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George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England

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George Dangerfield certainly deserves recognition for having come up with one of the mostStrange Death of Liberal Englandarresting titles ever given a history book. Dangerfield was a journalist rather than an academic historian and he had an eye both for a good story and for the most effective way to tell it. There is an honourable tradition of journalists and politicians writing works of history, often of very high quality. The Labour politician and leader of the Social Democratic Party Roy Jenkins produced major studies of Churchill and Gladstone, the former Conservative leader William Hague has produced very well-received biographies of William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce, and the BBC journalist Mark Urban has developed a speciality in the military history of Wellington’s armies in the Peninsular War. Dangerfield’s is perhaps different from other journalistic ventures into history in that he retained a very strong flavour of newspaper reporting in his text, but his work was widely admired among historians when it appeared in 1935 and was often cited as a work which had inspired people to take up the study of history.

Dangerfield’s thesis challenged the then current theory that the Liberal Party was alive and well until the First World War imposed intolerable strains upon it. His view was that not only the Liberal Party but the very idea of Liberalism itself was cracking under the strain of internal crises even before 1914. Historians have argued about the validity of the 'Dangerfield thesis' and the consensus now is that he overstated his case and that both the Liberal Party and the internal cohesion of the nation were in better shape than he allows for by the time war intervened in 1914. But however much one might differ from his interpretation, there is no denying the force of his prose.

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