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Title: The debate about federation in empire political thought, 1860-1900
Author: Bell, D. S. A.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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This thesis examines various aspects of the Victorian political debate over the empire. The question of the empire has been largely unexamined in relation to wider currents of political thought during the period, and the following analysis seeks to fill this gap. In particular, it focuses on the question of the status, purpose and destiny of the ‘settler empire’ as represented in the political writings and worldview of the late Victorian intellectual elite. The idea of imperial federation, and through this a global state, was central to this discourse and I explore different dimensions of the family of federalist ideologies. It is argued that the movement can only be grasped adequately in relation to the widespread anxieties concerning both increased global competition and the perceived threat of domestic disquiet heralded by the advent of democracy. Combined, these fears generated intense concern about the future of the country and led to a wide-ranging agitation for the strengthening of the planetary Greater Britain polity. This would act as a bulwark against the encroaching cacophony of threats. As well as charting the motivations driving the federalist discourse, I explore various facets of the arguments propounded during the debate. I examine in detail the political thought of Goldwin Smith and J.R. Seeley, two key figures in the heated exchanges, stressing that although their ideas differed in many respects they were both animated by comparable fears and proposed parallel solutions to the problems that were seen to face Britain at the time. Moreover, in the final two chapters of the thesis, I stress, firstly, the importance of the way in which America figured in the imagination and ideas of the federalists and, secondly, the importance of the new communications technologies (especially the electric telegraph) in reshaping perceptions of political possibilities. Driven by the purportedly successful example of America, and living in a world in which distance appeared to have been ‘annihilated,’ the federalists could conceive, for perhaps the first time in modern history, a globe-spanning Greater British state. The thesis serves as both a guide to an important but neglected element of empire political thought and, more broadly, as a contribution to the intellectual history of the era.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available