The mid-Victorian period can be characterized as a period of prosperity and economic freedom although according to Arnold Hauser and Jonathan Harris the social problems during this time were mostly unresolved. Among the dominant ideas during this period were entrepreneurship and innovations which brought economic prosperity during the mid-Victorian period, and the quest for self determination in which the main objective is to limit the state’s interference in both the economic and social spheres. Francois Crouzet (1982) calls this idea as “the high noon of liberalism” (p. 105) or the age of laissez-faire’ in which the basic principle of “is that the welfare of both the community and the individuals is best serve when the markets for good, capitals, land, labour, and so on, are left to the free play of supply and demand” (Crouzet, p. 105).
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The mid-Victorian period as an age of prosperity and pacification
In contrast to the early Victorian age, the mid-Victorian period is an age characterized by relative prosperity as England according to Hauser, and Harris, “becomes the ‘workshop of the world’, prices rise, the living conditions of the working class are improved, socialism is rendered harmless, the political ascendancy of the bourgeoisie is consolidated” (Hauser, A. & Harris J. 1999, p. 122). During this time, although the social problems remain, Hauser and Harris noted that “the sharp edge” of these social problems is removed (p. 122). The relative economic prosperity enjoyed by the society that can be attributed to the benefit of industrialization, had persuaded intellectuals to seldom discuss the social problems, but draft “great pictures of society,” and renouncing the propagation of social-political thesis.
Thus, the dominant ideas during this time were entrepreneurship and innovation that had brought economic prosperity and growth. Crouzet cited that, Britain had “numerous groups of entrepreneurs who were active, dynamic and bold, ready to size every profit opportunity, open to technological progress … in the favorable atmosphere of a society which placed high value on material success….” (p. 104). However, the free play of trade and commerce were not really that smooth that it breeds revolutionary endeavors which demanded reforms.
The idea of economic reforms
The early part of the mid-Victorian period can be described as a quiescent society because generally, people were enjoying the economic benefit of industrialization. However, this relative economic prosperity did not solve the economic effects and the social hardship brought by the industrialization of England. The economic effects of industrialization, according to George Finlayson (1994), are dependent on the emphasis on provident behavior which he identified as the ‘optimistic and pessimistic interpretation (p 22). The pessimistic interpretation according to him is ‘the need for improvement through mutual help’ which is a “help from within” or from within a group of likeminded persons “who came together to meet common needs and advance common interest” (Finlayson, p. 22) The optimistic interpretation of the effect of industrialization on the other hand, deals with the “opportunities for individual advancement offered by industrialization” (Finlayson, p. 22). It means of the individual who “sought to take advantage of economic development to meet their needs and to advance their interest by their own effort” (p. 22) Peter Mandler (2006) pointed out that the idea of a “generally beneficent free market continued to dominate public discourse in the mid-Victorian period” (p. 211). Most of the discourses talks about economic reforms as the existing Georgian aristocratic economic mode favors only elite capitalist. Walter Garrison Runciman stated, “England had evolved out of its Georgian commercial-aristocratic-oligarchic mode into a recognizably capitalist-liberal-democratic one” (p. 39).
The mid-Victorian society was classically liberal and quiescent society because according to Runciman it was the period “aptly labeled as the age of equipoise” in which capital and labour have come to terms within a restricted franchise and an ideology of individualism and self help” (p. 39). Finlayson explained this period as the “individualistic ideology which ran through the voluntarist-localist welfare provision of the period” (p. 104) This period according to him “have often been seen as a Period of economic prosperity for many sections of the community (p. 104).
The 1880 brought changes to the Victorian period through the pressures from different segments of the society, such as the organizational and technological changes which compelled their employees to modify their relationship with one another, the growing need for administrative worker, and the tilting balance of agriculture (Finlayson p. 40). All these changes happened during the 1880s. Harold James Perkin (1969) stated that the mid-Victorian era were already showing some signs of change “which in the last twenty years of the century was to change the social structure of the English politics” (p. 380). Perkins explains that this change had to do with “with the change in character of the middle class and the decline of the entrepreneurial ideal” (p. 380).
The underpinning ideas during the mid-Victorian society can be summed up in just two categories: The ideas regarding the effects of industrializations on which people had shown different interpretation and courses of action. The other is the demand for reforms that had brought important change during the times of the mid-Victorian period. The mid-Victorian period can be aptly labeled as the classically quiescent and liberal society because it was during this period that the individual and the general society rose to economic prosperity through their own effort. It was also during this period that the essence of the capitalist-liberal-democratic society was enjoyed and benefited the society through the impact of industrialization.
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