Friday, 22 July 2011

Great Britain, 100 Years Ago:

Guest post by Jeff Perren

From English History, 1914-1945 by A. J. P. Taylor:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card.

He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit.

He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.

Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence.

Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so.

The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. … broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves.

It left the adult citizen alone.

No doubt it wasn't perfect, but it's amazing how far western civilization has fallen in just 100 years.

[Hat tip: Daniel Pipes, writing at NRO.]

P.S. Queue the "Yes, but..." cynics in 3, 2, 1...


  1. For "Englishman" read "Upper Class".

  2. What a great quotation. Add to that Winston Churchill:

    'A nation that thinks it can tax itself to prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket who thinks he can pull himself up by the handles.'

    (Apologies if I got that from your site :) )

  3. You know, it's almost a rule that anything posted by someone too embarrassed to use their name is going to be snotty, ill informed and wrong.

    As it is here:

    Here's Justice Lord Denning, quoting William Pitt:
    “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail—its roof may shake—the wind may blow through it—the storm may enter—the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter—all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement. So be it—unless he has justification by law."
    --Lord Denning, in Southam v Smout [1964] 1 QB 308 at 320, quoting William Pitt


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