. Those in search of a single ordering concept to tie together the many and variegated problems with which Cowling toyed need look no further. To be blunt, Cowling was never remotely positive about man or the impact of most of his actions. But his was not the scepticism of the cynic. It was founded on something much deeper. That was a cleareyed view of human nature. And, undeniably negative though this seemed, it was also, paradoxically, positive. Cowling never contented himself with the simple satisfaction of deflating Whiggery – or, in his words, ‘shitting on liberalism’. His work also expressed a belief in something real, definable and solid. What that was – call it striving, or a sense of fallen man – marked quite a contrast with those doctrines of human fulfilment typically deployed to fashion modern intellectual history. But it was, and remains, both recognizable and even attractive to the trained eye. Anyway, it described a view of human beings, and human effort, that an educated sensibility might recognize, one it might even cherish. For an example, read him on Lord Salisbury.73

ŒŒ Such profound pessimism inevitably posed other problems. The Christian conservatism that Cowling used to analyse the past proved highly 282

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effective in an academic context, or about past political history at least. Whether it was ever practical politics is quite another matter. In this respect, Stephen Davies has charged Cowling with advancing an ‘impossibilist’ ideology that has done much to damage contemporary Conservative doctrine. There is clearly something in this accusation. Certainly, it is very hard to see how Cowling’s conservatism could be made to relate, practically, to modern Britain.74 After all, just telling people that they are depraved is hardly likely to win their votes.75 Had Cowling actually succeeded in becoming an MP, in 1959, he would have undoubtedly proved a trouble-maker.76 It is less likely that he would have been a success. In truth, his relationship with the Conservative Party was usually fairly distant thereafter. Few recall him as a significant influence on anyone or anything – anyway, at the time.77 He is now often viewed, fairly or unfairly, as something of a guru to the ‘New Right’ – that amorphous pressure group that allegedly rose to such public prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.78 To the extent that this was true, much of his impact came through his teaching of individuals who went on to have influence in public life. Michael Portillo, his most famous pupil, once predicted that there would one day be a book on The Impact of Cowling.79 But look what happened to him!80 True, Cowling was one of the founders of the Salisbury Group, specifically set up in the mid-1970s to ensure that the (newly and imperfectly formed) Thatcherite party did not permanently lose sight of the social side of conservatism while concentrating its short-term attention on the neo-liberal economic reform. Look what happened to that!81 This group, in turn, launched what for long remained the sole serious vehicle of British conservative journalism, The Salisbury Review. And from such tentative moorings, Cowling came once again to move in the same circles as Shirley Letwin, T. E. Utley, Enoch Powell, Roger Scruton, Peregrine Worsthorne and other luminaries of contemporary Tory thinking.82 But much of the experience gained simply corroborated conclusions he had earlier reached, namely that Conservative intellectuals confronted problems the liberals or socialists did not face. This was because ‘the progressive polis’ – at least in the minds of its associated intellectual and academic fellow-travellers – nurtured political parties 283

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mainly as vehicles for the expression of opinion. But the Conservative Party, by contrast, was not ‘an instrument of the intelligentsia’. It was not even a vehicle ‘for the propagation of ideas’. It was there to defend existing social arrangements.83 For this delicate task, too much emphasis on ideas was dangerous because, compared with the importance of defending the inherited ‘structure’ of things, ‘everything else’ was ‘purely tactical’.84 As such, any attempt to articulate conservative political ideology would be ‘naïve’. Indeed, in the late 1960s Cowling counselled his friend Powell not to expose the Conservative Party to the threat of destruction at the hands of the ‘formidable’ Harold Wilson by talking too much about ideas.85 Thus, in the aftermath of the notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech on immigration, Cowling warned the Conservatives to be careful about investing any specific idea – in this case hostility to immigration – with excessive emphasis. Whatever subject Mr Powell chooses to talk about, he will find it difficult to consolidate the success he has had in putting the Conservative Party in touch with the deepest strand of public feeling. In order even to stand still, he may have to run fast and he will have to run very fast indeed if Mr Wilson decides to enter the particular race he is running.86 Translated, this means that politics is about tactics and if Wilson decided to play the immigration card himself, the Conservatives would be bust. He who merely scoffs at the outlandish cynicism of this remark should reacquaint himself with the parliamentary political history of 1968.87 He who doubts its timeless force has not understood the real distinction in Cowling’s thought between conservatism and the Conservative Party. For him, the first had academic utility, the second practical application. The two were not to be mixed. Cowling did not see himself as a philosopher king. Indeed, he warned against any attempt to co-opt those (remaining) conservative parts of the intelligentsia into the Conservative Party because such remnants, for the most part, ‘have no party content’.88 More to the point, intellectuals should ‘not tell politicians their business’. And politicians should realize that intellectuals knew little about the business of running the country.89 284

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What is clear from all this is that there remained a considerable gulf between Cowling’s conservative mind – admirably suited at it was for a life of reflection – and what he observed as being necessary for the realm of practical politics. In fact, he was under no illusion that his ideas might be used politically. Indeed, he thought the very idea ludicrous. For all that, he did believe that conservative intellectuals should assist in the ‘advancement of Toryism’. That may be an urgent task yet. And it is not necessarily a labour whose success should concern only those of conservative disposition. For, as Simon Heffer pointed out when discussing the modern day Conservatives, a party that ‘relies on opinion surveys to be told what to think’ could well have no further use for ideas at all: The use that Cowling and Oakeshott’s generation had to Tories of the 1970s in particular was that they dealt in ideas from beyond politics. They therefore offered a vision of Toryism rooted in other social and moral forces, and understood the limits of what politics could and should achieve. In our own far more superficial political world, where convictions are flexible and can and will be traded if any advantage might be had from so doing, there is no call for such an intellectual foundation. Almost without realizing it, the Tory party has gone from a state of sophistication to Year Zero.90 That is troubling. According to this line of argument, Cowling – and a few others – performed an important service for the Conservative Party in articulating the values of conservatism, with a small ‘c’. What the consequences will be for a gradual shift away from this amorphous but significant influence remains uncertain. But it might be argued – it could easily be conceived – that a Conservative Party detached from any doctrinal moorings might lurch back and forth between opportunism and pragmatism, both broadly conceived. And it might also be argued – after all, there is strong evidence to substantiate the suggestion – that a Labour Party, similarly and recently bereft of even residual intellectual sustenance, has done precisely that.91 But such 285

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practical and bipartisan concerns are beyond the scope of this study. What emerges from its pages is neither more nor less than our collective consideration both of an academic achievement and of an intellectual disposition that posits a series of subtle but significant links between conservatism as a temperamental orientation and Conservative electoral politics. This thought alone renders the quest of uncovering Cowling’s ‘conservative’ mind in all its fullness all the more pressing, if tantalizing. Notes 1. After the famous example of Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), chapters 2–4, especially p. 10. 2. As unforgettably related in Maurice Cowling, ‘Preface’, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), vol. 1, especially pp. xi–xii and xiv–xvii. Also, Maurice Cowling, The Nature and Limits of Political Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), pp. 9–10. 3. Outlined in Maurice Cowling, 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 287–340; Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 1–12 and 413–29; and finally, Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 1–12 and 387–400. 4. Cowling, RPD I, especially pp. xi–xii; Maurice Cowling, ‘Introduction’, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Assaults (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), vol. 2, pp. xiii–xxvii; also, Maurice Cowling, ‘Introduction’, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England: Accommodations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), vol. 3, pp. xv–xxiv. Note finally the remarks in Cowling, NLPS, pp. 8–9 and, again, pp. 144–5. 5. A point made, with proper seriousness, by Ian Harris in ‘Religion, Authority and Politics: The Thought of Maurice Cowling’, Political Science Reviewer, vol. 26, 1997, pp. 436–7. 6. For an indication of this change, in an Oxford context, see José Harris, ‘The Arts and the Social Sciences, 1939–1970’, in Brian Harrison (ed.) The History of the University of Oxford, vol. 8, The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), chapter 9, especially pp. 234–9. There is, as yet, no comparable study for Cambridge. Some sense of the world that Cowling, himself, inherited can be gleaned from Michael Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism, 1870–1970 (Cambridge: 286

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Cambridge University Press, 2005), chapter 4; C. T. McIntire, Herbert Butterfield: Historian as Dissenter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), chapter 6; and Reba N. Soffer, Discipline and Power: The University, History, and the Making of an English Elite, 1870–1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), pp. 147ff. The pioneering efforts of George Kitson Clark in developing modern British political history at Cambridge are implicitly acknowledged in Cowling, RPD I, pp. 197–9. 7. As perhaps embodied in the representative English history textbooks of the era. See, inter alia, Derek Beales, From Castlereigh to Gladstone, 1815–1885 (London: W. W. Norton, 1969), parts 3 and 4; Asa Briggs, The Age of Improvement, 1783–1867 (London: Longman, Green & Company, 1959), chapters 5 and 6; Sir George Clark, English History: A Survey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), chapters 24–9; Arthur Marwick, The Century of Total War: War, Peace and Social Change, 1900–1967 (London: Bodley Head, 1968), chapters 4 and 5; W. N. Medlicott, Contemporary England, 1914–1964 (London: Longmans, 1967), chapters 4–6 and 9; K. B. Smellie, Great Britain Since 1688: A Modern History (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), chapters 9 and 16; A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), chapters 5 and 14–16. In fairness to Taylor, he had already decisively broken with one aspect of that consensus in his Origins of the Second World War (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1961). And he wrote beautifully. 8. Cowling, 1867, chapters 6 and 8. For another view entirely, consult Royden Harrison, Before the Socialists: Studies in Labour and Politics, 1861–1881 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), chapter 3. For alternative accounts see Jonathan Parry, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); and F. B. Smith, The Making of the Second Reform Bill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966). 9. In truth, the ‘great discovery’ of A. B. Cooke and John Vincent, The Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain, 1885–6 (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1974), see Book One, ‘Commentary’; and note the significance of the quotation on p. 1; also the remarks on pp. 17–22. 10. Cowling, IL, chapters 14 and 20, especially p. 429; cf. Peter Clarke, Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 324: ‘Cowling … and … McKibbin … com[e] by very … different route[s] to the conclusion that 1924 was the crucial year’; and Ross McKibbin, The Evolution of the Labour Party, 1910–1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), chapter 6. 11. Cowling, IH, pp. 257–91 and 387ff; for a startled (but half-convinced) response, see Paul Addison, ‘Reviews and Short Notices’, History, vol. 62, 1977, pp. 537–8. 12. Cowling, 1867 was not even noticed in the English Historical Review; Cowling, IL was, to good effect; see ‘Introduction’, p. 11, note 7. There is an asinine 287

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13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

attack on IL by Barbara Malament, ‘Review of Books’, American Historical Review, vol. 77, 1972, pp. 795–6; Cowling, IH was reviewed, alternatively with great respect and passing derision, by R. A. C. Parker; see ‘Review of Books’, English Historical Review, vol. 92, 1977, pp. 402–4; for a conventional critique of 1867, see Henry Pelling, ‘Other Reviews’, Historical Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 1968, p. 595. The fullest, and fairest, critical (namely unconvinced) response can be found in Brian Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom: Stability and Change in Modern Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 14–16. Still, there had to have been some impact, or we would not be here. Robert Blake quickly appreciated the importance of 1867 in Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971), pp. 107ff. There is a very appreciative, though not uncritical, review of IH by J. P. D. Dunbabin, ‘Other Reviews’, The Historical Journal, vol. 19, 1972, pp. 305–8. In fairness, Ghosh acknowledged an ‘historiographical revolution’ wrought by Cowling’s political trilogy in Peter Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History: Mr Cowling’s Doctrine (1992)’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) PPD, pp. 273–4; and the ghost of IL stalks Graham Stewart, Burying Caesar: Churchill, Chamberlain and the Battle for the Tory Party (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999) see pp. 1–3. Perhaps best appreciated through its impact on working historians (anyway in their historiographical reflections) at the time. For example, see J. H. Hexter, Doing History (London: Bloomington, 1971), chapters 3 and 4; Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History (London: Macmillan, 1970), chapter 4; J. H. Plumb, The Death of the Past (London: Macmillan, 1969), chapter 3. For a magisterial summing up, see Lawrence Stone, The Past and the Present Revisited (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), part 1. See also Paul Thompson, The Voice of History: Oral History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), passim; and David Thomson, The Aims of History: Values of the Historical Attitude (London: Thames & Hudson, 1969), chapters 7 and 8. The enormous significance of The Times Literary Supplement’s ‘New Ways in History’ series, launched in 1966, is considered below, on p. 290, note 36. J. R. Vincent, Pollbooks: How Victorians Voted (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), chapters 1 and 2. See the observations of J. P. D. Dunbabin, ‘Short Notices’, English Historical Review, vol. 83, 1968, pp. 417–18; also McKibbin, Evolution of the Labour Party, p. 243. Cooke and Vincent, The Governing Passion; see, to spectacular effect, Michael Hurst, ‘Reviews and Short Notices’, History, vol. 60, 1975, pp. 318–19; there is a highly appreciative notice by F. S. L. Lyons in ‘Reviews and Short Notices’, Irish Historical Studies, vol. 20, 1976–7, pp. 97–101; rather irritated was Peter Stansky, ‘Book Reviews’, Victorian Studies, vol. 18, 1974, pp. 360–2; Allen Warren, ‘Review of Books’, English Historical Review, vol. 91, 1976, pp. 152–5 was just ‘vex[ed]’. Cowling, NLPS, p. 173. 288

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18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

23.

24.

25.

26.

27. 28. 29.

Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (London: Routledge, 1994), part 4. Ibid, chapters 21–3. Ibid, p. 286. Ibid, p. 287. The possibility of a very different intellectual history, and indeed the history of political thought more particularly, is clearly outlined in Cowling, NLPS, pp. 8–10 and 44ff. Ibid, pp. 80–1; Lord Hailsham’s own, wonderfully self-serving, account for his motive in writing, and the impact of publishing, Quintin Hogg, The Case for Conservatism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947) is related in Quintin Hogg, The Door Wherein I Went (London: Collins, 1971), pp. 81–2, 123, 166, 170. Oakeshott, unsurprisingly, appears neither in this volume nor his later Quintin Hogg, A Sparrow’s Flight: The Memoirs of Lord Hailsham of Marylebone (London: HarperCollins, 1990). R. T. McKenzie, British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties (London: Heinemann, 1964). This work later went into several, revised, editions. But Cowling was clearly referring to the first edition in Cowling, NLPS (the second edition was not published until 1963). Cowling was, it is worth recalling, director of studies in politics and economics of Jesus College, Cambridge, at the time of this writing. Professor McKenzie subsequently became well known to, and popular with, the British television viewing public as the inventor – or certainly the first public practitioner – of the ‘swingometer’. For Cowling’s comments on his book, see Cowling, NLPS, pp. 21ff; and about the discipline generally, the remarks on pp. 203–10. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 20–65; for a genuinely thoughtful consideration of this problem, see Nevil Johnson, The Limits of Political Science (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), chapter 3. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 184–5; and for examples of journalism without the jargon, Henry Fairlie, The Life of Politics (London: Methuen, 1968), chapters 1 and 2; or, of a later vintage, Peter Riddell, Honest Opportunism: The Rise of the Career Politician (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1993) especially chapter 10. It is difficult to see what either of these books lack that is furnished by academic political science. Cf. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 189–202; and McKenzie, British Political Parties, ‘Introduction’ and Part 3. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 189ff.; and McKenzie, British Political Parties, chapters 4 and 8. For Cowling’s sceptical views on this whole matter, see Cowling, NLPS, pp. 20ff.; cf. McKenzie, British Political Parties, pp. 11ff.; also, Robert Michels, Political Parties, edited by S. M. Lipset (New York: The Free Press, 1962); and Moisei Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organisation of Political Parties (2 vols, London: Macmillan, 1902). 289

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30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35.

36.

37.

38.

On the ‘historical’ basis of all lasting political science, see Cowling, NLPS, pp. 16–17 and pp. 123–4. See, for instance, the remarks of Addison, ‘Reviews and Short Notices’, pp. 537–8; similarly, Dunbabin, ‘Other Reviews’, pp. 305–6. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 24–44 and 184; Cowling, 1867, pp. 316–39. Cowling, NLPS, pp. 53, 206–7. Ibid, pp. 11–13, 184ff. Between 1963 and 1980, Cowling authored six books and edited one volume. His total written output from these efforts alone amounts to something in the order of one-and-a-quarter million words; this on top of a full college and university teaching load. In Cambridge, at that time, probably only Geoffrey Elton produced more. Remember, 1867 was published in 1967. For a flavour of what was then happening, see Anon, ‘New Ways in History’, The Times Literary Supplement, no. 3345, 7 April 1966, p. 295, and, for some of the examples, E. J. Hobsbawm, ‘Growth of an Audience’, Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, pp. 283–4; Keith Thomas, ‘The Tools and the Job’, Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, pp. 275–6; E. P. Thompson, ‘History from Below’, Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, pp. 279–80; and subsequent numbers that year only developed the theme; see TLS, no. 3361, 28 July 1966, passim; and TLS, no. 3367, 8 September 1966, passim. True, there were vigorous responses from, inter alia, Richard Cobb, ‘Letters to Editor’, Times Literary Supplement, no. 3349, 5 May 1966, p. 389; J. P. Cooper, ‘Letters to Editor’, Times Literary Supplement, no. 3347, 21 April 1966, p. 347; and perhaps most famous (notoriously?) of all by G. R. Elton, The Practice of History (London: Fontana Press, 1967), pp. 6–7, 24–5; but nothing from Maurice Cowling. On which, see inter alia, Judith M. Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), chapters 1, 2 and ‘Conclusion’; and Michael Bentley (ed.) Companion to Historiography (London: Routledge, 1997), chapters 36–38; also Peter Burke, What is Cultural History? (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), chapters 1 and 3; Brian Fay, Philip Pomper and Richard T. Vann (eds) History and Theory: Contemporary Readings (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), part 6; Silvia Federici (ed.) Enduring Western Civilisation: The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilisation and Its ‘Others’ (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), part 2; Robert J. C. Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (2nd edition, London: Routledge, 2004) especially chapters 1 and 2. In truth, the contemporary conceit has a long history itself. It might, mischievously, be traced back to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s disparaging evaluation of his immediate predecessors in the Regius Chair of Modern History, Powicke to Galbraith, c.1928–57; see H. R. Trevor-Roper, ‘History: Professional and Lay’, in Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Valerie Pearl and Blair Worden (eds) History and Imagination: Essays in Honour of H. R. Trevor-Roper (London: 290

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39.

40.

41. 42.

43.

44.

45.

46.

47.

Duckworth, 1981), pp. 1–15. That it was never true is emphasized in Elton, The Practice of History, pp. 24ff.; though see Soffer, Discipline and Power, chapter 5. That it is both dangerous and self-deceiving is suggested in two brilliant studies by Elie Kedourie: ‘New Histories for Old’ and ‘History, the Past and the Future’, in Elie Kedourie, The Crossman Confessions and Other Essays in Politics, History and Religion (London: Mansell), pp. 159–76, 177–90. Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, address at the memorial service for Maurice Cowling, given at Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge, 29 October 2005, p. 1. Wonderfully if (of course) unfairly caricatured in J. C. D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 2. Maurice Cowling, Mill, p. 104; the point is pursued in Ghosh, ‘Towards the Verdict of History’, p. 279. The informing observation of Cowling, 1867, ‘Introduction’, see especially pp. 1–4. There he cited the continuing influence, well into the mid-twentieth century, of the ‘structure of interpretation’ offered in Molesworth, Trevelyan, Justin McCarthy and Herbert Paul. J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Régime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. x. As set out in his classic studies, Sir Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (2nd edition, London: Macmillan, 1957) especially chapter 1; Sir Lewis Namier, England in the Age of the American Revolution (2nd edition, London: Macmillan, 1966), chapter 1, and Sir Lewis Namier, Crossroads of Power: Essays in Eighteenth Century England (London: Macmillan, 1962), chapter 7. Though within strict limits; see Clark, Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 12–15. For some of the reasons why, see Herbert Butterfield, George III and the Historians (London: Collins, 1957) Book Three. John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, ‘The Imperialism of Free Trade’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, vol. 6, no. 1, 1953, pp. 1–15; John Gallagher, Ronald Robinson and Alice Denny, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperalism (London: Macmillan, 1961) especially chapters 1 and 15. For Gallagher’s observations on how little their ‘historiographical revolution’ in imperial studies had found its way into mainstream English political and diplomatic history, even as late as 1974, see John Gallagher, The Decline, Revival and Fall of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 129–41, especially pp. 130–1. And those who did often disapproved of what they saw. See the bathetic history related in Elie Kedourie, ‘On Not Getting a Ph.D’, Encounter, vol. 71, no. 1, June 1988, pp. 58–64. For Cowling’s very different response see Cowling, RPD I, chapter 10; also Cowling, NLPS, p. 45. 291

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48. 49. 50.

51.

52.

53. 54.

55.

56.

57.

‘Interview with Maurice Cowling’, in Naim Attallah, Singular Encounters (London: Quartet Books, 1990), p. 130. Ibid, pp. 130ff; Cowling, NLPS, pp. 8–9. For a detailed exposition of this argument, see Clark, English Society, 1688– 1832, pp. 1–7; whether it was really all the fault of Penguin Books might perhaps be doubted. Cowling’s own thoughts on the matter are probably best encapsulated in 1867, ‘Introduction’ passim. Cowling, 1867, pp. 339–40; Cowling, IH, pp. 399–400; Cowling, IL, p. 429. This is not to say that they had turned out well by his lights either; see Cowling, RPD III, chapters 24 and 25. Which is not necessarily to deride ‘mere’ academic revisionism; it has its uses. For the classic example, see Conrad Russell, ‘Parliamentary History in Perspective, 1604–1629’, History, vol. 61, 1976, pp. 1–27, and more generally, Conrad Russell, Unrevolutionary England, 1603–1642 (London: Hambledon Press, 1990) ‘Introduction’ and chapter 17. Green, ‘As If Religion Mattered’, pp. 189–222; Harris, ‘The Anglican Mind of Maurice Cowling’, pp. 223–69. Even the ‘openness’ of the American profession to this way of thinking can easily be exaggerated – hence, the significance of George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) especially chapters 1–3. The English example of Herbert Butterfield was even more striking for being so seldom followed. For a useful anthology, see C. T. McIntire (ed.) God, History and the Historians: An Anthology of Modern Christian Views of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). Both perhaps best now approached indirectly. For Southern, consult the extraordinary collection of articles edited by R. J. Bartlett (ed.) History and Historians: Selected Papers of R. W. Southern (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004) especially parts 1 and 2; Cowling refers only obliquely to him in RPD I, p. 392. For Knowles, see Christopher Brooke, Roger Lovatt, David Luscombe and Aelred Sillem (eds) David Knowles Remembered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), chapters 3 and 4 and Appendix II; Cowling’s extended appreciation of Knowles can be found in RPD I, chapter 5. A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (London: B. T. Batsford, 1989), pp. 391ff.; J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), pp. 1–2 and 182ff. Neither seems to have engaged Cowling’s historical interest. Beginning with Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1949) see especially chapters 1 and 7; culminating in Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of History, edited by Adam Watson (New York: Basic Books, 1981), chapter 6. More generally, see C. T. McIntire (ed.) Herbert Butterfield: Writings on Christianity and History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). 292

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58. 59. 60. 61. 62.

63.

64. 65. 66. 67.

68.

69.

Cowling, NLPS, pp. 8–9; Cowling, RPD I, pp. xi–xiv; and Cowling, RPD III, pp. xv–xxiv. Cowling, RPD II part 2 especially; also Cowling, RPD III part 2. All too majestically in Cowling, RPD I, chapters 13–14; rather more thoughtfully in subsequent volumes. Green, ‘As If Religion Mattered’, above, especially pp. 206–11. Timothy Fuller, ‘Maurice Cowling, 1926–2005: RIP’, The Political Science Reviewer, vol. 35, 2006, pp. 7, 9; Cowling, RPD III, ‘Introduction’, passim. For the ‘secularization thesis’, see Bryan Wilson, Religion in Sociological Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), chapter 1, amongst many other works. See, for instance, his strikingly sympathetic observations about Tawney in Cowling, RPD III, pp. 275–85; and, still more remarkably, Eagleton, pp. 602–14; compare these with a rather unsympathetic account of Inge, in the same volume, pp. 192–202. The book is full of such surprises. Cowling, RPD I, p. xiv; by legend, his first (and preferred) subtitle for the introductory volume was to have been ‘Journeys Round a Narrow Mind’. On which, see his own observations in Cowling, RPD I, p. xxiv. For a sketch of the possibilities, see Charles Covell, The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 209–40. Kedourie’s great work on British conservatism was denied to us by his premature death. Clues to what he might have said can be pursued in his essays: ‘Conservatism and the Conservative Party’, ‘Lord Salisbury and Politics’ and ‘Conservatives and Neo-Conservatives’, in Kedourie, The Crossman Confessions, pp. 37–46, 47–68 and 69–84. There is a major evaluation by Noel O’Sullivan, ‘Philosophy, Politics and Conservatism in the Thought of Elie Kedourie’, in Sylvia Kedourie (ed.) Elie Kedourie’s Approach to History and Political Theory: ‘The Thoughts and Actions of Living Men’ (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 55–82. See especially Michael Oakeshott, ‘On Being Conservative’, in Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (London: Methuen, 1962), pp. 168–96; and Michael Oakeshott, On Human Conduct (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), part 2. Christie Davies, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Reading; author of Permissive Britain: Social Change in the Sixties and Seventies (London: Pitman, 1971); The Mirth of Nations: Ethnic Humour Around the World (Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2002); and The Strange Death of Moral Britain (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2004). Kenneth Minogue, emeritus professor of political science, London School of Economics and Political Science; author of The Liberal Mind (London: Methuen, 1963); Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1985); and (ed.) Conservative Realism: New Essays in Conservatism (London: HarperCollins, 1996) among many other works. Roger Scruton, sometime professor of 293

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70. 71. 72.

73. 74.

75.

76. 77.

78. 79. 80. 81.

philosophy, Birkbeck College, London; author of The Meaning of Conservatism (London: Macmillan, 1980); On Hunting (London: Random House, 1998); England: An Elegy (London: Chatto & Windus, 2000); and A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism (London: Continuum, 2006) among many, many other works. A ‘prism’, no lessons; see Cowling, NLPS, pp. 150–1. On Cowling and political ‘cynicism’, see Cowling, NLPS, p. 18. Explored at length in Ian Harris’s chapter in this volume, ‘The Anglican Mind of Maurice Cowling’. See also Paul Addison, ‘The Religion of Winston Churchill’, in Michael Bentley (ed.) Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 236. Cowling, RPD I, chapter 12; see especially pp. 284–7. Stephen Davies, ‘Maurice Cowling and Impossibilist Conservatism’, Social Affairs Unit, http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000567.php, 9 September 2005. This is certainly not the theme for which the 1959 general election is best remembered; least of all the Conservative contribution to it; see John Ramsden, A History of the Conservative Party, vol. 6, The Winds of Change: Macmillan to Heath, 1957–1975 (London: Longman, 1976), pp. 60–7. Jeremy Black, ‘On Maurice Cowling’, Social Affairs Unit, http:// www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000566.php, 6 September 2005. Not that he altogether gave up trying; at least at the time of the 1970 election. See Maurice Cowling, ‘Introduction’, in John Wood (ed.) Powell and the 1970 Election (London: Elliot Right Way Books, 1970); also his observations in Maurice Cowling, ‘Mr Heath, Mr Powell and the Future’, Spectator, vol. 225, no. 7424, 10 October 1970, pp. 393–4; and Peregrine Worsthorne’s distinctly back-handed tribute in the same number, ‘Powell and the Tory Party: The Pariah and the Election’, Spectator, vol. 225, no. 7424, 10 October 1970, p. 392. It is striking that he makes no appearance at all, either as a contributor or even in the index of Robert Blake and John Patten (eds) The Conservative Opportunity (London: Macmillan, 1976), a distinctly ‘insider’ work of the time. Cowling, Mill, ‘Preface’, pp. xvi–xvii. For a cooler account, see Ramsden, The Winds of Change, pp. 421–2. Michael Portillo, ‘Revisiting the Perils of Appeasement’, The Literary Review, no. 254, August 1999, p. 16. For what might have been, see Michael Gove, Michael Portillo: The Future of the Right (London: Fourth Estate, 1995). The origins of this group are outlined in Maurice Cowling (ed.) Conservative Essays (London: Cassell, 1978) ‘Preface’, p. v. Its efforts go unmentioned in the first scholarly study of Mrs Thatcher’s opposition years; see Zig LaytonHenry (ed.) Conservative Party Politics (London: Macmillan, 1980); also in the 294

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82.

83. 84.

85. 86. 87.

88. 89. 90. 91.

exhaustive, later compilation, Anthony Seldon and Stuart Ball (eds) Conservative Century: The Conservative Party Since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). The Salisbury Review first appeared in the autumn of 1982. It was published by the Salisbury Group. Its founding board included The Marquis of Salisbury, T. E. Utley, Diana Spearman, Maurice Cowling, Sir Charles Pickthorn and R. A. D. Grant. Enoch Powell wrote regularly for the journal in its early years; but Cowling, interestingly, did not. Maurice Cowling, ‘Intellectuals and the Tory Party’, Spectator, vol. 220, no. 7289, 8 March 1968, p. 292. Ibid. It was followed, interestingly enough, with an article by Robert Blake, ‘Tories in Opposition’, Spectator, vol. 220, no. 7290, 15 March 1968, pp. 327–9, which said much the same thing; albeit in a rather different way. Cowling, ‘Intellectuals and the Tory Party’, p. 292. Maurice Cowling, ‘There’s Been a Revolution Here, Too’, Spectator, vol. 220, no. 7300, 24 May 1968, p. 701. Now easily done through the – strikingly balanced – historical survey furnished in Brian Harrison, Seeking a Role: The United Kingdom, 1951–1970 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), chapter 4, pp. 217–33. Cowling, ‘Intellectuals and the Tory Party’, p. 292. Ibid. Simon Heffer, ‘How the Anti-Intellectual Tory Party has Betrayed the Legacy of Maurice Cowling’, Spectator, vol. 299, no. 9222, 3 September 2005, p. 10. A very similar atmosphere is admirably caught in Nick Cohen, Pretty Straight Guys (London: Faber, 2003). It surely says a lot that Anthony Seldon’s otherwise exhaustive edited compendium, Blair’s Britain, 1997–2007 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) contains nothing – not even in the index – on ‘The Intellectuals and the Labour Party’ in our own time. Their mood is perhaps now exemplified in Ross McKibbin, ‘Will We Care When Labour Loses?’, The London Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 6, 26 March 2009, pp. 7–8.

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316

Notes on Contributors

James Alexander teaches politics in Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. He is author of Shaw’s Controversial Socialism (University Press of Florida, 2009). He is concerned, at present, with minor matters of state, tradition and cosmopolitanism; and also with the more major enterprises of attempting to compose a systematic historical ordering of political theories; and attempting to understand something of the nature of what might be called the tetractical orderings evident in all, and not only political, theories. Michael Bentley is Professor of Modern History at the University of St

Andrews. He edited Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History Presented to Maurice Cowling (Cambridge University Press, 1993) and wrote more recently, Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism 1870–1970 (Cambridge University Press, 2005). His biography of Herbert Butterfield will be published in 2010. Michael Grenfell is a solicitor and partner in an international law firm.

As an undergraduate at Peterhouse, Cambridge, he was taught political thought by Maurice Cowling. His Ph.D. thesis, at the London School of Economics, concerned John Stuart Mill and liberty. Ian Harris is lecturer in the School of Historical Studies, University of

Leicester. He has written The Mind of John Locke (Cambridge, 1994, 1998) and is presently writing three studies centred on Edmund Burke. Kenneth Minogue is Emeritus Professor at the London School of Econ-

omics. He is author of Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985) and A Very Short Introduction to Politics (Oxford University Press, 1995). His new book The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life will be published by Encounter Books in July 2010. 317

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

Jonathan Parry is Professor of Modern British History at the

University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Pembroke College. He is the author of four books on nineteenth-century British history, most recently The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe, 1830–1886 (Cambridge, 2006) and Benjamin Disraeli (Oxford, 2007). He is currently writing a biography of Henry Layard. Philip Williamson is Professor of History at the University of Durham.

His publications on interwar politics include National Crisis and National Government: British Politics, the Economy and Empire 1926–1932 (Cambridge, 1992) and Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (Cambridge, 1999). He is currently leading an AHRC project on British state prayers, fasts and thanksgivings from the 1530s to the 1950s.

318

Index

Acton, Lord, 15, 58, 87, 103, 205, 241 Adam Smith Institute, 71 Addison, Paul, 115, 282 Adelphi University, 22 Adullamite cave, 124 Afghan war, 14 Alexander, James, 7 ambition, 23, 51, 54, 126, 128, 130, 154, 159, 163, 168, 170, 174, 179 Amery, L. S., 119 Amis, Kingsley, 94 Anderson, Perry, 157 Anglican, 14–15, 24, 58, 110, 191, 201, 206, 223–4, 231–4, 240, 244, 247, 256; Anglicanism, 55, 202, 232, 245, 256 Annan, Noel, 70, 72, 94, 207 Anne, Princess, 21 Aquinas, Thomas, 201, 237, 241 Aristotle, 178, 201 Arnold, Dr, 203 Arnold, Thomas, 196, 205 Asquith, Herbert Henry, 274; Asquithian, 89, 90 Astor, David, 70 Attlee, Clement, 127, 161, 165, 167, 172, 173, 175, 179, 273 Augustine, 45, 201, 233–4, 237, 240, 247, 253, 256–7; Augustinian, 55, 233–5, 237–8, 241, 244, 245, 250, 252–5, 257, 260 Ayer, A. J., 70

Baldwin, Stanley, 119, 123, 127, 249, 271; Baldwinian, 89 Balliol College, 200 Balogh, Thomas, 70 Bangalore, 14 Barker, Ernest, 85 Barker, Rodney, 42, 112, 120 Barthes, Roland, 101 Bassetlaw, 15 Battersea Grammar School, 13 Beales, Derek, 133 Beaverbrook, Baron, 119 Bede, 61 Beer, Samuel, 158 Behrens, C. B. A., 100 Belloc, Hilaire, 205 Bengal, 252 Benn, Tony, 160, 162, 170, 172–3 Bentham, Jeremy, 153 Bentley, Michael, 7, 65, 109, 114, 128 Berlin, Isiah, 58 Bevan, Aneurin, 161, 163, 167–8, 170, 172–3 Beveridge, William, 70 Bevin, Ernest, 174 biblical theology, 223–4, 232, 251, 253 Blair, Tony, 160, 164, 166, 173–5, 178 Blake, Robert, 115 Blavatsky, Helena, 201 Blewett, Neal, 115, 130 Bombay, 14 Bottomley, Horatio, 103, 133, 192

Bacon, Francis, 61, 62 Bailyn, Bernard, 191 319

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

Boyle, Sir Edward, 95–6 Bradlaugh, Charles, 133 Bradley, A. C., 200, 238 Brent, Richard, 116 Bridges Report, 94 Bristol, 272 Britain, 1–4, 8, 17–18, 21, 27, 34, 52–3, 65, 70–1, 75, 89, 118, 135, 156, 159–60, 176–7, 197, 232, 278, 283 British Academy, 85, 87, 203 Brogan, Denis, 85, 90, 91 Brown, Gordon, 175, 178 Browning, Robert, 200 Brutus, 61 Buber, Martin, 51 Buckle, Stephen, 205 Burke, Edmund, 28, 61, 77, 199, 205; Burkean, 29, 73 Burkill, Charles, 92, 98–9 Butler, R. A., 95, 210 Butskellism, 73; Butskellite, 71–4, 80 Butterfield, Herbert, 7, 15, 20, 33, 59, 85–104, 110, 193–4, 208, 210–11, 237, 247, 279; Butterfieldian, 100 Butterfield, Pamela, 85

Chadwick, Owen, 191, 200 Chalmers, Thomas, 231, 254 Chamberlain, Austen, 119, 192 Chamberlain, Neville, 117, 119, 124, 128, 169, 192 Charmley, John, 117 Chatham House, 154, 156 Cheltenham, 200 Chesterton, G. K., 205 Christ, Jesus, 225–6, 233, 245; see also Jesus Christ’s College, 19 Christian conservatism, 282; see also under conservatism Christian doctrine, 28, 223, 228, 231–2, 238–40, 242, 255; see also doctrine Christianity, 14–15, 18, 27, 31, 33, 35, 37–8, 40, 42, 56–9, 61, 67, 80, 94, 103, 194, 196–7, 204–5, 207–11, 224, 226–35, 237, 240–3, 245–6, 253–61, 280–1 Christology, 241 Church of England, 202, 229, 231–2, 237, 244–5, 255, 259 Churchill, Winston, 59, 119, 201 civility, 42–62 Clare College, 19 Clark, Jonathan, 177 Clarke, Peter, 18, 115–16, 126, 159 class war, 30, 113–14, 135 classical liberalism, 71–4, 77–8, 80 Clause Four, 165 clerisy, 2, 3, 17, 66–7, 70, 194 Coates, David, 157 cold war, 30, 65, 76 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 194 Collingwood, R. G., 30, 34, 48, 59, 238, 242 Columbia University, 22 communism, 36, 65; communists, 36

Caird, Edward, 202, 205 Caius College, 15, 19 Calcutta, 14 Callaghan, James, 162, 168, 175 Calvinism, 282 Cambridge, 1, 13–15, 19, 20, 85–7, 94–5, 102, 109, 193, 256, 271 Campbell, Alastair, 165, 173 Carlyle, Thomas, 28, 56, 58, 101, 205 Caswell Bay, 22 Catholic Emancipation, 58 Cecil, Lord Robert, 124 Chadwick, Henry, 191 320

INDEX

Comte, August, 201 conservatism, 2, 4, 6, 21, 29, 30, 36, 39, 65, 73–5, 77, 80, 154–5, 193, 273–4, 281–5 Conservative Party, 20, 37, 72, 75, 118, 129, 155, 163, 202, 249, 283, 284–5 Conservative Research Department, 21 Constantine, 246 constitutionalism, 158 Cooke, Alastair, 109 Copleston, Frederick, 205 corporate venality, 137, 250 Cosgrave, Patrick, 22, 93 Cowling, May, 13 Cowling, Reginald, 13 Cripps, Stafford, 160, 172, 174 Croft, Hallard, 98–9 Crosland, Anthony, 70, 74 Crossman, Richard, 168 Crowcroft, Robert, 7 cynicism, 90, 140, 160, 282, 284 Cynics, 46

Dray, William, 102 Drucker, H. M., 158 Dunn, John, 42

Dacre, Lord, 20, 207 Dalton, Hugh, 173 Darwin, Charles, 58, 209 Davey, Noel, 225–6, 240 Davies, Christie, 281 Davies, Stephen, 283 Dawson, Christopher, 119, 205 de Maistre, Joseph, 201 deconversionism, 206 Delhi, 14 Dickens, Geoffrey, 279 Disraeli, Benjamin, 133, 163, 205, 251, 271 doctrine, 3, 27–8, 37–9, 43, 48, 56, 58, 67–8, 72, 80, 93, 104, 111, 113, 127, 176, 206–7, 210, 223, 227, 242, 256–7, 259, 277, 282–3

factionalism, 123, 126, 153, 167, 175, 253 Fairlie, Henry, 15 Fanning, Ronan, 93 Fascists, 36 Fasnacht, G. E., 87 First World War, 17, 127, 274 Fischer, Fritz, 93 Florence, 85 Foot, Michael, 172 Foreign Office, 15, 110, 128, 133 Forster, E. M., 190–1 Foucault, Michel, 101 Frazer, James, 205 French Revolution, 206 Frere, Bartle, 14 Freud, Sigmund, 201

Eagleton, Terry, 199 ecclesiasticality, 42–62 Edinburgh, 204 Education Act, 210 Edwards, ‘Robin’ Dudley, 92 egalitarianism, 74 Egypt, 14 ekklesia, 46, 56 Eliot, George, 59, 205 Elizabeth I, Queen, 58 Ellis, Havelock, 205 Elton, Geoffrey, 19 England, 2, 13, 18, 27, 33, 35–6, 40, 56, 59, 190, 197, 199–200, 203, 206, 208, 223–5, 229–32, 244–5, 247–8, 252–6, 259, 261, 279 Enlightenment, 36 eschatology, 225, 259 Essex, 22 European Union, 34

321

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

Froude, Anthony, 204 Froude, Richard Hurrell, 204 Fuller, Timothy, 189

Henley, 14 Hertford, 13 high politics, 7, 52, 90, 96, 101, 109–11, 119, 125–6, 131–2, 134–5, 137, 139–40, 153–180, 253, 257, 277 Himmelfarb, Gertrude, 115 Hindus, 38 Hinton, James, 112, 120 historiography, 1, 87–90, 93, 115, 156, 177, 197–8, 204, 208, 223–4, 225, 227–8, 232–3, 238, 240–1, 245, 247, 250, 252–3, 257, 259–61, 278–9 Hitler, Adolf, 89, 252, 271 Hobbes, Thomas, 167, 199, 241, 253, 254; Hobbesian, 55, 241 Hobsbawm, Eric, 112 Hodges, Frank, 133 Hogg, Quintin, 274 Home Rule, 102, 271 Hort, F. J. A., 227, 232 Hoskyns, E. C., 14, 193, 209, 225–7, 229–32, 236–7, 240, 242–4, 250, 255, 261 House of Commons, 133, 174–5 House of Lords, 133 Howell, David, 157 Hume, David, 190, 241 Huxley, Aldous, 205 Huxley, Julian, 209 Huxley, Thomas, 196

Gaitskell, Hugh, 161, 163, 168, 173 Galbraith, J. K., 70 Gale, George, 15, 20, 22 Gale, Pat, 22 Gallagher, John, 278 Galloway, George, 170 Gash, Norman, 112 Germany, 113, 129, 169 Ghosh, Peter, 67, 120, 197, 202 Gibbon, Edward, 2, 189, 191 Gladstone, William, 58, 99, 133, 166, 201, 205, 271; Gladstonian, 272 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 200, 201 Gower Peninsula, 22 Green, Simon, 7 Green, T. H., 127, 200, 205 Grenfell, Michael, 7 Grey, Sir Edward, 93 Haldane, J. B. S., 205, 209 Halifax, Lord, 271 Hampshire, Stuart, 70 Hankey, Maurice, 133 Hardie, Keir, 166 Harris, Ian, 8, 136, 193 Harrison, Brian, 116, 205 Hayek, Friedrich von, 21, 37, 71, 73–4, 77, 79–80; Hayekian, 72, 75–7, 80 Healey, Denis, 173 Heath, Edward, 20, 73 Heffer, Simon, 285 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 42–3, 61, 201; Hegelian, 58 Henderson, Arthur, 127, 160, 172

immigration, 34, 284 Incarnation, 226, 228–9 India, 14, 92, 110, 193; Partition of, 252 individualism, 72, 103, 110, 202 Inge, William Ralph, 209 Institute of Economic Affairs, 71, 73 322

INDEX

interventionism, 71, 74 Ireland, 92, 166

Labour Party, 7, 113, 123, 129, 133, 136, 153–80, 249, 258, 285 Lansbury, George, 173 Larsen, Timothy, 207 Lawrence, D. H., 58, 205 League of Nations Union, 133 Leavis, F. R., 58 Lecky, W. E. H., 201, 205 Lee, Joe, 110 Lee, Peter, 98 Leeds, 6 Leibniz, Gottfried, 201 Letwin, Shirley, 283 Lewis, C. S., 205, 209 Liberal Party, 72, 113, 118, 129, 136, 155, 202 liberalism, 2, 7, 16, 29, 33, 35–40, 65–81, 111, 197, 199, 204, 208–9, 224, 227, 229, 232, 243, 244–5, 251, 255, 282 liberty, 65–72, 74–6, 79–80, 87 Libya, 14 Lightfoot, J. B., 227, 232–3 Lloyd George, David, 119, 127, 166 Locke, John, 199 Lodge, David, 201 logos theology, 232 Londonderry, 93 LSE, 193 Lytton, Lord, 14

Jaffa, Harry V., 166 James I, 278 Jenkins, Roy, 70–4, 162, 175 Jesus, 13, 30, 208, 225–7, 229, 240, 250; see also Christ Jesus College, 13–15, 85–7 Johannine writings, 224–8 Johnson, Frank, 22 Jones, Andrew, 109, 160 Jordan, 15 Jowett, Benjamin, 127, 205, 208 Kahn, Louis, 70 Kaldor, Nicholas, 70 Kant, Immanuel, 201 Keble, John, 58 Kedourie, Elie, 6, 34, 59, 154, 177, 278, 281 Kendrew, John, 91, 98 Kerr, Sir Hamilton, 95 Keynes, John Maynard, 58, 70, 116, 205; Keynesianism, 72 Kierkegaard, Søren, 42; Kierkegaardian, 43 Kinnock, Neil, 160 Kipling, Rudyard, 205 Knowles, Dom David, 59, 85, 192, 233, 237, 241, 279 Knox, Dilwyn, 204 Knox, Ronald, 204 Koestler, Arthur, 70 Koss, Stephen, 115 Kramer, Hilton, 22 Kristol, Irving, 33

Macaulay, T. B., 189, 191, 196 MacDonald, Ramsay, 119, 133, 160, 169, 249 Machiavelli, Niccolò, 167 Machiavellian, 155, 170, 178 MacIntyre, Alasdair, 42, 58 McKendrick, Neil, 19 McKenzie, Robert, 158, 274 McKibbin, Ross, 114, 157, 158 Macmillan, Harold, 73, 95

labour history, 5, 116, 118, 155–6, 158, 176 Labour movement, 127, 133, 135, 157, 160, 162–3, 168, 170, 173, 175 323

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

Maitland, Frederick William, 58 Mallock, W. H., 205 Manchester, 204 Manchester School, 73, 75 Manning, Gideon, 205 Mansel, Henry Longueville, 205, 242 Marquand, David, 157 Martin, F. X., 93 Marx, Karl, 30, 102, 113; Marxism, 30, 68, 272; Marxist, 4, 19, 23, 110, 112, 114, 138; Marxists, 30, 89 Maxton, James, 170 Mayo, Lord, 92 Mazzini, Giuseppe, 200 Michel, Robert, 158 Middle East, 193 Mikardo, Ian, 173 Miliband, Ralph, 157, 171 Mill, J. S., 2, 7, 16, 36, 65–74, 79–81, 87, 93–4, 153, 196, 198, 205, 232, 242, 244, 251; Millian, 75, 80 Minkin, Lewis, 157 Minogue, Kenneth, 7, 281 monetarism, 72 Moore, Charles, 22 Morgan, Kenneth, 115–16 Morrison, Herbert, 165, 173, 175 Muff, 93 Murray, Michael J., 205 Muslims, 38, 202

New Right, 21, 74, 283 New Testament, 224–6, 228, 232, 240, 250 Newman, Cardinal, 200 Newman, Frank, 204, 207 Newman, John Henry, 204 NHS, 167 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 160, 201 Nonconformists, 256 Norman, Edward, 89 Nottinghamshire, 15 Nowlan, Kevin B., 93 Oakeshott, Michael, 4, 6, 15, 29, 31–2, 34, 37, 40, 42, 46, 48, 55, 59, 61, 94, 101, 110, 154, 159, 193–4, 237–9, 242, 248, 274, 281, 285; Oakeshottian, 2, 16, 43, 48, 180, 239 opinion, 17, 21, 27, 36, 37, 40, 51, 67, 81, 102–3, 134, 137, 139, 179, 284; anarchy of, 41; opinion surveys, 285; Ormsby-Gore, William, 127 Orwell, George, 58, 210 pacifism, 88 Palmer, Tony, 21 Panitch, Leo, 157 Parker, R. A. C., 115 parliamentary democracy, 270 Parry, Jonathan, 7, 125–6, 130 Patmore, Tim D., 205 Pauline writings, 227–8 Pearson, Karl, 209 Pedersen, Susan, 116, 123, 140 Peel, John, 169 Pelling, Henry, 115, 157 Perutz, Max, 91 Peterhouse, 1, 13, 15, 18–22, 72–3, 77, 85–8, 91, 93–4, 97–8, 100, 109, 206, 271–2 Peterhouse Right, 74

Nairn, Tom, 157 Namier, Sir Lewis, 87, 96, 100, 103, 110, 153, 155, 170, 174, 177, 278; Namierite, 96, 100 national identity, 33, 34 Nazi, 113, 169; Nazis, 36 New Labour, 157 324

INDEX

philosophy, 6, 21, 29, 32, 42–3, 61–2, 111, 123, 196, 209, 227, 231, 234, 238–9, 241–2, 245, 280 Pickthorn, Kenneth, 14, 201 Pimlott, Ben, 157 Pitt the Younger, 278 Plato, 153 Plumb, J. H., 19 pluralism, 40, 68, 173 Pocock, John, 89, 203 Poland, 17 political history, 2, 7, 17, 96, 102, 108–140, 155–6, 159, 175, 205, 245, 271, 276, 283–4 political philosophy, 16, 21, 72–3, 167 political science, 16, 111, 154, 194, 243, 272, 274–5 Popperian, 76, 102 Portillo, Michael, 75, 109, 283 Postan, Munia, 91 post-structuralists, 277 Potter, John, 133 Powell, Enoch, 34, 70, 283–4 Protestant, 256, 282; Protestantism, 207 public doctrine, 7, 18, 28, 31–2, 40–1, 58, 198–9, 203, 209, 253–6, 280 public opinion, 131, 141 Pufendorf, Samuel von, 42 Punjab, 252

Reagan, Ronald, 72 Reform Act (1867), 90, 96 Reform Acts, 58 Reform Bills (1866–67), 133 Reformation, 56, 58, 101 religion, 1, 5–7, 14, 18, 27, 29–32, 34–5, 38, 40–1, 48, 55–9, 61, 67, 80, 100, 103, 111, 126, 139, 179, 193–5, 203–4, 206, 209, 210–11, 223–5, 227, 230–4, 236–7, 239, 240, 242–4, 251, 255–9, 261, 278 Renaissance, 30 Renan, Ernest, 208 Repeal of the Test Acts, 58 Resurrection, 225–6, 229 revisionism, 278, 279 rhetoric, 66, 70, 76, 92, 119, 125, 136, 138–40, 164, 166, 168 Robbins, Keith, 94 Robbins Report on Higher Education, 94 Roberts, Andrew, 117 Robinson, Joan, 70 Robinson, Ronald, 278 Rome, 229, 241 Rothermere, Lord, 133 Russell, Bertrand, 58, 205 sacred, 31, 37, 51, 61, 65, 103, 199, 202, 211 St John’s College, Cambridge, 200 Salisbury, Lord, 14, 59, 124, 282 Salisbury, Marquess of, 34 Salisbury Group, 21, 283 Sancroft, William, 59 Scanlon, Hugh, 160 Scarisbrick, J. J., 279 scepticism, 77–8, 110, 140, 154, 180, 194, 202, 274, 277, 282 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 201 Schumpeter, Joseph, 273–4 Schweitzer, Albert, 227

Queen’s Royal Regiment, 14 Ramsey, Frank, 204 Ramsey, Michael, 204 Ranke, Leopold von, 87, 101; Rankeanism, 86 rationalism, 4, 33, 74, 77, 156, 194, 227 Reading, 15 325

THE PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS AND RELIGION OF BRITISH DEMOCRACY

Scruton, Roger, 73, 201, 281, 283 Second World War, 179, 204 secular, 3, 16, 31, 35, 37, 40, 42, 44, 55, 58, 60–2, 67, 74, 94, 178, 190, 194–5, 197, 199, 204, 207, 209, 210, 243, 253, 260, 270, 281 secular liberalism, 94 secularization, 18, 28, 31, 35, 196, 197, 202, 207–8, 211, 280 Seeley, Sir John, 208 self-love, 230, 237, 241, 245–6, 247–8, 250, 257 Sewell, Keith, 89 Shaftesbury, Earl of, 208 Shaw, G. B., 205 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 200 Shonfield, Andrew, 70 Short, Clare, 173 Sidgwick, Henry, 205, 209 Sikhs, 38 Sinn Féin, 135 Skidelsky, Robert, 115 Skinner, Quentin, 203 Smillie, Robert, 133 Smith, Adam, 37 Smith, Denis Mack, 92 Smyth, Charles, 14, 33, 59, 193, 201, 224, 229, 232–3, 242 Snow, C. P., 70, 99 Snowden, Philip, 133 social class, 158, 248 socialism, 36, 65, 74, 157, 163, 210, 273 Southern, Sir Richard, 279 Spain, 35 Spencer, Herbert, 58, 201 Stanley, A. P., 202, 205 statism, 74 Stedman Jones, Gareth, 116, 123 Stein, Gertrude, 32 Stephen, Sir James Fitzjames, 201, 205 Stephen, Leslie, 258

Stevenson, John, 114 Stoics, 46 Strauss, David, 207 Strauss, Leo, 156, 177, 208, 227 Streatham, 13 Stubbs, Bishop, 209 subjectivity, 42–62, 233 Suez crisis, 16, 88 Suffolk, 22 Swansea, 22 synoptic gospels, 226, 228 Tanner, Duncan, 158 Tattingstone, 22 Tawney, R. H., 70, 127, 205 Taylor, A. J. P., 87, 115 temperament, 50, 168, 170, 172, 174–6, 236 Temperley, Harold, 98–9 Temple, William, 205, 209 Tennyson, Alfred, 200 Thatcher, Margaret, 21, 34, 37, 75–6, 80; Thatcherism, 2, 21, 75–6; Thatcherite, 76, 283; Thatcherites, 72, 76 theology, 227, 232, 240–1, 243, 280 Third Reich, 92 Thomas, Alan, 133 Thompson, E. P., 112, 121 Thucydides, 248 Toryism, 207, 285 Toynbee, Arnold, 59 Tractarian, 201, 206; Tractarians, 205 traditional conservatism, 80 Trevor-Roper, Hugh, 20 Trinity College, Cambridge, 196 true conservatism, 75, 80 Turner, John, 114 Unionist Party, 169 326

INDEX

United Nations, 16 United States, 36 University College, Dublin, 85, 92 Utley, T. E., 15, 22, 73, 283

Whewell, William, 196, 202 Whig, 86, 88, 111, 255; Whiggery, 282; Whiggism, 35 White, Hayden, 101 Whitehead, Alfred North, 59 Whitehouse, Mary, 70 Wilberforce, Samuel, 196 Wilhelm, Kaiser, 169 Williams, Desmond, 85, 91–4, 99, 100, 133 Williams, Raymond, 201 Williamson, Philip, 7, 161 Wilson, Charles, 14–15, 85, 87 Wilson, Harold, 102, 162, 172, 175, 284 Wivenhoe, 22 Woodruff, Douglas, 87 Wormald, Brian, 85, 91, 97–100 Worsthorne, Peregrine, 15, 22, 65, 277, 283 Worthing, 13

Vincent, John, 89, 98, 109, 110, 112, 120, 272 Voltaire, 209 Wales, 22 Warren, Allen, 126 Watkin, David, 89 Watkins, John, 103 Watt, D. C., 115 Waugh, Evelyn, 59 Webbs, Sidney and Beatrice, 127 Welbourne, Edward, 14, 201 Welch, Colin, 15, 22 Wells, H. G., 205 West Norwood, 13 Westcott, B. F., 227, 232 Westcott, William W., 205, 208 wets, 72, 75

Zetland, Marquess of, 127

327