Correlli Barnett

British military historian

Correlli Douglas Barnett (28 June 1927 – 10 July 2022) was an English military historian, who also wrote works of economic history, particularly on the United Kingdom's post-war "industrial decline".

Quotes edit

1960s edit

The Swordbearers: Supreme Command in the First World War (1963) edit

  • The mistake was enshrined in the preamble to the first German Navy Bill of 1900, by which the new High Seas Fleet was to be big enough to constitute a provocation and a worry to the British, but not big enough to defeat the Royal Navy. The Germans thus drove the British into alliance with their enemies without as a compensation being able to defend German overseas colonies and trade... The basic truth about the High Seas Fleet was that it should never have been built.
    • p. 118
  • For the British...Jutland has a much deeper significance, for it was in fact a defeat for British technology. More than that, as with the French at Crécy and Sedan, a social system had been exposed by battle as decadent and uncreative. Jutland proves that already in 1914, when Britain and her empire had never seemed richer, more powerful, more technologically able, dry rot was crumbling the inner structure of the vast mansion. Jutland proves that the spectacular collapse of British power and British industrial vigour after 1945 was not a sudden disaster due, as comforting legend has it, to the sale of overseas investments in 1914–18 and 1939–45, but the final acute phase of seventy years of decline. For the principal armed service of a country—in its professional attitudes, its equipment, its officer corps—is an extension, a reflection, of that country's whole society, and especially of its dominating groups.
    • p. 178
  • Two things caused the decadence of British maritime power: the long peaceful supremacy after Trafalgar and the capture of the navy by that hierarchy of birth and class that controlled so many of Britain's national institutions. Drawing most of its officers from 1 per cent of the nation, the Royal Navy never tapped that great reservoir of urban middle-class talent that made Scheer's fleet so well-educated and so intelligent... The navy reflected social rather than functional values, preoccupation with tradition rather than technology... It was a tragedy for Britain that the aristocracy and gentry had never been cut off from the national life, as had largely happened in France... [T]he social and intellectual values of industrial society never ousted those of the aristocracy. The richer Victorian England became, the more ashamed in a deep sense did she become of the technological origin of those riches. The engineer and the businessman have never been as "respectable" in Britain as in Germany or America... [I]n the world after 1870, when Britain faced the technical challenges of the more complex phase of the industrial revolution and the commercial challenge of foreign competition, the leadership of the country was in the hands of the social group least likely (because of its wealth and privilege) to be aware of the challenges and to respond to them. From 1870 to 1914 Britain was decadent because a decadent ruling social group and decadent (non-functional) values had captured or corrupted the forces of technological and social change.
    • pp. 180-181
  • The war embraced infinitely complex elements and motives. The most important single one of those elements was the struggle for power in Europe, and the world. Between 1870 and 1914 Britain and France had been stagnant and declining in comparative industrial vigour. They nevertheless owned great territories and enjoyed vast traditional overseas markets. Germany...had been comfortably and steadily taking over the markets before 1914; she would have liked the possessions as well. No wonder France and Britain had been so much in favour of defending the political status quo. Yet, as the endless surges and recessions of power throughout history indicate, a fixed status quo is an absurdity because static. The problem of the world of nation states before 1914 was the eternal problem of continually adjusting political structure so that it always fits and expresses the reality of power.
    • p. 360

The Education of Military Elites (1967) edit

'The Education of Military Elites', Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 2, No. 3, Education and Social Structure (July 1967)
  • [I]t was the inner elite (the general staff) of one of the most caste-bound and privileged officer corps in Europe—the Prussian—that was the first to succumb to the new world of industrial change, and transform itself into a group of "industrial" managers and technicians... Railway transport, swift mobilization, and new equipment called for a high degree of technical skill and competence. Education and intelligence in conscripts required the same attributes in officers. Above all, the Prussian army, in the era of Moltke, Roon, and Bismarck, was the key to Prussian unification of Germany; neither the officer corps nor the nation could afford it to be less than efficient and modern. By 1870 the revolution was almost complete; the first European army of the modern era had been seen in action in three swift wars.
    • pp. 20-21
  • The new German conception of organizing and planning opened the modern epoch of war. Nothing like the minutely dovetailed plans, routes, and timetables of the mobilization and Aufmarsch of 1870 had been seen before. Thus an army had become the professional and organizational peer of modern history.
    • p. 21
  • [T]he essential and constant factor common to all three national academies [in Britain, France and America] is the indoctrination with tradition: potent emotional conditioning in military myth, habits, and attitudes. There are the physical symbols and reminders: engraved tablets of the glorious dead; the museums; the assembled iconography of illustrious graduates; statues; guns... At all three academies there are songs, slang, customs and ceremonies that link each annual class together for the rest of their army life... This indoctrination has grown out of history rather than been artificially created, but it may be doubted whether psychologists or sociologists could improve on it. Upon this mental sub-structure, purely neo-feudalist with its emphasis on glory, gallantry, honour, duty, and patriotism, is built functional and technical training, both concurrently at the academies, and later in schools of application. But it is this indoctrination, together with drill and discipline, that turns civilians into soldiers. Without it there would be no difference between a general in a defence ministry and a high executive in a business cartel. In terms therefore of creating the common character of the military elite, this constant factor of conditioning inside cadet colleges has been of greater importance than the changing detail and emphasis of academic curriculum and military training.
    • pp. 22-23

1970s edit

  • The importance of war and military institutions has been generally neglected in British historical writing, whose tone has been set by the Whig and liberal emphasis on peaceful constitutional progress. In this liberal view war appears as an aberration, an interruption of a "natural" condition of peace: almost as a form of delinquency unworthy of intellectual attention. The liberal, pacifistic view of history can only be maintained by resolute aversion of the gaze from the facts. For conflict between tribal or social groups and nations constitutes the essential human condition in the absence of a world-state with a monopoly of force. The relations between nation states have always been those of a struggle for advantage and domination, where friendships may indeed burgeon while interests temporarily coincide, but then again languish when those interests diverge. Peace and war in history flow continually in and out of each other, alternative aspects of the single phenomenon of the struggle for power. It is false and unrealistic therefore to divide policy between hard-and-fast categories of "peace" and "war". Policy may shade all the way from trade and diplomatic rivalry through indirect conflict and limited war to total war; the distinctions are of degree, not of kind
    • Britain and Her Army: Military, Political and Social History of the British Army, 1509–1970 (1970), p. xvii
  • Of course I entirely agree...that the British plight consists in a low-wage, low-investment, low-productivity economy. I suggest...that the peculiar structure, history and attitudes of British trades union is—and has been for a century—largely, although not wholly, responsible for this dismal cycle. You cannot pay high wages unless you have already achieved high productivity. You cannot achieve high productivity unless the workforce is prepared to operate modern machines to the utmost of the machines' capacity. Yet for all the glib talk by trades union leaders about improving productivity, everyone knows that British industry is fettered by demarcations and other restrictive practices aimed at preserving somebody's "property right" in a particular task. This in turn must affect British industry's attitude to investment; for what, it may well think, is the point of investing vast sums in advanced processes if it is not to be permitted to work them to their full potential. Surely, therefore, the necessary switch to a high-wage economy cannot be achieved in isolation, by the process of "free collective bargaining" (ie, extortion of money by menaces or force), but only in step with a parallel switch to high productivity and investment. Are Mr Scanlon's members—and other British workers—prepared to match the efficiency, flexibility, cooperativeness and zeal of German workers—or do they really simply want more money for going on as they are?
    • Letter to The Times (1 May 1974), p. 20
  • It is noteworthy that neither the Labour Party's plans for "reconstructing and regenerating" Britain nor the so-called or alleged "social contract" makes provision for reconstructing and regenerating the one British institution which most of all shackles our productive progress and denies us prosperity. I refer of course to the trades unions, whose insistence on over-manning and on rigid demarcations is responsible for the low productivity and want of flexibility of operation in British industry, as was finally and conclusively proved by the experience of the three-day week... It might be thought that it was time that the trade unions, who claim so much in terms of power and privilege and yet contribute so little towards the achievement of a British economic miracle, were compulsorily reconstructed too. Such a course is of course politically out of the question. But then it is already clear from the manifestos and the speeches that, over the entire field of policy, what is nationally necessary is still politically impossible. Adjustment to reality being therefore...too painful a cure for us voluntarily to adopt, we shall fool on until there is no more foreign money to be borrowed, but only to be repaid, and catastrophe at last forces adjustment to reality upon us.
    • Letter to The Times (25 September 1974), p. 17
  • [T]he Victorian public school is one of the keys to our decline, turning out by means of curriculum and the moulding influence of school life alike a governing class ignorant of, and antipathetic towards, science, technology and industry, and which despised the qualities needed for success in a competitive industrialised world as those of the cad and the bounder. I would suggest that it is a matter for concern rather than self-congratulation that the broad strategy of contemporary British state education, from primary school to higher education, perpetuates under new guises the Arnoldian, Thringian and Newmanian ideals of a "liberal education"; and that it can be argued that even now we are not sufficiently directing our education towards preparing young people to make their way—and their country's way—in the world.
    • Letter to The Times (30 September 1975), p. 13
  • With regard to Blunt, we should remember that the 1920s and 1930s marked a high tide of romantic idealism, or high-minded priggishness, among the public school-educated British élite. Common-room Communism was not the only form of mandarin prize-assery to flourish; there were the League of Nations Union, the Peace Pledge Union, the Anglo-German Group and Anglo-German "Link", and numerous other groups or ad-hoc committees devoted to various "good causes". There was "Bloomsbury"; E. M. Forster as the grand guru of intellectual wetness. A web of personal relationships and inter-connecting memberships linked the different sects into what may fairly be described as "the Establishment". Blunt and co, having pushed romantic idealism to the point of treachery, simply take the cigar as the prizest, or most misguided, asses of them all.
    • Letter to The Times (23 November 1979), p. 13

The Collapse of British Power (1972) edit

  • In the eighteenth century the English ruling classes – squirearchy, merchants, aristocracy – were men hard of mind and hard of will. Aggressive and acquisitive, they saw foreign policy in terms of concrete interest: markets, natural resources, colonial real estate, navel bases, profits. At the same time they were concerned to preserve the independence and parliamentary institutions of England in the face of the hostility of European absolute monarchies. Liberty and interest alike seemed to the Georgians therefore to demand a strategic approach to international relations. They saw national power as the essential foundation of national independence; commercial wealth as a means to power; and war as among the means to all three. They accepted it as natural and inevitable that nations should be engaged in a ceaseless struggle for survival, prosperity and predominance. Such public opinion as existed in the eighteenth century did not dissent from this world-view. The House of Commons itself reflected the unsentimental realism of an essentially rural society. Patriotism coupled with dislike and suspicion of foreigners were perhaps the only emotions that leavened the vigorous English pursuit of their interests; a pursuit softened but hardly impeded by the mutual conveniences and decencies of international custom and good manners.
    • p. 20
  • [I]n the course of the first half of the nineteenth century a moral revolution was completed in England; a revolution which was in the long term to exercise decisive influence on the shaping and conduct of English foreign policy. It is indeed in the transformation of the British character and outlook by this moral revolution that lies the first cause, from which all else was to spring, of the British plight in 1940. The revolution had begun to gather momentum in the late Georgian age; a peculiarly English manifestation of the romantic movement common to all Western Europe. The essence of romanticism was to value feeling above calculation or judgement. Romanticism exalted sentiment – soon crudened into sentimentality – over sense... For the first time since the doctrinaire seventeenth century a concern for principle had begun to manifest itself in politics by the early part of George III's reign, when, for example, the war against the rebellious American colonies was denounced by politicians like Burke as unjust as well as unwise... After 1793 Charles James Fox attacked the war with revolutionary France as being an attempt to crush a noble experiment in human liberty rather than the parrying of a national danger. Radicals of the day, like Samuel Whitbread, the brewer MP, were even more passionately moralistic in denouncing English policy and excusing French actions, thereby setting a pattern of emotional response to be followed by the romantic left of politics down to the present day.
    • p. 21
  • As a consequence of this spiritual revolution English policy ceased to be founded solely on the expedient and opportunist pursuit of English interests. International relations were no longer seen as being governed primarily by strategy, but by morality. As Gladstone put it in 1870: "The greatest triumph of our epoch will be the consecration of the idea of a public law as the fundamental principle of European politics."
    • p. 24
  • For other great powers did not see the world as one great human society, but – just as the British had done up to the nineteenth century – as an arena where, subject to the mutual convenience of diplomatic custom, nation-states – the highest effective form of human society – competed for advantage. They did not believe in a natural harmony among mankind, but in national interests that might sometimes coincide with the interests of others, sometimes conflict. It followed that they considered that relations between states were governed not by law, nor even by moral principle, but by power and ambition restrained only by prudent calculation and a sense of moderation. War therefore, in their view was not a lamentable breakdown of a natural harmony called peace, but an episode of violence in a perpetual struggle. European powers looked on armed forces not as wicked, but as among the instruments of diplomacy. Indeed, whereas in Britain romantic emotion expressed itself in visions of a world society, in Europe it had given rise to a fervent nationalism. In the late nineteenth century the world was becoming not less dangerous and anarchical, but more so. Moralising internationalism, born out of liberalism by evangelical faith, was therefore an unsuitable guide to British policy.
    • p. 50
  • With the outbreak of war in 1914 the internationalists in the Liberal and Labour parties, already losing credit, seemed to go into intellectual bankruptcy. The moral law was demonstrated to carry less weight than a military railway timetable. A solemn treaty was shown to have the protective power of a magic charm. The natural harmony of human interests was disproved by the spectacle of great nations at each other's throats. The pacifying and unifying effects of modern science and communications were ridiculed by the convenience with which railways launched into battle millions of men equipped with artillery and machine-guns. The liberal-evangelical faith in love, reason and the brotherhood of man was cruelly mocked by the ferocious hatreds bayed by the mobs in the great cities of Europe.
    • pp. 54-55
  • The change in the British since the eighteenth century went far deeper than conscious belief. Evangelical religion had modified the national character itself. The violence and quarrelsomeness that had once been noted as English characteristics had vanished, except in working-class districts; replaced by gentleness and readiness to see good in others. Kindness and gentleness indeed were now seen as prime virtues. The hardness, insolence and even arrogance with which Englishmen used to deal with foreigners had given way to an unlimited willingness to see and understand the other man's point of view, even that of an opponent; indeed a willingness to assume, out of a profound though absurd sense of guilt, that his case was morally better founded than their own. Thanks also to Victorian religion – and perhaps to Dickens – the English now evinced a compassion for the underdog and a sympathy for failure, and a corresponding suspicion of ability and success, that were unparalleled in other countries. Thus it followed that the English now preferred the soft handshake of goodwill and reconciliation (in which they placed unbounded trust) to the firm grip of decision and action. Appeasement indeed had become a conditioned reflex of the British middle and upper classes. Few would now say with Palmerston that the practical and sagacious thing to do in life was to carry a point by boldness: knock an opponent down at once, and apologise afterwards if necessary to pacify him.
    • pp. 62-63
  • In terms of British society at home, this transformation of national character was wholly beneficent. It was a great achievement of Victorian moralism to have softened British life and manners; to have created British civic virtue and self-discipline, and brought about standards of personal and public honesty unequalled in the world; to have rendered the law virtually self-enforcing; to have given the British their special sense of the dignity and liberty of the individual, and, as a corollary, their sense of the individual's personal responsibility. Yet it was exactly because British life itself was now so orderly, gentle, docile, safe and law-abiding, so decent, so founded on mutual trust that the British were less fitted to survive as a nation than their ancestors, whose characters had been formed in a coarse, tough and brutal society. For the British made the fundamental mistake, catastrophic in all its consequences, of exporting their romantic idealism and their evangelical morality into international relations... And so, in applying the qualities of gentleness, trustfulness, altruism and a strict regard for moral conduct to a sphere of human activity where cunning, cynicism, opportunism, trickery and force, all in the service of national self-interest, still held sway, the twentieth-century British stood disarmed and blinded by their own virtues.
    • p. 63
  • Growing foreign perils were perceived and promptly and fully reported, first to London and then to ministers. Some permanent officials, such as Crowe in his time and later Vansittart, struggled hard to convince governments of the need for a strong foreign policy, and to puncture the prevailing euphoria with a bodkin of realism. They failed. They failed because there was another, competing influence on politicians, a more congenial and therefore in the end a more effective influence: a constellation of moralising internationalist cliques, each with its ideas-peddlers, its contact-men in high places, and its tame press. These busy romantics – from Philip Kerr (Lord Lothian) and Lord Robert Cecil on the Right, through liberals like Smuts and Gilbert Murray in the middle to Kingsley Martin and Clifford Allen on the Left – not only believed, admirably enough, that morality rather than power ought to govern relations between states but acted as though it did... The internationalists successfully imposed on governments their pretension to speak for the inarticulate and unsounded body of the British nation; that is, to represent public opinion at large.
    • pp. 239-240
  • British policy was therefore the child of their insemination of the politicians – politicians like Baldwin and MacDonald, the Chamberlains, Simon and Henderson, Halifax, Eden. It was as if the encumbents of quiet early-nineteenth-century rectories and nonconformist minister's houses had been miraculously transported into the great offices of State of a hundred years later. Instead of the suspicious minds of pre-Victorian statesmen, there was trustfulness; instead of a worldly scepticism, a childlike innocence and optimism. And instead of a toughness, even a ruthlessness, in the pursuit of English interests, there was a yielding readiness to appease the wrath of other nations. For the very bedrock of the national character had been crumbled since the eighteenth century. Whereas the pre-Victorian Englishman had been renowned for his quarrelsome temper and his willingness to back his argument with his fists – or his feet – now the modern British, like the elderly, shrank from conflict or unpleasantness of any kind. In Lord Vansittart's words: "Right or Left, everybody was for a quiet life."
    • pp. 240-241
  • Moral force, or righteous indignation, was in fact the only means the British left themselves with which to influence the course of world affairs. For their parsonical belief in the powers of moral reprobation was accompanied by an equally parsonical dislike of "immoral" forms of pressure, such as bribery, threats or force. The British ruling classes deliberately rejected from their thinking the fundamental operating force in international relations – power. To take note that power existed, and was the prime mover, was denounced as a cynical and immoral wish to play "power politics". This was about as sensible as denouncing aircraft designers who took note of aerodynamics. To the post-evangelical British, however, power in the relations between States was like the sexual urge in the relations between people: elemental, frightening, and to be denied. It was an era when Bismarck and D. H. Lawrence were equally ill-thought of. The British approach to diplomacy was therefore rather like their approach to sex, romantically remote from the distressing biological crudities.
    • p. 242
  • The French, in their attitude to making peace, were...preoccupied with the question of Germany's power in the future; a future which they saw as one of continued rivalry between nations.
    The British and the Americans, on the other hand, had no such hard, clear-cut policy; felt no such overriding concern with German power. In the first place they shared the liberal assumption that the normal human condition was what they called "peace"; a natural harmony in which "war" was simply a meaningless and regrettable breakdown. They did not agree with the Clausewitzian view that "peace" and "war" were alternating aspects of a perpetual conflict of interest between organised human groups, a conflict which can express itself in mere economic and diplomatic rivalry; in threats of force; in covert violence or open pressure; in local use of force; in limited war; or finally, in total war. The notion that the Allied victory in the Great War was just one episode in a continuing struggle, from which the maximum advantage must be derived for the next episode, was therefore alien and repellent to them.
    • p. 310
  • [A]fter all the arguments and lobbyings of 1934–5, the proposal to make friends with Japan in order to free English resources to meet the German menace petered out.
    It had indeed really been foredoomed from the start, for while its proponents had been shrewd enough in their object, they had been unrealistic to the point of naïveté in thinking that it might be possible to win Japan's friendship without coming to a deal over China. In any case, even if the Government itself had been willing to conclude such a deal, it would have been vetoed by public opinion. For in 1934–5 the National Government was not in the position of an eighteenth-century administration, looking to a body of opinion composed of solid country squires, with the hardness and realism born of life on the land, and a relish for a shrewd and profitable deal. Instead there was a volatile mass electorate; an urban, rootless and emotional middle class, always ready to get in the fidgets of moral indignation.
    • p. 348
  • From 30 January 1933 onwards the English had had to deal with a German government whose leader poured public scorn of the utmost brutality on the fundamental beliefs by which the English had come to live. In Nazi Germany and post-evangelical England the utterly incompatible products of two different strains of romanticism now confronted one another – the German, with its mystical and atavistic outlook on race and nationhood, its obsession with power and domination, its neurotic love of violence; and the English, with its faith in the moral law, its vision of the brotherhood of man, its trust in the essential goodness of human nature, its pacific gentleness and compassion. Such a confrontation could only end in a tragedy of misunderstanding.
    • p. 386
  • There was yet another powerful element in British public opinion in 1933 which made a return to the balance of power and the line-up of 1918 wholly out of the question. Despite the failure of the League of Nations over the Japanese aggression in Manchuria, the faith of internationalists in the future of the new world order remained undiminished. That the general situation in the world had so much worsened since the happy days of 1929, with the rise of Nazism in Germany and militarism in Japan, only stimulated the internationalists into even greater activity; the more disquieting the facts, the more faith must conquer them. The rather smug optimism evinced by internationalists in the 1920s, when they thought war and aggression had been banished for ever, gave way to a somewhat hysterical eagerness to explain away the inherent impotence and fallaciousness of the League and its Covenant so brutally exposed by the Manchurian affair, and prove how the League nevertheless could and would prevail.
    • pp. 393-394
  • Between the prejudices and the facts therefore the Cabinet could only follow a tortuous course of evasion. England's German policy became one of inherently futile expedients. Underlying these expedients was the illusion, extraordinary in view of Rumbold's and Phipps's reports, that the Nazi leaders would be accessible to reasoned argument and responsive to proofs of goodwill; a failure, per contra, to realise that English policy would carry no weight at all with the Nazis unless backed by English – and French – power and by an evident willingness to use that power.
    • p. 394
  • Meeting Simon could only impress Hitler the more vividly with English feebleness. Here, in Simon, Hitler met for the first time a Foreign Secretary of England, the greatest of all imperial powers, the nation which had thwarted the ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm II – this sanctimonious and deferential old gentleman of mild and episcopal appearance. In a situation which called for a breezy, brutal arrogance of a Palmerston, the chilling dignity of a Castlereagh, or the blunt, plain-speaking and dominant will of a Wellington, Simon could only make a sorry attempt at ingratiation.
    • p. 403
  • [T]he Cabinet...continued to put their faith in bringing about the "appeasement" of Europe by negotiation; in other words, in reaching a general settlement of all outstanding European problems with the co-operation and consent of Nazi Germany... The Cabinet thus elected to follow a course of action which stood in flat contradiction to their own expressed convictions about the nature and aims of the Nazi régime, and about the worth of the Nazi signature.
    Nothing could be more in the romantic tradition than so to reject what was dictated by knowledge and commonsense, and instead pursue the impossible but ideal. But this was a Cabinet refulgent with high ideals – high Victorian ideals. By the mid-1930s the direction of English policy had fallen even more completely into the hands of clergymen manqués than during the 1920s and for the most part clergymen manqués now well advanced in middle-age or even into elderliness. In Baldwin's Cabinet in 1936, MacDonald, Runciman, Kingsley Wood, Neville Chamberlain and Simon represented the nonconformist conscience; Halifax and Hoare the High Church; and Inskip the evangelicals. Their approach to world affairs owed no less to Victorian liberalism, for they were deeply imbued with its abhorrence of struggle and its optimistic faith in human reason and goodwill... The political and moral equipment of the English cabinet ministers of 1936–7, being thus designed for an historical situation which had long since disappeared, was useless in the present international environment.
    • p. 451
  • The British complained at the time, and were long to complain afterwards, that the French had let them down; that the French army had not fought well enough; that France, by capitulating, had left them to carry on the war alone against overwhelming odds. These were complaints which the British, who had been hardly more than spectators of the battle, were singularly ill-qualified to make. For it was, after all, only the logical, if not the inevitable, consequences of the entire course of British policy towards France in the previous twenty years, and of the whole pattern of British grand strategy and re-armament in the 1930s, that France should virtually alone have to fight the decisive land battle against Germany, a nation twice her size; and that she should therefore lose that battle.
    Now the British were face to face with the doom which, step by step, illusion by illusion, they had brought down on themselves – a war without an ally against two great powers, possibly three; their own island in danger; an ill-defended and immensely vulnerable empire; and an inadequate industrial machine; and insufficient and fast-dwindling national wealth.
    • pp. 582-583
  • It was the grimmest legacy ever inherited by an English Prime Minister; a situation probably beyond remedy even by statesmanship of the most far-sighted and cool-headed genius. The first and urgent question, the question which filled the minds of War Cabinet and nation alike, was whether the United Kingdom itself could for long survive in the face of the immensely powerful forces, elated with victory, which were gathering just across the narrow seas; or whether the swastika would fly above the Houses of Parliament and on the church towers of the English countryside, and the boots of a foreign conqueror stand on the soil of England for the first time since the Middle Ages.
    It was a time for former moralising internationalists either to repent, or skulk behind the armed forces they had sought so devotedly to dismantle. For this was the hour, an hour too long delayed, when England returned to herself; when English policy once again spoke in broadsides instead of sermons. To the world's astonishment, the nation which had allowed itself to be represented by – which had even seen itself mirrored in – men like Baldwin, MacDonald, Henderson, Simon, Chamberlain, reverted of a sudden to its eighteenth-century character, hard as a cannon.
    • p. 583
  • [I]t was the shortage of resources – economic and financial – which posed by far the gravest question of all for the British Government after the fall of France in 1940. For whether or not England escaped defeat at the hands of the enemy, the mere continuance of the war would itself inevitably, inexorably, bring independent British power to an end through national bankruptcy and economic ruin. It was a situation which no British Government had had to face since England first emerged as a great power in the wars against Louis XIV.
    • p. 586

Bonaparte (1978) edit

  • In provoking even the peace-loving and feeble Addington Cabinet into a unanimous decision for war Bonaparte had committed the most catastrophic blunder of his entire career. It sprang in the first place from a failure to understand the English character and English institutions, or comprehend England's strength. Since his youthful studies he had regarded her as the modern Carthage, a mere nation of traders doomed to destruction at the hands of a martial state like France. And certainly there was little about English society that accorded with Bonaparte's own ideas as to what constituted a powerful and well-governed state. Vacillating cabinets precariously depended on the hazardous outcome of parliamentary votes. Instead of the central government directing the national life, the national life arranged itself by some mysterious organic process. The nobility and gentry governed the English shires virtually without reference to London, even controlling the militia, that important part of the English military system. The new volunteer movement had sprung up spontaneously as private and independent associations of citizens. The legal profession and the universities jealously guarded their independence. The City of London, the world's greatest financial centre, formed yet another self-governing republic. The Industrial Revolution, already well under way in England but not yet to begin in Europe, owed everything to personal initiative and nothing to State direction or encouragement. All in all, English society consisted of innumerable co-existing private clubs. The apparent anarchy of the English scene found supreme expression in a free press which hounded politicians, the nobility and even the royal family with cruel lampoons. How could such a cloud of human atoms, such a nation of usurers lacking even a great army, contended against Bonaparte's own logical, efficient military state directed by a single mind of genius?
    • p. 94
  • Yet although Bonaparte could not perceive it, those atoms were held together by a principle – love of liberty; the right to arrange your own affairs in association with your fellows without being told what to do by a government and its bureaucrats. He could not begin to comprehend that through such free association and debate Englishmen might arrive at a union far more resilient than the brittle artificial unanimity he had imposed on France; at a truly national purpose in contrast to the mere acquiescence of the French people in his own designs. He failed as well to note the dynamism of a country where initiative and decision flourished everywhere in the soil of liberty instead of being the monopoly of one man at the top like himself. And despite his fulminations about English gold buying allies to fight against France, he no less underestimated the strategic importance of England's resources as the world's most powerful industrial and trading nation.
    • p. 94

I. Technology, Education and Industrial and Economic Strength (1979) edit

'I. Technology, Education and Industrial and Economic Strength', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 127, No. 5271 (February 1979)
  • There are of course the neo-Puginites or neo-Morrisites who like to think of Britain as leading the world into a post-industrial phase where this form of capability will be obsolete, and who despise so material a matter as GNP as unethical or—the trendy version—unecological. Yet these high-minded escapists are among the first to howl about the need for more resources to be invested in hospitals, schools, good works, prison improvement, subsidies for the arts and what not. A country of static or declining GNP will not be an 'Erewhon' but a pinched and increasingly bitter place. Poverty may be noble as a concept; it is rarely so in in the flesh.
    • p. 118
  • Yet there had been an educational revolution in Britain since the 1820s—the reform and expansion of the public schools which produced the British governing élite. And it is in the nature of the Victorian public school that we find the other key factor explaining why Britain was so slow and so inadequate in educating for industrial capability. The Victorian public school was inspired by the religious and moral idealism of the Romantic Movement. It turned away from the realities of the industrialized world of the era and from such topics as science and technology.
    • p. 121
  • So the new or re-vamped public schools did not set out to equip their pupils to lead great industrial enterprises or a great industrial nation, but to turn them into Christian gentlemen able to govern the Empire and ornament the ancient professions like the Church and the Law. The eighteenth-century dissenting academy tradition of blending the arts and science into a practical preparation for a working life withered away. The prestige of the public schools as an avenue into gentility and the upper class seduced businessmen and engineers alike into sending their children to them. The public schools not only failed to educate a technical élite, they served to starve industry of the nation's highest available intellectual talent and the socially most prestigious groups. Industry and technology became what modern research confirms it still is in Britain—low in status, and hence, in a continual vicious circle, low in reward and low in human calibre compared with our rivals. By the 1850s an immense gulf had opened, from both sides, between industry and such education as there was—between the "practical man" despising education on the one hand, and the public schools on the other concentrating on the classics, religion and games.
    • p. 122
  • Britain therefore entered the twentieth century an ill-educated, one might say ignorant, nation compared with its rivals; and particularly weak in those key areas of education on which industrial success depends. We see in these failures the combined baneful effects of liberal laissez-faire's reluctance to embark on large-scale state education at all levels, the "practical man"s' scorn for technical education, and a public-school-educated governing élite's lack of comprehension that Britain stood or fell by her industrial capability.
    • p. 124
  • It is entirely wrong to divide and separate education, in the sense of enabling somebody to realize his or her own potential, from education that enables them to make their way in the world and earn a living. By concentrating solely on what seems to me to be a vastly too ideal form of education you will be projecting people into the world who may have acquired a splendid taste for Mozart, or whatever, but who are totally incapable of earning a living. We might have a nation which was enormously cultured, but actually could not keep a roof over its head, or warm itself or provide itself with food. The first law is survival.
    • p. 128

1980s edit

  • [G]iven that we are today a country that would be as bankrupt as British Steel if it were not for the lucky strike of North Sea oil, and that our gross national product is only half West Germany's, the attempt to maintain "balanced" forces plus a nuclear deterrent constitutes an exercise in nostalgic unrealism. We are like an impoverished aristocratic family who, by petty economies, struggles to go on living in the gradually decaying ancestral mansion rather than live comfortable within their means in a bungalow. Thirty-five years after the Second World War it really is time that we faced the reality of our true status as a nation and adopted a defence policy appropriate to it.
    • Letter to The Times (22 December 1980), p. 13
  • Does not Mr E. P. Thompson see any connexion between the internal nature of the Soviet empire as an oligarchic tyranny and its external policies? As a former communist he must know that the Soviet regime is of its very nature and from earliest origins a minority conspiracy that has gained and maintained power by force and trickery; that because of this inherent nature it always has been and remains terrified of independent centres of thought or power, whether within the Russian empire or beyond its present reach. It is the conjunction of such a regime, and its manifested wish to dominate others, with armed forces powerful beyond the needs of mere defence that is the engine of the present "armaments race". Who believes that Nato and its armaments would exist if Russia had been a Western-style open society for these last 60 years? The first requirement for large-scale nuclear or any other kind of disarmament is the withering away of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
    • Letter to The Times (8 August 1981), p. 13
  • Britain's proportionate losses in killed of men aged 15–49 was just under half that of France. Britain suffered a 6.7 per cent loss as against Germany's 10 per cent. Therefore the "Lost Generation" as applied to the whole nation is confirmed as a myth. No one has disputed that losses fell disproportionately on the products of the public schools and Oxbridge. But this raises two questions. In the first place Bomber Command's losses in aircrew in the Second World War (an equivalent élite of educated and intelligent young men) were considerably higher, at 55,888 dead, than that of subalterns on all fronts on the Great War of 37,452, but no one has sought to romanticise Bomber Command's losses or seek to use such loss to explain our national decline, in the fashion of the "Lost Generation" myth. In the second place, Dr. Strachan and others of his standpoint may over-estimate the value to Britain of these highly publicised public-school and Oxbridge heroes. Does one really see Pre-Raphaelite knights like Julian Grenfell or Rupert Brooke saving Britain from industrial decline and leading us to the conquest of markets in high technology? Consider how useless the most famous survivors proved, such as Sassoon and Graves, or, for that matter, Eden.
    • 'Letters', Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 60, No. 241 (Spring 1982), pp. 52-53
  • If therefore you look at Britain as an industrial society around 1944–5 in all its aspects, including education, it is clear that what was needed was fundamental reform and reconstruction; massive capital investment in rebuilding and re-equipping; a huge expansion of education and training at all levels. In a word, an "economic miracle" such as Germany and other European states, Japan too, actually carried out in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet no such "economic miracle" ever took place in Britain—even though she was to receive a third more Marshall Aid than West Germany, for instance: 2.7 billion dollars to 1.7 billion. It never took place because of fundamental policy decisions taken by the wartime coalition government in 1943–5, and to which postwar governments broadly adhered for some three decades.
    • 'The Audit of War: Britain as an Industrial Society 1939–45', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 134, No. 5364 (November 1986), p. 787
  • Britain came out of the Second World War as an obsolescent industrial economy with grievous weaknesses. Instead of first devoting all possible resources and effort to remedying this, she chose to load this economy with the vast and potentially limitless cost of the welfare state; current expenditure before capital investment; the patterns of the next thirty years.
    • 'The Audit of War: Britain as an Industrial Society 1939–45', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 134, No. 5364 (November 1986), p. 788

Long-Term Industrial Performance in the UK: The Role of Education and Research, 1850–1939 (1985) edit

'Long-Term Industrial Performance in the UK: The Role of Education and Research, 1850–1939', in Derek Morris (ed.), The Economic System in the UK: Third Edition (1985)
  • Industrialisation in Britain had been a "bottom-upwards" grass-roots transformation brought about by the initiative of the individual "practical man", and without benefit of state guidance or intervention. This was in accordance with British political and commercial attitudes already deeply ingrained by the time that the Industrial Revolution got under way. For the British had come to prize individualism and localism, as against a strong and effective state, which they saw as the essential feature of the European despotisms they feared and hated... This traditional British dislike of the state was sharpened and given fresh doctrinal justification during the Industrial Revolution by the laissez-faire political economists, laissez-faire becoming, by 1850, a universal article of political faith. Even with regard to education, all must be left to private enterprise or private charity. In any case, it was thought, state intervention in education could lead towards tyranny. A national education system devised and directed by the state was therefore unthinkable.
    • pp. 672-673
  • The approach of European countries to industrialisation and the role of education was different from Britain's from the start, and it sprang from a fundamentally different concept of the role of the state itself. Even in the pre- or post-industrial area of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, European monarchies had regarded it as their function to promote commercial and industrial progress by interventionist measures, including the setting up of training schools for particular crafts and professions. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, it became entirely natural for European governments to follow their older traditions and seek to guide and foster their countries' industrialisation. In particular they saw that the state alone could bring about a structure of national education at all levels which would feed industry with well-educated and trained personnel.
    • pp. 673-674
  • The European states, and above all Germany (newly united in 1871), therefore entered the second Industrial Revolution, that of science-based industries like chemicals and electrical goods, very well equipped by education, training, and research systems to take the lead. Britain, on the other hand, could only deploy a sorry militia of the ignorant led by the "practical man". Not merely did Britain lack a modern educational and research structure, it lacked the necessary national understanding and will to create one. Here then is the leitmotiv in British education for the next sixty years: the painful effort against the very grain of national prejudices to remedy what was already by 1870 a half-century of backlog.
    • p. 675
  • [L]ate-Victorian Oxbridge positively harmed the prospects of the British economy by completing the work of the public schools in turning out a governing élite imbued with Newmanian ideals of a liberal education in humanistic culture; an élite which both generally and in particular cases...neglected or even hamstrung developments in technical education.
    • p. 680
  • In 1890 there were still twice as many academic chemists in Germany as in Britain, though the British population was three-quarters of the German figure. In 1892 Britain had 287 academic staff in mathematics, science, and engineering compared with 452 in Germany. In engineering in particular the major German technical high schools had 7,130 students in 1901 against a total of 1,443 in British universities. In terms of overall university provision, Britain spent £26,000 in government grants in 1897, while Germany spent £476,000; in 1902 Germany had 22 universities for a population of 50 million, England and Wales 7 for 31 million.
    And...British industry still lagged badly in advanced industries like chemicals, electricals, and machine tools, and even in basics like steel—partly because of a continuing lack of trained personnel at all levels (the "practical man" still failing to recruit enough of them). Britain's annual rate of growth in the years 1880–1900 averaged 1.7 per cent against Germany's 5.3 per cent and America's 4.5 per cent. Britain's own rate of growth in industrial production was also declining—from 33 per cent in the decade of the 1860s to 24 per cent in the 1890s and 9 per cent in the 1900s.
    • p. 681
  • The 1902 Act led to a major expansion in secondary education, so that by 1914 there were 1,123 such schools, of which 500 were directly run by the local authorities while the remainder was denominational. Unfortunately, the prestige of a "grammar school" education, itself derived from the Arnoldian public school, with its emphasis on the academic approach to both the arts and science, impressed itself on parents, local authorities, and the Board of Education alike, so excluding a system of alternative secondary education of equal standing, like the German Realschule, more related to Britain's existence as a commercial and technical power.
    • p. 683

The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (1986) edit

  • It is impossible to exaggerate the long-term consequences, social and psychological, of the experiences of the new industrial workforce in the raw factory settlements of the late Georgian and early Victorian England under conditions of ferocious competition and unbridled exploitation. It was in that era, when men, women and children were flooding into these settlements from the countryside and exchanging the slow, natural rhythms of the land or self-employed crafts (however hard that life might have been) for the harsh mechanical discipline and the pace and clamour of the mill, exchanging the village for the back-to-back terrace, that the British industrial working class, with its peculiar and enduring character as a culture apart, an alienated group often embittered and hostile, was created. It happened that water power and coal and iron largely existed in the bleak, wild landscapes of northern England, South Wales and lowland Scotland – regions hitherto lacking the numerous population and rich civilisation of the south; indeed regions traditionally turbulent and remote from the government of the Crown since the middle ages. Rare it was for the new factory settlements to cluster round an established city, as later would German industries develop round Leipzig and Dresden, Düsseldorf and Cologne: instead villages like Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Huddersfield, Bradford, Halifax, Middlesbrough proliferated into vast brick-built industrial camps; nothing but mean dwellings, drink-shops and "works".
    • p. 188
  • Except in rare cases such as Robert Owen's paternalistic management at New Lanark, the brutality of indoctrination into the life of a coolie in a vast camp for coolies, performing coolie work in service to machines, was unsoftened by positive care and control by the state. Not until the great uprooting and resettlement had been largely completed did Parliament belatedly begin to mitigate the squalor, chaos and exploitation by reforms in local government and public health, and by regulating working conditions by successive Factory Acts... This was the environment, then, which moulded the character of the new British working class: a home life in a mean brick hovel without piped water in an unpaved street with open drains, much like the townships in which the Bantu coolies of South Africa still live today; a working life at the mercy of a "practical-man" master who believed that the profitability of his business depended on low wages and long hours. It was, after all, from the study of the British working class that Marx and Engels principally derived their conception of the alienated proletariat.
    • p. 189
  • [W]hereas American workers during the industrialisation of the United States after 1850 never accepted they were permanent members of a coolie class, but believed instead that, true to the American myth, they were merely passing through on their way to prosperous middle-class status, British "coolies" came to accept that working-class they were, and working-class they and their children would always remain; and proud of it. In Hoggart's judgement in 1957, "Most working-class people are not climbing; they do not quarrel with their general level; they only want the little more that allows a few frills." In fact it was an aspect of their conformism that social ambition was positively discouraged as "giving y'self airs", quite apart from an individual's fear anyway of becoming isolated from social roots and family. It is apparent that none of these lasting characteristics, beliefs and attitudes of the British urban working class make for maximum industrial productivity or for maximum speed in adapting to new technologies; indeed the very opposite. Was it not the boss's factory, the boss's product, the boss's market and the boss's profit; and in the boss's interest to bring in new machines? Did not the boss exact – or try to exact – the most work for the least wage? It followed that the worker's only connection with the productive process was to fight the boss as best he could through trade unions or through simple skiving, in order to do as little for as much money as possible; or to protect his job or craft by restrictive practices. So deeply ingrained in the worker was this sense that the productive process, let alone success in the market, was no responsibility of his that it determined his actions even in the midst of the Second World War.
    • pp. 190-191
  • In Britain the pattern was early established, and forever continued, whereby at best management and workforce confronted each other in a state of suspended hostilities, like armies of observation: hardly a pattern that encouraged spontaneous zeal at the bench. In 1879 William Morris, himself a romantic and a socialist, could write: "It is true, and very sad to say, that if anyone nowadays wants a piece of ordinary work done by a gardener, carpenter, mason, dyer, weaver, smith, what you will, he will be a lucky rarity if he gets it well done. He will, on the contrary, meet on every side with evasion of plain duties, and disregard of other men's rights..." It was Hoggart's judgement in the early 1950s that fundamentally nothing had changed since Morris's day. And certainly the cumulative evidence about lacklustre output, absenteeism, stoppages and go-slows during the Second World War in industries ranging from coal and shipbuilding to aircraft manufacture bears this out, as does the appalling record for low productivity, strikes and shoddy workmanship which in the 1970s helped to destroy the British motor-vehicle industry. So the degree of motivation explains the performance; the performance demonstrates the degree of motivation; and the nature of the historical experience of the working class accounts for both.
    • pp. 191-192

1990s edit

  • [T]here is in Britain a very strong idealistic lobby which reproduces itself down the generations. Their ideals, their hopes and their morals are of course absolutely impeccable. But the question is the practicality and the consequences. Certain aspects of morality may be sound in themselves but hopelessly inappropriate when made the basis for decision-making in international relations. One has to see the world as it really is, to see the realities of power, the realities of leverage and of course the realities of your own interests.
    • Interview with Richard English and Michael Kenny in Cambridge (16 July 1996), quoted in Richard English and Michael Kenny (eds.), Rethinking British Decline (1999), p. 43
  • [A]s Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao perceived, the basic concept of war as a continuation of politics by other means can be applied to any form of rivalry between human groups, be they class, racial or ideological. In these contexts "war", or the use of force to compel an opponent to fulfil one's will, has far broader meanings than a traditional punch-up between nation states or alliances, or the kind of "absolute" or "total" war which Clausewitz saw as conceptually the purest form and which we have witnessed twice this century. Thus we saw anti-nuclear protesters employ force at military installations in pursuit of the political aim of persuading Western governments into unilateral nuclear disarmament. We saw Greenpeace employ force against Shell plc over the disposal of the Brent Spar platform. We saw Arthur Scargill's troops attempt by coercion to bring down an elected government, only to be defeated in, quite literally, pitched battles. We may note in these encounters and, for that matter, in the street brawls during the World Cup, another fundamental factor that is unlikely to change in the future – the dark well of aggressiveness that lies within human nature and finds release in the pleasurable adrenalin surge that comes from violence, risk and danger.
    • 'Home front, front line', The Spectator (4 July 1998)
  • It is Northern Ireland that provides the classic contemporary demonstration of Clausewitzian principles in action. In 1974 the Ulster Protestants rejected powersharing under the 1973 Sunningdale agreement to the point of launching a general strike which the British army warned the British government it could not handle. The government thereupon abandoned the project. But in 1998 the majority of Unionist political parties and at least half the Unionist electorate have come to accept power-sharing under the deal brokered by Mo Mowlam. Wherein lies the essential difference between 1973–74 and 1998? It lies in the profound yearning on the island of Ireland and on the British mainland (including Whitehall and Westminster) for "peace" after the intervening 25 years of unrelenting "war" on the part of the IRA, years of violence of the most extreme kind intended (to quote Clausewitz) "to compel our opponent to fulfil our will". Thus all the talk of compromise and reconciliation in Northern Ireland is just so much small-l liberal blather disguising the Clausewitzian reality that by their "continuation of politics by other means" the IRA have indeed compelled their opponents to fulfil their will.
    • 'Home front, front line', The Spectator (4 July 1998)
  • That Clausewitz lives, and will live, is equally shown in such cases as the former Yugoslavia, where Nato has simply frozen a war which will certainly break out again if and when the intervention forces leave; or Israel–Palestine, where the political relations between Jew and Arab reflect the military outcome of past wars, where the conflict of interest is essentially irreconcilable, and where therefore policy and violence will continue to go hand in hand.
    What may therefore be safely predicted is that over the next 170 years the world will continue to be an arena of complex rivalries and direct collisions of interest rather than a "world order" or a "world community", and that human groups engaged in such rivalries will from time to time resort to force as an instrument of their politics. What weapons will be then available, and what tactics will consequently be employed, only a fool would pretend to guess. It will be remarked that so far I have not mentioned the United Nations Organisation, that expensive figment of liberal wishful thinking. I have done so now.
    • 'Home front, front line', The Spectator (4 July 1998)

Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (1991; 1992) edit

  • It must be left to Cunningham himself to sum up the success of "Operation Judgment": "Taranto, and the night of November 11th–12th, 1940, should be remembered for ever as having shown once and for all that in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has its most devastating weapon. In a total flying time of about six and a half hours – carrier to carrier – twenty aircraft had inflicted more damage upon the Italian fleet than was inflicted upon the German High Seas Fleet in the daylight action at the Battle of Jutland". Taranto indeed marked the dethronement of the battleship as the arbiter of seapower after four centuries, and the opening of a new era of naval warfare.
    • p. 249
  • How then was the Admiralty to find a fleet for Singapore, as had been repeatedly promised (though with waning conviction) to Australia and New Zealand before and since the outbreak of war with Germany and Italy? It went far deeper than a mere question of naval strategy and deployment. As Sir Samuel Hoare, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, had remarked to the 1937 Imperial Conference, "the very existence of the British Commonwealth as now constituted" rested on the ability of Britain to send a battlefleet to Singapore. But this in turn posed an even more profound question about Britain's very own existence as the centre of this oceanic empire, the immediate practical implications of which were so starkly confronting her leaders in the summer and autumn of 1941. For in retrospect it can be seen that it was an illusion for the British to believe that the Commonwealth and the Empire made Britain a great world power. Rather the strategic and economic balance sheet in 1941 demonstrates that the Commonwealth and Empire (with the notable exception of Canada and perhaps South Africa) were not an asset, but a net drain on Britain's strength; a predicament. For the imperial pink splashed across the map of the world in British atlases did not represent strength, as the British romantically believed, but one of the most outstanding examples of strategic overstretch in history.
    • p. 382
  • In late January 1941...formal staff conversations were held in Washington at which the British delegation pressed again the key importance (as they saw it) of Singapore, and urged that America should base there as strong a detachment of her Pacific Fleet (including battleships) as possible. An American battlefleet to Singapore! It was a solution to the imperial dilemma that would have astonished and dismayed Beatty and Amery. It marked a tacit acknowledgment that after two decades Britain's imperial bluff had at last been called by events; and that she had reached the point of bankruptcy in terms of world maritime power.
    • p. 386
  • Britain in particular was again paying the penalty for a hundred years of Free Trade policy. This had rendered her dependent on enormous quantities of imported foodstuffs (to the ruin of British agriculture, only now being once more resuscitated in wartime by emergency measures). Free Trade had also reduced her general economic and industrial self-sufficiency by exposing her home market to massive imports of foreign technology, all of it paid for in peacetime by British exports (now reduced to only a third of the peacetime figure) or by income from foreign investments (now all liquidated). In the Victorian era this national dependence on a high volume of seaborne imports and exports had seemed the formula for unexampled prosperity. Now, in the crisis of a world war, it constituted, as in 1914–18, a strategic vulnerability that menaced the country's very survival.
    • pp. 575-576
  • A navy is no more than the armour and the weapons-system of seapower. The hull, providing essential buoyancy, is the national wealth. The propulsion is commercial and industrial success, which creates the national wealth. By the end of the Second German War in May 1945 British national wealth, once the greatest in the world, had given way to bankruptcy, with overseas debts exceeding reserves of gold and foreign currency by nearly fifteen times. Whereas in 1870 Britain's foreign trade had nearly equalled that of France, Germany and the United States put together, in 1945 her export trade had collapsed to less than one-third of the 1939 level, and her visible exports could finance no more than one-tenth of her overseas requirements. Worse still, the British industrial machine, once the envied model for the rest of the world, had been revealed by the war to the government, though not to the British people at large, as out-of-date in equipment, methods and attitudes; crippled by poor management and obstructive workforces; and weak in advanced technologies. All this was especially true of shipbuilding.
    • p. 880

The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities 1945–1950 (1995) edit

  • Noble though the wartime aspirations of the liberal Establishment might be, New Jerusalem nevertheless constituted – just like the postwar illusion of Britain as a present and future world and Commonwealth power, or the pre-war faith in the League of Nations as a preserver of world law and order – a piece of romantic fantasising, rather like some gigantic palace in an engraving by Piranesi. And just as Piranse's imagination defied the laws of physics and geometry, so did the dreamers of New Jerusalem disregard the real-life problem of funding its construction out of what was now a bankrupt and backward industrial economy instead of the richest in the world that it had been in their youth.
    • p. 128
  • In 1937, the best trading year for Britain between the world wars, the volume of her visible exports amounted to only two-thirds of the 1913 figure. The British share of world trade in manufactures fell from nearly 24 per cent in 1921–5 to 18.6 per cent in 1936–8, whereas Germany's share actually rose from 17.4 per cent to 19.8 per cent, and Japan's from 3.4 per cent to 7 per cent. As a consequence of this slow defeat and retreat in world markets for manufactures Britain was compelled to look more and more to her invisible exports (banking, insurance and shipping services, plus the income from the vast overseas investments built up during the Victorian age) in order to pay for the imports essential to the nation's life and work. Even at the height of her nineteenth-century dominance as a manufacturing country Britain had relied on such invisible exports to keep her balance of payments in equilibrium – indeed to enable her to earn the surpluses to invest overseas. But the percentage of imports that had to be covered by invisible earnings rose from 19.2 per cent in 1870–4 to 44.4 per cent in 1935–9. Even so, Britain by these latter years was incurring an overall balance of payments deficit. Like some ageing industrialist who finds that the shrunken profits from the family firm are no longer enough to pay for his accustomed way of life, Britain had to resort to spending capital. In other words, in the run-up to the Second World War Britain was gradually selling off her foreign investments and using up her gold reserves.
    • pp. 167-168
  • It remained only for Britain during the war to pour out the rest of the investments and the gold on the purchase of war supplies from the United States, while at the same time cutting visible exports to a third of the 1938 level for the sake of war production, and the basis of Britain's economic existence for the last hundred years had been comprehensively destroyed.
    In 1945 Britain was therefore left by this nemesis of free trade with none of the advantages of being highly dependent on foreign trade, and all the vulnerability. In the immediate postwar era, and for the first time since the beginning of the industrial revolution, she would have to depend almost entirely on visible exports in order to secure the life and work of the nation and to rebuild her old prosperity.
    • p. 169
  • [A]s Britain's wartime record demonstrates and the contemporaneous surveys of postwar export prospects grimly concluded, here was no industrial equivalent of a panzer striking force, superbly equipped with the best of modern technology, its troops brought to a high pitch of morale and tactical training, and blessed with dynamic leadership from the high command down to junior officers and NCOs. Rather, Britain as an industrial society in 1945 more resembled the French Army of 1940 – its equipment (including infrastructure such as ports, roads and railways) largely old and outmoded; its tactical doctrines out of date; the standard of training of its regimental officers (in other words, line and shop-floor managers) often lamentable; its NCO corps (trade union conveners and shop-stewards) more devoted to thwarting the officers than obeying them; the morale and motivation of its ill-educated rank and file low, even to the point of recurrent local mutiny; and its generals (boards and top management) largely too timid, too torpid, too set in the ways of the past to measure up to the exacting role of planning and conducting a war of conquest for world markets.
    • p. 170
  • Nor, except in the garden or allotment or on the sports field, did Britons generally evince an eagerness for strenuous effort. A journalist with the British Army advancing into the heart of Germany in April 1945 noted: "It occurs to me that the Germans are a menacing race by reason of their docility and their ability to toil. No man ought to love work as they do – it's indecent, certainly uncivilised. We English don't love work in this slavelike way, and thank God for it." And a week later the same journalist, J. L. Hodson, confided to his notebook that the reason why the British were unable to maintain hatred for long was their temperament was "too lazy, too indifferent, too good-natured".
    • p. 175
  • In his 1982 book On Britain, that Anglophile German, Ralf Dahrendorf, was to opine that Britons lacked that urge for material achievement which drove his fellow countrymen... The consumer boom of the mid-1980s, when the British were to rush to the household super-stores to stuff their houses with new furnishings and electrical kit of every kind (most of it imported), might seem to prove Dahrendorf wrong. Yet in fact this spending was to be mostly done with borrowed money, thanks to the ballooning, soon punctured, of property values. It did not represent the fruits of extra effort and careful saving, as had the German "middle-class" lifestyle to which Dahrendorf referred and which constituted the outward manifestation of a genuine economic miracle. Even after undergoing Margaret Thatcher's strident sermons on the "enterprise culture" in the 1980s, most Britons (according to opinion polls) still aspired to be comfortable rather than rich – an aspiration which, even if morally admirable, hardly compares with greed as a psychological motor of economic growth.
    • pp. 176-177
  • That idealism was of course shared by the whole Cabinet, including its chapel-bred working-class members. All their adult lives the vision of New Jerusalem had inspired them to struggle through the sloughs of committee work and along the stony paths of electioneering. However, in the expectation of coming to power in a rich imperial Britain, they had always assumed that they would build New Jerusalem by the simple method of redistributing wealth from the rentier class to the working masses. Now, in Government, they found themselves in a plight to which a lifetime's assumptions were quite inappropriate, for instead of redistributing wealth they were faced with the urgent and immensely more difficult task of creating it. Their problem in adjusting their minds to this sordid need was shared by the small-'l' liberal Establishment as a whole, especially in the opinion-forming intelligentsia, as Lord Annan acknowledges in his book Our Age: "Unfortunately we were more concerned with how wealth should be shared than produced."
    • p. 182
  • In the 1960s and 1970s British folk-wisdom cherished (perhaps still cherishes) a comfortable explanation for Britain's relative economic decline since the Second World War, and especially her then all too evident industrial backwardness compared with West Germany. West Germany, so the story goes, had all her industries and transport system bombed flat during the war, and then, thanks to Marshall Aid, was able to completely rebuild them with the most up-to-date equipment. Meanwhile poor old Britain had to struggle on with worn-out or obsolete kit.
    This favourite British "wooden leg" excuse is pure myth. In the first place, West German industrial capacity in 1948 stood at 90 per cent of 1936 despite wartime bombing and postwar reparations. Secondly, Britain in fact received a third more Marshall Aid than West Germany – $2.7 billion net as against Germany's $1.7 billion. She indeed pocketed the largest share of any European nation.
    • p. 365
  • The truth is that the Labour Government, advised by its resident economic pundits, freely chose not to make the re-equipping of Britain as an industrial society the Schwerpunkt of her use of Marshall Aid. Instead, the Government saw Marshall Aid (like the American loan of 1945) primarily as a wad of greenbacks stuffed by a kindly Uncle Sam into the breeches pocket of a nearly bankrupt John Bull who, though diligently seeking future solvency, nevertheless still wished in the meantime to go on playing the squire, beneficent to his family and the poor, and grand among the neighbours.
    • p. 365

The Audit of the Great War on British Technology (1999) edit

'The Audit of the Great War on British Technology', in Jean-Pierre Dormois and Michael Dintenfass (eds.), The British Industrial Decline (1999)
  • In the twentieth century the capability of a nation's armed forces cannot be separated from that nation's technological capability and industrial resources, or even social fabric. This realisation led the concept of "total strategy", strategy conceived as encompassing all the factors relevant to preserving, or extending, the power and prosperity of a human group in the face of rivalry from other groups... It will be seen that "total strategy" provides a different approach from that of the economic historian, and especially an economic historian in the Anglo-Saxon Adam-Smithian free-market tradition.
    • p. 103
  • Since the Great War was an artillery war, shells for field and medium guns stood at the top of the list. But that list also included motor transport, aircraft and aero-engines, small arms and ammunition, telecommunications kit, drugs, and later, tanks and poison gas. It was here that "the audit of war" (to coin a phrase) in 1914–1916 showed up the British industrial system as widely inadequate or obsolescent... To take the basic industrial sinew, British steel production in 1910 was little more than half the German total... According to the History of the Ministry of Munitions: "British manufacturers were behind other countries in research, plant and method. Many of the iron and steel firms were working on a small scale, old systems and uneconomic plant, their cost of production being so high that competition with the steel works of the United States and Germany was becoming impossible". In fact, this history draws the conclusion that in 1914–1916, "it was only the ability of the Allies to import shell and shell steel from neutral America...that averted the decisive victory of the enemy". More than 50 per cent of shells fired off in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 were American and Canadian.
    • p. 106
  • Machine-tools, ball-bearings, magnetos, internal combustion engines, drugs – it is hard to name a basic necessity of advanced technology in which Britain was self-sufficient in 1915... Thus the audit rendered by the first two years of the war on Britain's own capabilities in newer technologies proved harsh enough. Nonetheless, economic historians might object that Britain's Victorian and Edwardian "total strategy" actually served her well enough in wartime. Thanks to her accumulated wealth and her credit as the centre of a global free trade economy and thanks also to British seapower, she could buy in all the technological imports that she needed – largely from North America. But there are two snags here. First, wealth and credit are wasting assets when spent, while the spending only serves to profit other countries' manufacturers and build up their industries. In contrast, up-to-date export industries of your own are long-term earners. Secondly, the high degree to which free trade had rendered Britain dependent on imports of food and raw materials actually brought her near to complete national defeat in 1917 at the hands of the U-boat... Moreover, even though the U-boat was narrowly beaten, Britain had to devote immense naval resources to the merely defensive purpose of keeping open her sea lifelines. This pattern was to be repeated in the Second World War.
    • p. 108
  • Cobden in his boundless mid-Victorian optimism about free trade could no more have imagined such a plight than Adam Smith could have imagined refrigerated cargo ships bringing meat from the New World to undercut British livestock farmers. Perhaps their intellectual descendants today are at times too preoccupied with peacetime world trade and the advantages of economic specialisation between nations, to the neglect of the total-strategic implications in wartime of such specialisation. But at least Adam Smith himself recognised that, in his words, "defence, however, is of much greater importance than opulence".
    • p. 108
  • The audit of the Great War showed up widespread human weaknesses in British industry. Too many British capitalists in their boardrooms were simply self-trained "practical men" smugly content with old products, old equipment and old markets, guided by a concern for short-term profits rather than for the long-term development of their businesses. The trade unions...were resolutely resistant to new technology, while also holding back productivity by a maze of demarcations and restrictive practices.
    • p. 108
  • The urgent challenge of winning a total war against so formidable an enemy as Germany, indeed the peril of national defeat, jolted Britain as an industrial society far more effectively than mere peacetime world-market competition, to which she had failed to respond as she should have done according to classical economic ideas. A remarkable technological revolution began in Britain in 1915 and was consummated in 1918 – remarkable not only because of all the deficiencies that had got to be made good, but also because the revolution was accomplished under wartime conditions and at utmost speed. It is also noteworthy that it was masterminded by the government, and that many of the new American-style factories were actually owned and operated by the state.
    • p. 109
  • It hardly needs emphasising that this wartime technological revolution marked a complete departure from Victorian and Edwardian laissez-faire orthodoxy. Given time for consolidation and further development – probably under some form of protection such as fostered the growth of American, German and Japanese industry – Britain's wartime achievements might have served as the starting-point for a root-and-branch modernisation of Britain as an industrial society. Indeed, the 1918 report of the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy virtually recommended this.
    More fundamentally still, the wartime revolution could have served as the prototype for a new British "total strategy", based on Britain's own technological strength: in other words, the German and Japanese version of capitalism, a partnership between state and industry, rather than the Anglo-Saxon version. But instead Britain tried after the war to revert to her Victorian and Edwardian total strategy based on laissez-faire, the City of London, the gold-standard pound sterling and the Empire – with consequences which would only be fully revealed when the Second World War submitted Britain to yet another audit of industrial capability.
    • p. 112

2000s edit

  • On the basis of legal advice sketchy enough to be put on one side of a sheet of A4, and from a single lawyer who was also a cabinet minister, Blair finally took Britain to war against a country which posed no threat at all to British interests, let alone to the United Kingdom itself.
    There can be no sterner test of a national leader's soundness of judgement than when he has to decide between peace and war. And there can be no sterner test of his probity than his choice of the means of persuading his countrymen to back him. Both these tests Tony Blair has unquestionably failed. As a result, he stands convicted of being wholly unworthy of our trust. This is the central fact of this election, and we should vote accordingly.
  • Ever since the war we had lived in a form of state socialism with tremendous controls and regulations over economic and social life. I can remember when you couldn't even buy a house abroad without special permission from the Bank of England. People who think the pre-Thatcher years were a golden age really didn't live through them: just ask anyone who rode on the clapped-out railways or tried to make a telephone call when the Post Office ran the phones.
    When she came to power she transformed the country. The moribund industries relying on taxpayer funding – all gone. The trade unions – all gone. She abolished exchange controls, completely liquidated the state sector of industry and threw the economy wide open.
    It's certainly true that she was so powerful a person that cabinet government in the collegiate sense began to diminish. More and more they were like a collection of staff officers around the general. Blair has taken that further and deliberately adopted a presidential style in every possible way. The main difference was that she had genuine feeling, conviction and leadership. In my view, during the last eight years, Blair has proved a very plausible conman who promises much but hasn't achieved it.
  • I am dismayed by the RSA's change of institutional Schwerpunkt from hardnosed concern with education and training for personal and national capability to generalised small ‘l’ liberal do-goodery, or, in the words of your chief executive, the driving of "social progress". While we waste time and effort on this right-on idealism, poor old Britain is confronting ever tougher competition from old rivals like Europe and North America, and new ones like India and China. You would hardly guess from the contents of your Journal that it is a ruthlessly hard world out there, and getting harder every decade.
    • 'Fellowship', RSA Journal, Vol. 154, No. 5533 (Spring 2008), p. 14

The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2001) edit

  • In 1955 British exports of manufactures rose by only 7 per cent by value over 1954; those of the United States by 9 per cent; of Germany, by about 18 per cent; and of Japan by about 27 per cent.
    • p. 112
  • Between 1946 and 1950, the most desperate period of the post-war export campaign and of national dependence on American loans and handouts, there were sixteen major strikes in British docks, cumulatively involving nearly 137,000 workers and losing a total of over 1,000,000 worker-days. Between 1950 and 1955...the dockers were out eighteen times playing the big matches and 168 times in instant and short-lived kick-abouts. The big matches drew onto the pitch a cumulative total of nearly 155,000 players, costing nearly 2,000,000 worker-days.
    But mere statistics cannot properly record the ramifying harm inflicted on British industry and commerce by these repeated blockades. For they meant export delivery dates missed and foreign customers infuriated; factories held up for want of raw materials and equipment from abroad; wholesalers and retailers running out of imported foodstuffs; transport to and from afflicted ports backing up in standstill and confusion; telegrams and telephone calls crowding an out-of-date and already overloaded telecommunications net as victims of the blockades tried to sort out their troubles; and an immense waste of time and effort by ministers and civil servants in attempting to deal with the strikes and their immediate impact. More insidious still was the moral harm done to Britain at home and abroad by such spectacular mutinies, further helping to convey the impression of a nation without disciplined purpose, and instead blindly intent on self-mutilation.
    • pp. 253-254
  • Now...came a further threat to the power of employers (no longer "masters"): the arrival of national trade unions or federations of unions. So the employers too began to organise themselves on an industry-wide scale. Their purpose was well expressed by Colonel Dyer, the American leader of the Federation of Engineering Employers (founded in 1896), in respect of his own industry. It was "to obtain the freedom to manage their own affairs which has proved so beneficial to the American manufacturers as to enable them to what was formally an English monopoly..." Just how far that freedom had been cumulatively shackled by the past step-by-step gains of the trade unions was revealed by books and newspaper campaigns urging Britain to "wake up" to German and American competition. In 1894 appeared the bestselling British Industries and Foreign Competition. In 1896 followed a "Made in Germany" press panic, on publication of a book under that title. In 1901 the Daily Mail followed a Daily Express series entitled "Wake up England!" with its own on "American Invaders". In 1900–1901 The Times, governing-class opinion incarnate, ran major articles on "The Crisis in British Industry" and "American Competition and Progress". Technical journals critically examined the efficiency of particular industries. All exposed British owners and managers as now widely old-fashioned in outlook, lethargic in action, and smug. But also fully explored was the opposition of the unions to new machines and new methods; the shackling effect of union restrictive practices on efficiency and productivity.
    • p. 262
  • Between 1948 and the first half of 1953 manufacturing output per head in Britain only rose by some 14 per cent, as against rises of 20 per cent in America and Sweden, 27 per cent in France and the Netherlands, and a staggering 101 per cent rise in Germany (reflecting, naturally, her acceleration from stand-still). Even as early as 1950 Germany had virtually caught Britain up in manufacturing productivity. In fact, such productivity actually fell in Britain by some 3–4 per cent in 1951–2, just at the time when it was rising fastest in Germany. It only regained the 1951 level in 1953.
    • p. 269
  • Between 1950 and 1952 the volume of British exports fell by 5 per cent (rearmament again), while German exports rose by over 50 per cent and American exports by about 20 per cent. In just those two years Britain's share of world trade in manufactures dropped from 26 per cent to 22 per cent. By the end of 1954 it was down to just over 20 per cent. In 1955 American exports of manufactured goods rose by about 9 per cent by value, Germany's by 18 per cent, Japan's by 27 per cent – and Britain's by 7 per cent.
    • p. 270
  • Perhaps the most damaging single proof of this American superiority in all-round productivity lies in a comparison in September 1954 between steel output at the Inland Steel Company, Chicago, and the more modern Port Talbot plant of the Steel Company of Wales. For Inland produced about 260 ingot tons per man-year as against about 160 ingot tons per man-year at Port Talbot. It was a foretaste of the even more horrifying comparisons in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s between productivity at identical car plants in Britain and on the Continent.
    • p. 279
  • In May 1956...a working party of officials submitted a report on "German Competition with particular reference to the Engineering Industries". It made grim reading. Between 1953 and 1954 German exports rose by 40 per cent in volume and her share of world trade in manufactures rose from 13.3 per cent to 15.6 per cent, whereas Britain's share fell from 25.5 per cent to 19.8 per cent. In those same years output per man in manufacturing "improved almost twice as much in Germany as in the United Kingdom".
    • p. 398
  • For full employment also execrated a by-product highly poisonous to the health of the nation's economy as a whole: the so-called "wage-price" spiral of inflation. This weakened the cost-competitiveness of British exports, so in turn menacing the balance of payments, the international standing of the pound, the survival of the Sterling Area, and ultimately the grandiose but wobbly facade of Britain as a world power. Moreover, even full employment's comforting warm milk of abundant pay-packets and easy profits only served to render the British economy at home fat and flabby, so that even dud companies (especially in older technologies) found it easy to keep bumbling along.
    • p. 428
  • The deal between the French and the Israelis was struck in Paris on 1 October 1956. An eighteenth-century British cabinet would not have hesitated to join in... In contrast, Eden's cabinet was riven by moral squeamishness; so too were the house prefects of the Foreign Office.
    The irony lay in that the political and psychological shackles which the morally squeamish now found so uncomfortable had been forged by themselves. It was they and their predecessors who since 1918 had brought about the prevailing climate of opinion in which a state's naked pursuit of self-interest, if necessary by armed diplomacy, if necessary by war, was deemed a sin, even a crime. In furtherance of their romantic vision that a "world community" ruled by law could, and would, replace the existing world arena of group struggle, they and their predecessors had first created the League of Nations and its futile Covenant, and then, after the Second World War, the United Nations Organisation and its Charter. Since this document outlawed war except in clear cases of self-defence, it now supplied an peculiarly uncomfortable shackle for Britain, for here she was, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and yet secretly plotting to revert to realpolitik.
    • p. 490
  • The evidence also justifies a verdict that the British character in peacetime...lacked not only hardness of mind, but also (except perhaps among the trade union barons and the shop-floor mutineers) hardness of will. In a corruption of the virtue of tolerance into a vice, the British too readily put up with slackness; they shrank from weeding out and discarding the incompetent, whether these wore the executive homburg or the workman's overalls or the teacher's gown. They lacked, moreover, the dynamism powered in America by individual and corporate ambition and in post-war Germany by obsession with Leistung (achievement). For long since out of fashion in Britain was the restless energy displayed by British entrepreneurship in the full momentum of the industrial revolution. Instead, in the shrewd diagnosis of a distinguished economic commentator in 1963 (and fully justified by the historical evidence), "The very niceness of the British, the national desire to do the decent thing...has become an enormous force for immobilisme..."
    • p. 509
  • "Niceness", the desire "to do the decent thing" – these qualities constituted then, and still constitute today, the emotional essence of small 'l' liberalism. They are qualities desirable in a friend, a neighbour or a colleague, and admirable in the citizen of a democracy. But they serve ill as a guide to a nation's total strategy in a ruthless world of struggle. The dominance of these qualities over the British public mind and feelings therefore accounts more than any other factor for the contrast between British power in 1918 and British power in 1956. For the desire to be "nice" and "do the decent thing" lay at the heart of "appeasement", whether of dictators in the 1930s or trade unions in the 1940s and 1950s; it explains why the British saw their colonial empire as a trust, a civilising mission, rather than as a resource to be exploited if profitable, and dumped if not; it explains why the British saw the Commonwealth and the Sterling Area – indeed, world affairs in general – in terms of altruistic responsibility rather than of self-interested calculation. And it was this same desire to be "nice" and "do the decent thing", rather than a resolve to improve the competitive quality of Britain's human resources, which provided the inspiration behind "New Jerusalem".
    • pp. 509-510

2010s edit

  • As I can remember, as a schoolboy in south London, there was no dismay among my family and their friends at the sight of contorted vapour trails high over us as Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe fought it out in the blue summer sky – only a sense of excitement. Looking back now as a historian, it is clear to me that in 1940 the British nation was blessed by an inner certainty that, just as the Navy had seen off Philip II of Spain in 1588 and Napoleon in 1805, so now the Royal Air Force and the Navy together would see off that funny little man with the toothbrush moustache and his fat chum in the gawdy uniform covered in medals. In that certainty, there was truly an element of the heroic.
  • [I]t was the young pilots of Fighter Command who passed into British myth as "The Few" who outfought vast German airfleets. Today, 70 years on, we can acknowledge that the young men in the Messerschmitts were just as gallant, high-spirited and skilful. But whereas the German pilots were fighting for a hideous tyrant in the delusion that they were patriotically defending the Fatherland, the pilots of Fighter Command were modern-day Spartans, holding the pass for the free world against the barbarian. They included volunteers from the British Dominions overseas, from countries under Nazi occupation such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, and even a handful from neutral America.

Quotes about Correlli Barnett edit

  • Barnett is no Thatcherite: he does not suppose that a return to laissez-faire in 1945 would have wrought an economic miracle. On the contrary, he believes the Churchill coalition ought to have developed a coherent industrial strategy... Barnett is a joyful debunker of patriotic myth, but not, of course, from a left-wing standpoint. He is probably the only modern British historian whose creed is Bismarckian nationalism. His admiration for the German nation-state, through every stage of its development from 1870 to the present day, is the most prominent theme in the book. There are glowing passages, which make one pause, on the productivity of German industry under the Nazis. No trade-union agitators there, no socialists or liberal softies putting a spanner in the works! The occasional admiring references to the United States do little to modify the teutonic feel of the book. Barnett is, in fact, the heir of Sir John Seeley, the Late Victorian prophet of a federal British Empire, whose admiration for Prussia led him to the conviction that Britain must develop along the same lines or perish as a great power.
  • Depressed, shaken by Correlli Barnett's The Collapse of British Power.
    • Alan Clark, diary entry (25 August 1972), quoted in Alan Clark, Diaries: Into Politics, 1972–1982, ed. Ion Trewin (2000), p. 11
  • On the return flight...the PM [Margaret Thatcher] invited me to sit at her table... I was interested and gratified to hear her pass a comment showing that she had read The Audit of War.
    • Alan Clark, diary entry (17 October 1988), quoted in Alan Clark, Diaries: Into Power, 1983–1992 (1993; 2003), p. 232
  • Correlli Barnett was another reputable author whose work was pilfered. "I'm a Correlli Barnett supporter", Keith Joseph affirmed in his 1987 interview with Anthony Seldon. In his follow-up question Seldon qualified this: "You are partly a Correlli Barnett man". This showed that the interviewer, at least, had read Barnett's work carefully. In a series of scholarly books and articles Barnett argued that Britain's economic decline could be traced back to an anti-business culture whose foundations were laid by an education system which had been shaped by the model of the public school. Joseph was living evidence that Barnett's theory did not invariably hold good, and indeed some of his detailed points have been criticised. There was a further problem in that Barnett was in no sense an economic liberal; the state, he felt, had not intervened enough in industry. But these minor details did not deter Joseph. Barnett had written that British power collapsed because of a pervasive anti-business culture, and for Joseph that was quite enough to make the historian "one of us". Barnett recognised the differences of principle which Joseph overlooked, but the connection proved useful to him in the 1980s, when Sir Keith and Lord Young encouraged him to put his ideas on vocational training into practice.
    • Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett, Keith Joseph (2001; 2002), pp. 300-301
  • [T]here has been widespread reaction, partly ideological, partly based simply on scrutiny of primary sources, against what Cannadine has called the "welfare state triumphalism" of much post-Second World War British historiography. The ideological wing of this reaction—incapsulated par excellence in Correlli Barnett's The Audit of War (1986)—has questioned not the substance of the established view that the war precipitated the welfare state but its wider implications. Barnett takes direct issue with the Titmuss approach by suggesting that the atmosphere of sentimental and uncritical moral solidarity induced by the war gave rise to wholly unrealistic, Utopian expectations of a post-war world (governed by deficit-finance, job security, comprehensive welfare and indifference to economic consequences) that led inexorably to Britain's post-war economic decline.
    • Jose Harris, 'War and Social History: Britain and the Home Front during the Second World War', Contemporary European History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), p. 20
  • Dr Correlli Barnett was the first scholar to point out the extent to which, by 1945, Britain had become totally dependent on the United States for its economic survival, let alone its military victory—a dependence that reduced it virtually to satellite status; but this dependence he attributed, rightly or wrongly, not to any mistaken policy pursued by the British government of the day, but to an entire culture that for half a century past had emphasized domestic welfare at the expense of military power.
    • Michael Howard, '1945-1995: reflections on half a century of British security policy', International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 71, No. 4, Special RIIA 75th Anniversary Issue (Oct., 1995), p. 706
  • It's easy with hindsight to see all those years before and after the war as wasted. I'm a Correlli Barnett supporter. I believe that managements, helped by trade unions and helped by governments, were not nearly effective enough.
    • Keith Joseph, interview with Anthony Seldon, quoted in Anthony Seldon, 'Escaping the chrysalis of statism', Contemporary Record, 1:1 (Spring 1987), p. 27
  • My main concern...was education standards... By early 1986 I had become even more convinced of the importance of this issue after reading Correlli Barnett's newly published book, The Audit of War, which impressively documented the British educational failure stretching back into the last century, and linked it persuasively with the reasons for our disappointing economic performance over that period, with particularly ominous implications for the future.
    • Nigel Lawson, The View from No. 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (1992), pp. 606-607
  • Barnett is not giving a recipe for a free market and there is no mention of Hayek's (1944) warning about the state in The Road to Serfdom. What he appears to think ought to have happened can only be imagined on the basis of a much more powerful central direction, much less deferential to public opinion... The alternative implied here is that of Bismarck's State, which so many British educational reformers admired, with a specific industrial policy and close involvement in the scientific, education, transport and energy infrastructure—the remit given to the state by Oswald Mosley in 1931 and which Mussolini and Salazar attempted to implement. Whether, even under such a regime, Britain could have remained competitive vis-à-vis the United States, Germany and Japan is unlikely; that the electorate would have stood for it, inconceivable. But the Bismarckian state kept the unions and the public in their places: and, Barnett implies, Britain's soft democratic system ought to share the blame with the utopian intellectuals.
    • Keith Middlemas, review of The Audit of War in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 135, No. 5371 (June 1987), pp. 533-534
  • In a series of brilliant books Correlli Barnett has made the case against the English élite and its education, telling us that the ethos, curriculum and lifestyle of the public schools and the collegiate universities did little or nothing to prepare the English for the great conflicts of our time. The ideal of the gentleman, with its emphasis on fair play and honesty, left the English at a disadvantage in the struggle against calculating and cynical forces. The classical curriculum put the modern world at too remote a distance from the scholar who had absorbed it; the downgrading of science and technology meant the English were beset by a crippling nostalgia, which caused them to gothicise their industry and surround it with feudal prohibitions. The education instilled by the public schools and the old colleges was, in Barnett's words, not a preparation for the world but an inoculation against it.
    All such criticisms are based on a mistaken view of education. Relevance in education is a chimerical objective and the English knew this. Who is to guess what will be relevant to a student's interests in ten years' time? Even in the applied sciences, it is not relevance that forms and transforms the curriculum, but knowledge. A relevant technology is one that is relevant to us, here, now. To concentrate on teaching such a technology is to ensure that we remain locked in techniques that will soon be useless.
  • If we examine the complaints made by Barnett, we cannot fail to be struck by the fact that they contain no comparative judgement. Set beside which élite did the English élite fail so badly? In which country of the modern world do we find the educational system which compares so favourably with the English college? Which European nations, unhampered by the code of the gentleman, have shown us the way to successful empire building and retreated with credit from their colonies? All such comparisons point to the amazing success of the English. By devoting their formative years to useless things, they made themselves supremely useful. And by internalising the code of honour they did not, as Barnett supposes, make themselves defenceless in a world of chicanery and crime, but endowed themselves with the only real defence that human life can offer – the instinctive trust between strangers, which enables them in whatever dangerous circumstances to act together as a team. It was not only the battle of Waterloo that was won on the playing fields of Eton: the entire imperial adventure was settled there.

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