One of the foremost assessors of contemporary Britain--civilization-incarnate or on-the-skids?--is Harvard political...


BRITAIN AGAINST ITSELF: The Political Contradictions of Collectivism

One of the foremost assessors of contemporary Britain--civilization-incarnate or on-the-skids?--is Harvard political scientist Beer; his 1965 British Politics in the Collectivist Age (now being reissued as Modern British Politics) has been the standard university text on postwar Britain. This volume, chiefly a description of the last decade's developments, is intended to both salvage and extend his original interpretation of British politics. Between the 1945 election of the Attlee Labour government and the late 1950s, Beer believes, Britain developed a form of consensual politics that he has dubbed ""collectivist""--by association with the welfare state. Within an overall consensus, voters were able to exercise a choice between parties--each representing an aggregation of interests--that differed only marginally in outlook. Faced with the current political turmoil, Beer must either explain what happened to that consensus or scuttle his original interpretation. So, resiliently (and not unproductively), he views today's strife as an outgrowth of the collectivist period. With the two parties converging in their view of the common good, the interest-groups--fostered by collectivism--disaffiliate, and respond to whichever party promises the most. The result is an overload of promises, and an inability to govern, which Beer calls ""pluralist stagnation."" In the 1970s, both parties attempted to break out of this impasse--with the Heath government's austerity program (subsequently abandoned in the face of unemployment), and the Wilson government's more radical trade unionist program (also subsequently abandoned). Currently, Beer sees Thatcher pursuing a continuation of Heath's program; the left-wing of Labour on the rise (led by Tony Benn); and the establishment of a new party, the Social Democrats, that (in alliance with the Liberals) harkens back to pre-collectivist individualism in its political program. To get out of this fragmented state, a new consensus must be established; but Beer cannot point to any definite signs of such a development. Despite the timid prognostications and the overload of headings like ""social convergence and party dealignment,"" the book stands as an interested layperson's guide to recent British political history.

Pub Date: June 7, 1982

ISBN: 0393952886

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982