The Economy of Holidays: System and Excess in Edwardian Liberalism.

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Liberalism is often criticized for its emphasis on order and system. The liberal phraseology is hallmarked by such concepts as individual rights and impartial justice. Relying on law and reason and using tight legal definitions, the polity advocated by liberals views itself as applying equally to all citizens within it. Though ostensibly concerned with protecting liberties, the mechanisms liberalism deploys to carry out this task betray an oppressive streak. Individuals are addressed as modular and homogenous legal personalities that carry identical packages of rights. Personal identities are hence prescribed by a system that recognizes no difference. The law book encompasses all and is impartial to all, admitting no incongruity and no irony. It is blind to insights that are local and particular, intuitive, or non-verbal. It therefore suppresses agents that are seen as the carriers of such insights and significantly limits the depth of the liberty it offers. Liberalism, however, is not a monolithic abstraction. Several historical liberalisms are known, each spelling out its particular variation on the shared terminology. Problems raised by the notions of universal applicability and comprehensive knowledge are addressed differently by different liberals. This essay examines the effort made by one school of liberal thinkers to relate to questions of incongruity and difference. It focuses on the early-twentieth century British new liberal group. The essay begins by outlining some of the critiques that concern liberalism's systematizing attribute. This is followed by an attempt to show where new liberalism matches the critical description of liberalism as preoccupied with system. The text then goes on to examine the new liberals' attitudes to notions of disorder, and points out that these Edwardian theorists were aware of the problems implicit in integrating knowledge and society. The text ends with a look at the possible significance of the concepts of excess over system as developed by new liberalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-471
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Legacy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2002


  • UNITED Kingdom
  • SYSTEMS theory
  • POLITICAL science
  • TWENTIETH century
  • BRITISH politics & government


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