On Liberties: Victorian Liberals and their Legacies
On Liberties: Victorian Liberals and their Legacies (CFP)
What did it mean to be liberal, or even ‘a’ liberal in the Victorian period? Lord Rosebery said he called himself a liberal because he wanted to be associated with ‘the best men in the best work’; but this rather Arnoldian ideal of ‘the liberal’ wasn’t even shared by Arnold himself, who qualified his own position by calling himself a liberal, but a liberal ‘tempered by experience, reflection and renouncement.’ The nineteenth-century may have seen the publication of one of political liberalism’s ur-texts in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and the founding of the modern Liberal party, but the Victorian idea of the ‘liberal’ was always wider, more conflicted, more capacious, more difficult. Religious liberals, for example, were re-defining the fundamentals of belief; writers and poets used a devotion to ‘liberty’ to support various radical causes at home and abroad; some like Swinburne were rendering a devotion to liberty and an avowed sexual libertinism uneasily indistinct.
Liberal impulses remain firmly with us. Indeed, it is worth asking why the Victorians still to some extent remain the benchmark against which we measure our own liberation, our own modernity; when we look to see how far we’ve come (or not), and what liberties we’ve secured (or not), it is to the nineteenth-century that we frequently look - often to the Victorians’ disadvantage. Or, conversely, we might ask whether we perhaps ‘take liberties’ with the Victorians when trying to re-positioning them against this myth - are we simply re-writing, revising and re-fashioning them in our own ‘liberal’ image?
Hosted at Gladstone’s Library on 3rd-5th July 2013, and part of Gladstone’s Library’s broader ‘Re:defining liberalism’ project over 2013, this two day conference (presented by Gladstone’s Library in association with the Gladstone Centre at the University of Liverpool) intends to explore the various implications of the idea of the ‘liberal’ in the Victorian period, but also its multifarious legacies: its legacies for modern politics, for the ways we conceptualize the Victorian period today, and most fundamentally for our notions of broader categories and concepts we still associate with ‘the liberal’ and with liberalism: knowledge, licence, education, and human freedom.
Papers may consider:
- sexual liberation in the Victorian period
- religious and theological liberalism, then and now
- Literary liberalism – the political purposes of contemporary literature
- Liberalism with a big ‘L’, the Liberal Party and its politicians
- ‘Victorian values’ in political discourse today
- The modern Liberal Democrats and nineteenth-century ideas of liberalism
- liberal enactments: what does it mean to be liberal today?
- John Stuart Mill
- Campaigns for ‘liberty’ abroad in the Victorian period
- The figure of the libertine in the Victorian period
- Limited liberalism – problems of liberal representation and subjectivity