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Reforming Ideas in Britain
Politics and Language in the Shadow of the French Revolution, 1789–1815


  • Date Published: March 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316648490

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About the Authors
  • Between 1789 and 1815, Britain faced a surge of challenges brought about by the French Revolution. Growing tensions with France, then the outbreak of war, exacerbated domestic political controversy, giving rise to new forms of political protest, to which the government responded with ever-increasing severity. Reforming Ideas in Britain brings together a series of essays to provide a vibrant historiography of Britain's political thought and movements during the 1790s and beyond. Challenging traditional perceptions of the period, Philp prompts us to reconsider the weight of various ideas, interpretations and explanations of British politics and language, showing us instead that this dynamic world of popular politics was at once more chaotic, innovative and open-minded than historians have typically perceived it to be. This is an essential interdisciplinary text for scholars of history, political theory and romanticism that offers a fresh perspective on radicalism, loyalism and republicanism in Britain during the French Revolution.

    • Challenges traditional perceptions of radicalism and loyalism in Britain during the French Revolution
    • Re-evaluates the weight of ideas, interpretations and explanations of British politics, writing and language during the vibrant period of the 1790s and beyond
    • Offers interdisciplinary coverage of key political and literary figures, tracing the intellectual currents and movements that prompted their rise to significance
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Reforming Ideas in Britain will transform the way in which political debate has conventionally been studied and interpreted during the years of the French Revolution and its aftermath. In place of the confrontation between opposed but settled traditions of thought or behaviour, what is highlighted is a developing process of polarization, whose features were as much experimental and theatrical as ideological and whose fragmentation and inconsistencies characterized both sides of the argument. This is not simply a new and exciting way of understanding the debates around the French Revolution; it is an approach to the understanding of the history of ideas which ought to be employed in the study of other periods of political contestation.' Gareth Stedman Jones, Director, Centre for History and Economics, King's College, Cambridge

    'Around twenty years ago, two classic essays by Mark Philp completely changed our understanding of the response in Britain to the French Revolution, and of the nature of political movements and ideologies. The essays in this brilliant collection, on the political culture of the 1790s and after, will be just as influential. Philp asks questions about the thinkers and the issues he discusses with a wonderfully developed sense of the interaction of ideas, institutions, cultural practices and events. He is at once a historian, a political theorist, and a literary critic, and I can't think of anyone who exemplifies better the benefits of working across the boundaries of disciplines.' John Barrell, Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York

    'The war of political ideas that erupted in Britain during the French Revolution was fierce and consequential, laying out the battle-lines for the democratic reform struggles of the nineteenth century. No-one writes better about this controversy than Mark Philp, whose publications over the years have set the standard for historical scholarship in the area. Whether skewering loyalist ideologues, analysing Paine's views on adult suffrage, or exposing the reactionary uses of popular song, Philp is invariably insightful, wise, compelling. Anyone interested in this turbulent phase of British history will want to read and learn from this book.' Barbara Taylor, Queen Mary University of London

    'It is the richness of Philp's vision of the period, the insights provided, the authority with which he ranges across many different topics (from Paine as a political thinker to loyalist song), and the ability to view this crucial decade in new ways which take us to the heart of how politics were experienced and given meaning by contemporaries, that come shining through. Scholars interested in the 1790s are much in Philp's debt, and there is a very great deal indeed to be learned from this compelling and hugely impressive collection of essays.' Bob Harris, The English Historical Review

    '… a carefully crafted work of superb scholarship … Mark Philp - historian, political theorist, and literary critic - has the required eclectic background permitting the effortless crossing of disciplinary boundaries indispensable in a work of this sort … Philp's volume is a work of the first importance: innovative, stimulating, lucidly written, it is a major contribution to the history of British political thought. It is to be highly recommended to all scholars and senior students in the field.' K. W. Schweizer, The Journal of Modern History

    'Mark Philp's Reforming Ideas in Britain: Politics and Language in the Shadow of the French revolution, 1789–1815 is not a monograph but rather a collection of essays published over several decades and supplemented here by three new chapters that round out the topic and give the book something of the feeling of a sustained argument. The single most essential essay for me is the exceptionally thoughtful 'Godwin, Thelwall, and the Means of Progress,' which insists on the complexities and ambiguities surrounding what is often (mis)characterized as a clear polarization 'between reformers and reactionaries in the opening salvos of the [revolution] discussion' …' Jenny Davidson, Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316648490
    • length: 332 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The fragmented ideology of reform
    2. Vulgar conservatism
    3. Disconcerting ideas: explaining popular radicalism and popular loyalism in the 1790s
    4. English republicanism in the 1790s
    5. Failing the republic: political virtues and vices in the late eighteenth century
    6. Paine's experiments
    7. Revolutionaries in Paris: Paine, Jefferson and democracy
    8. Godwin, Thelwall and the means of progress
    9. Politics and memory: Nelson and Trafalgar in popular song
    10. The elusive principle: collective self-determination in the late eighteenth century
    11. Time to talk.

  • Author

    Mark Philp, University of Warwick
    Mark Philp is Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Oriel College and University Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Oxford. He has written extensively on political thought and political movements in Britain at the time of the French Revolution. He is the author of books on Paine and William Godwin, is the General Editor of The Collected Writings of William Godwin and directed the Leverhulme-funded project digitising and editing Godwin's diary (available at: He has also written widely on political theory, specialising on political realism, methods, political corruption and political conduct. He is the co-founder of the research network 'Re-imagining Democracy 1750–1850'. He teaches and supervises widely in political theory and political sociology. He is a member of learned societies in history and in politics, held a BA/Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship from 1999 to 2000, and is an Officier des Palmes Académiques. From 2000 to 2005 he was the first head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. He has been the chair of the Research Advisory Board to the Committee on Standards in Public Life since 2007.

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