English Society, 1660-1832 2ed 2nd Edition
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"...so thoroughly revised, updated, and expanded that it borders on being a new book. ...In addition to deleting significant blocks of material and adding much new material, Clark rearranges and carefully edits the shared material. He seems to have reconsidered every sentence, maybe even every phrase, from the first edition. Moreover, he has thoroughly considered and integrated into his text much secondary literature written since 1985 and additional primary sources as well. ...The argumentation, though less aggressive than in the earlier edition, remains brilliant." Anglican and Episcopal History
"...as bold, as brave, as exciting a book as I have read on the eighteenth century this decade. It breaks the mode of Hanoverian politics." John Morrill
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Clark's theory has sometimes been labelled the Tory view of history, as opposed to the better-known Whig view, but it is compelling regardless of the reader's politics. His emphasis is on the religious side of the Glorious Revolution: if parliament had been entitled to overthrow James II, that was in the name of Anglican Protestantism, as claimed such conservative luminaries as Lord Eldon. And if the Anglican monopoly on the State was terminated, it would follow that the Glorious Revolution had constituted rebellion; the king-in-parliament constitution would be at an end, and the people sovereign. A church-and-king ideology thus opposed one of natural right espoused by the Radicals (that the king was the people's appointee), with the Foxite Whigs left to deal, in the middle, with the ambiguities of Lockean and indeed Burkean theory. Clark shows how Repeal of the Test Acts (1828) and Catholic Emancipation (1829) were swiftly followed by clamour for parliamentary reform and the upheavals of 1831-32. His account of the 1820s, Emancipation, and the Ultra rebellion is captivating and must be read even if one disagrees with it.
English Society, in spite of its title, is more political than social history although, organised thematically and chronologically, it contains elements of both. Clark reviews the social order alongside the religious and constitutional, looking at hierarchy, beliefs, and political language through different phases of the 1688-1832 period. His book thus delivers an interesting panorama of eighteenth-century England as well as a guide to political developments. Historians from the cultural school have, since its first publication, taken up many of its themes, not always with the same conclusions. It remains, nevertheless and perhaps all the more so an up-to-date and essential interpretation of this crucial period in British history.
In discussing the relation of monarchy and religion, Clark first argues that the popular support for the Tory cause of restoring the Stuarts remained widespread into the 1760s. Provocative enough, but more importantly, he demonstrates how all but the most radical of Whigs used basically similar divine-right defenses of the Hanoverian monarchy, only adding the possibility that divine Providence might modify the succession at times of crisis. Locke's argument that society be based on the consent of self-interested individuals (social contract theory) had little or no influence.
Clark emphasises that the Church of England was the country's most influential intellectual force at both elite and popular level until the 1820s. Clark shows how the arguments of the Anglican church's apologists for bishops as divinely ordained successors of the apostles gained, not lost, ground in the 1700s. King and bishop both ruled by divine right and did not need consent of Parliament or congregation. Yet mainstream English thought denied that such legitimation made either institution despotic, irrational, or arbitrary.
The opposition to this Anglican state, Clark argues, was motivated not by secular outrage at poverty or electoral corruption, but by religiously based opposition to Anglican hegemony and/or Christian dogma. Opposition took three forms: the dwindling band of Commonwealthmen, hoping to make the Dissenters' congregational church polity a model for republican government, the Irish Catholic constituencies brought into Parliament by the Union of 1803, and most importantly the covert network of anti-Trinitarian dissent: Arians, Socinians, and Deists who denied the divinity of Christ and hence the divine appointment of His church. As demographic changes weakened Anglicanism in the 1820s, Parliament voted out of existence the Anglican confessional state in 1828-1832. Even then, the confessional state might have survived, Clark implies, except for the unprincipled maneuverings of many of its supposed supporters.
In the first edition, Clark included detailed critiques of the existing literature. The new edition eliminates most of the polemical material and adds a lucid discussion of how the Anglican hegemony was rebuilt in 1660-1688. The new edition is clearer, but lacks some of the barracuda bite impact (at least by academic standards) of the first.
"English Society," particularly in the first edition, assumes considerable knowledge of the facts of English history. It is not a book for beginners or for those seeking a smooth narrative history. It is, however, an brilliantly written and powerfully argued riposte to historians that have bent all their talents to making marginal "radicals" into the central figures of history.