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Laslett: The World we have Lost: Commentary

Laslett is here summarising the case he has built up in the preceding chapters, but he is also referring back to the first edition of his book, published nearly thirty years previously. His conclusion, that the rich did, by and large, look to the interests of the poor is likely to surprise his readers, or at least those unfamiliar with his work but his point is that this is what the evidence indicates, however surprising or even awkward such a conclusion might be. He acknowledges the importance of other factors – ‘expansion of resources’, ‘economic integration’, ‘improved communication’ but he still stresses the underlying importance – ‘it could not have happened without’ – of the benevolence of the authorities. We see here the relatively rare spectacle of a historian not only changing his mind but publicly highlighting the fact. Ironically, the passage he quotes from the first edition of the book is one which bristles with righteous indignation and which was latched onto by his early admirers as a clarion call to others to follow where he had led; here he quotes effectively to disown it, or at least to say that it should now itself be consigned to history. He does point out that there is more work to do, but it is a feeble quibble compared with the angry prose of his younger self.

 

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