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The Modern British State: An Historical Introduction

The Modern British State: An Historical Introduction

Philip Harling

ISBN: 978-0-745-62193-7

Aug 2001, Polity

296 pages

In Stock



This book is an unprecedented synthesis of the literature on state development that explains how and why the contours of the British state have changed over the last three centuries. Ranging in scope from the Glorious Revolution to New Labour, it provides a fluent and comprehensive introduction to the changing shape and role of the British state.

Philip Harling's main theme is the dramatic broadening of the state's functions and its cost over the last three centuries, and most noticeably over the last one. As late as 1870, most Britons assumed that the only tasks that should be entrusted to the central government were issues such as the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order, and the provision of basic amenities such as street lighting. Today, they assume that these tasks ought to extend - and of course they do extend - to the provision of education, retirement benefits, unemployment insurance, health care, and a host of other services. Harling takes a number of historical factors into account in his assessment of the broadening trajectory of the state, such as the enormous expansion of the state's traditional war-making role over the eighteenth century, the uneven development of new regulatory duties in the nineteenth century, the impact of the two global wars of the twentieth century, the growth of the postwar welfare state, and the political reaction against it.

Engagingly written and persuasively argued, The Modern British State should serve as a core text for a wide variety of courses in modern British history, politics, public policy, and historical sociology.



Chapter 1: The Revolution Settlement and the Rise of the Fiscal-Military State, 1688-1715.

i. A Tentative Transfer of Power.

ii. War and the Growth of Parliamentary Authority.

iii. The Rise of the Fiscal-Military State.

iv. Warfare, the 'Influence of the Crown' and the 'Rage of Party'.

v. The Forging of a British State.

Chapter 2: The Fiscal Military State and its Discontents 1715-1815.

i. Parliamentary Supremacy in Practice: The Georgian Constitution.

ii. The Golden Age of the Fiscal-Military State.

iii. The Fiscal-Military State and its Discontents.

iv. The Georgian State and the Propertied Englishman.

v. The Centrality of Local Government.

Chapter 3: The Limits of the Laissez-Faire State, 1815-1880.

i. The Dismantling of the Fiscal-Military State.

ii. The Age of Disinterestedness: Elite Stewardship of the Minimal State.

iii. The Victorian State as Social Disciplinarian.

iv. The Limits of Laissez-Faire.

Chapter 4: The Making of the Social-Service State, 1880-1939.

i. The Origins of the Social-Service State, 1880-1914.

ii. The Foundations of the Social-Service State: Liberal Reform, 1906-14.

iii. War Interventionism I: 1914-1918.

iv. The Limits of 'Normalcy', 1919-39.

Chapter 5 Total War and Cradle to Grave Welfare, 1939-1979.

i. War Interventionism II: 1939-45.

ii. The Classic Welfare State, 1945 - 65.

iii. The Welfare State and Its Discontents, ca. 1965-79.

Chapter 6 The Limits of State Power, 1979 to the Present.

i. The Conservative Reshaping of the Postwar State.

ii. The Survival of the Welfare State.

iii. Strengthening the Centre.

iv. New Labour in Power.




"This is a most impressive introduction to the development of the modern British state for which students and lecturers alike will be most grateful. It is fluently and engagingly well written, well structured and persuasively argued."

Dr Colin Hay, University of Birmingham

"Harling's historical trajectory of expanding and receding social and economic state control is a familiar story. He tells it skilfully and with commendable clarity." Angus Hawkings, University of Oxford, Journal of Historical Association

A An unprecedented synthesis of the literature on the development of the modern British State
A Written in a very clear and accessible way
A Indispensable text for anyone who requires a comprehensive background to the history of Modern British politics