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Pacifism and the Victorians : |a social history of the English peace movement, 1816 to 1878

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Title: Pacifism and the Victorians : |a social history of the English peace movement, 1816 to 1878
Author: Sager, Eric William
Degree Doctor of Philosophy - PhD
Program History
Copyright Date: 1975
Abstract: The history of pacifism remains a legend of sectarian protest and heroic iconoclasm in a world of violence. But pacifism is more than the ineffectual response of individual Christians to the problem of international war. Pacifism is a doctrine of social reform which takes its place in history as a function of the relations between social classes and as a political factor within those relationships. Pacifism offered the Victorians an antidote to domestic conflict and insurrection, and a radical alternative to revolutionary or socialist ideas. This thesis is a reinterpretation of the pacifist simulacrum of political ideology. The thesis is based on published and unpublished material and on the manuscript records of the London Peace Society. Pacifism acquired its role in English social history because it grew out of important religious and intellectual traditions. Guided by these traditions the middle class radical discovered a form of protest which combined a radical demand for the eradication of political privilege and social inequalities, and a reactionary demand for passive submission within a system dominated by the employing classes. Within Quaker traditions pacifist doctrine answered a continuing need for internal sectarian cohesion and for self-exculpating protest in the face of particular threats posed by social change in an emerging industrial society. Other Arminian Protestants also found in war an attractive scapegoat for the evils of their society and a plea for class conciliation. The Peace Society, the leading organisation in the peace movement, stood at the centre of an intellectual tradition, peculiarly strong in England, in which utilitarian and Protestant ideals merged in political thought. Religious and intellectual traditions turned many eyes towards the evil of war, but only in a particular social context did this occur, a context in which class distinctions were blurred but not weakened by a high rate of occupational and geographic mobility. The peace movement expanded in the third quarter of the 19th century. Pacifism answered a need for reform protest among new insurgents into the political establishment from the northern textile industries and from Celtic Dissent. Support for national liberation movements abroad was only a brief threat to the anti-war movement, and the pacifist surrogate for revolution expanded even as continental liberators won unprecedented sympathy in England. The middle class peace movement failed to impose its Utopian ideal upon any section of the working classes and failed to draw more than a handful of working men into its membership. There were two peace movements in Victorian England: the distinction between employer and manual labourer remains basic to any explanation for the existence of a working class peace movement. But a large section of the labour movement had absorbed Protestant and humanist values transmitted through educational and other institutions, and these values helped to direct the defence of working class interests into reformist channels. Even among chartists who opposed an alliance with middle class radicals pacifism found proponents. In the 1870's the Workmen's Peace Association became the largest political organisation supported and led by working men, and in the making of the working class peace movement the barriers to pan-class cooperation had collapsed. It was an independent and class-conscious working man who, by absorbing values from a dominant middle class culture, became a liberal reformer and so made his contribution to the political stability of Victorian England.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/19704
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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