Jonathan Parry. The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe, 1830-1886. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. x + 424 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-83934-1.
Reviewed by Jeremy Black (University of Exeter)
Published on H-Albion (January, 2008)
Patriotism and Politics
Jonathan Parry, reader in modern British history at Cambridge University, a major scholar of Gladstonian liberalism, and the author of Democracy and Religion: Gladstone and the Liberal Party, 1867-1875 (1986) and The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain (1993), provides a skillful and deeply knowledgeable account of Victorian political culture in his newest work. He joins the ranks of scholars asserting the centrality of Britain's relationship with continental Europe. This assertion is seen with reference not only to diplomacy but also to British political concepts and notions. For the eighteenth century, for example, Tony Claydon in Europe and the Making of England 1660-1760 (2007), Stephen Conway in War, State and Society in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (2006), and Brendan Simms in Three Victories and a Defeat. The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783 (2007) make such arguments.
Parry, however, is not simply a member of a throng. First, he has been arguing this case for a while, publishing an article, "The Impact of Napoleon III on British Politics, 1851-1880," in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society in 2001. Second, Parry has a more informed and subtle understanding of British politics in his period than Simms and Conway do for the eighteenth century. In Parry's case, this nuanced understanding leads to an awareness of paradigms and tensions in liberalism, not least the extent to which identity was defined and made significant in an international context. For example, he carefully identifies the radical critiques of Whig patriotism formulated by Richard Cobden and by evangelical nonconformity in the 1830s and 1840s. In doing so, Parry ably handles the interplay between ideologies and issues. Parry points out that, by the end of the 1840s, the hopes of the 1830s--that an alliance between constitutional governments in Britain and France could spread peace and liberalism throughout Europe--had been dashed. Instead, the disappointments of 1848-9 made Britain seem the sole reliable guardian of liberty at the same time that the libertarian image of British states was strengthened by domestic political issues. Economics also enters the discussion in terms of the political and economic resonances of laissez-faire as a creed.
The resulting text is in parts quite dense, creating some difficulty for readers. It is necessary to unpack many of Parry's comments, but this unpacking is certainly worthwhile. Furthermore, concluding sections are valuable. For example, Parry notes that despite a belief that Britain would be a better-balanced country if it took note of some aspects of French and American political culture, few seriously proposed a radical shift. France and the United States had failed in the most important of tasks, that of maintaining a stable, healthy, and virtuous political community, and had succumbed to the evils of materialism. Meanwhile, the aspects of German culture that we most widely admired in England were the ones that the English shared with Germany (morality, Protestantism, and energy) while the English were clearly more experienced at sustaining a libertarian political community.
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Jeremy Black. Review of Parry, Jonathan, The Politics of Patriotism: English Liberalism, National Identity and Europe, 1830-1886.
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