THE BRITISH REVOLUTION, 1880-1939 by Robert Rhodes James


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The period of British history covered here saw the rise of mass political parties--a consequence of the Reform Act of 1867--and the final decline of the Empire, symbolically indicated by the clark year of 1939. It is the author's opinion that these two phenomena are directly linked, and together constitute a ""revolution"" in British politics--Robert Rhodes James, not incidentally, is both historian and Conservative Member of Parliament. Rhodes James, though, has written a traditional narrative political history rather than an interpretive one, and he never manages to bring the two phenomena together. Britain's heyday of Imperialism had already passed by 1880, the last decades of the century being notable for the competition which Britain began to receive from France and Germany, resulting in the ""New Imperialism"" tied to mass support. The decline of the Empire was therefore more a condition for the peculiar form which mass politics took than a consequence, contrary to Rhodes James' implications. As straight narrative, The British Revolution is more successful, though its narrow focus on Parliament and preoccupation with personalities results in a distorted perception of the changes in political life under way at the time, more manifest at the local level than at the top. Rhodes James gives an adequate accounting of Parliamentary maneuverings on the Boer War, Ireland, The Great War, and other major issues, but no information on the Primrose Tory League, for example, perhaps the first significant mass political organization of the Right. Similarly, he passes over the impact of the new ""yellow press"" upon politics--especially evident in the Boer War agitation--and later, of radio, while providing a great many insignificant details of military strategy. Passable as a Parliamentary history, this never comes close to justifying the title, which would have resulted in a more interesting book.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1977
Publisher: Knopf