The authority of feeling in mid-twentieth-century English Conservatism

Robinson, Emily (2020) The authority of feeling in mid-twentieth-century English Conservatism. Historical Journal. pp. 1-22. ISSN 0018-246X

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial No Derivatives.

Download (324kB)


Conservatism claims to be a philosophy of common sense and everyday experience, in which sensation takes priority over reason. This article asks how this was understood by both Conservative thinkers and grassroots members in mid-twentieth-century England, and how it sat alongside other ways of understanding the feelings and experiences of ordinary people, in a period in which these came to be regarded as a privileged form of political authority. The article shows that the Conservative everyday was rooted in individual sensory experiences, but always underpinned by the collective evocation of reverence, majesty, and awe. It traces understandings of the everyday and the awesome through political texts and grassroots publications, showing that the tension between them is what gives Conservatism its distinctive character. This is conceptualized in Burkean terms as the beautiful and the sublime. The latter guarantees order, hierarchy, and allegiance, while the former works to soften and socialize power – making it seem a matter of custom and common sense. The article suggests that this combination enabled Conservatism to adapt to the challenges of mass democracy but became ever harder to sustain in the emotional culture of post-war England, when feelings became a marker of personal authenticity, rather than cultural authority.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Conservatism, Conservative Party, history of the emotions, the sublime, the everyday, Edmund Burke
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England > DA129 By period > DA300 Modern, 1485- > DA566 20th century
Depositing User: Emily Robinson
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2019 09:24
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2020 10:45

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update