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Time on a Human ScaleExperiencing the Present in Europe, 1860-1930$
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Julian Wright and Allegra Fryxell

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266977

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266977.001.0001

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The Everyday and the Eternal: English Interwar Conservatism and the Political Present

The Everyday and the Eternal: English Interwar Conservatism and the Political Present

(p.99) 4 The Everyday and the Eternal: English Interwar Conservatism and the Political Present
Time on a Human Scale

Emily Robinson

British Academy

English Conservative politicians of the early twentieth century sought a way of articulating the present as a stage between past and future that needed to be cared for; but which was nonetheless an inherently transient phase of existence, contrasting with the eternal. After the Russian Revolution, not only was the time of human existence to be conserved; it was a time in which the ideas that underpinned Conservatism urgently needed proselytization. Conservatism had to provide a contribution to social arguments within the present, to counter social upheaval. It provided empirical, scientific detail, drawn from present observation, to counter abstract theory. This development of the arguments against the French Revolution advanced by Edmund Burke took on a new scientific flavour in the work of a writer like Walter Elliot. In the rhetoric of Stanley Baldwin, a hymn-like eulogy of the constant English ‘present’ could reach up into the evocation of an eternal mission comparable with that of ancient Rome. Concluding with a fresh reading of the Conservative author Pierse Loftus, this chapter argues that Conservatives drew on the experience of the present to locate the grandeur of their national or imperial project within a human frame. Unlike present-minded socialists, Conservatives were less concerned with an emerging complex picture of everyday life, and more with an idea of everyday life that they could essentialise.

Keywords:   English politics, Conservatism, political culture, temporality

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