Term Paper: Shopping for Pleasure Consumer Society

Pages: 7 (2237 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Whig-Liberal governments repealed the Corn Laws that protected domestic agriculture in 1846, the Navigation Acts in 1849 and the system of colonial preferences in the 1850s. Britain remained committed to free trade until 1931, in the face of competition from protectionist rivals like Germany and the United States. By 1900, British industry had already been surpassed, and Joseph Chamberlain had converted the Conservative Party to protectionism as early as 1902. In retrospect, free trade should not have lasted so long, but British exporters had nothing to gain from tariffs since these only "protected the domestic market" (Hobsbawm 222).

None of these storm clouds were yet apparent in the Victorian heyday of the 1870s and 1880s, when British industry and finance dominated the world markets. During the Golden Years, the Victorian elites were confident and secure enough to extend the vote to the working class in the reforms of 1867 and 1884-85 (Hobsbawm 94). In the 1830s and 1840s, both Whigs and Tories had been so adamantly opposed to democracy that they were prepared to use military force to suppress it, but in the end Britain had no revolution of 1848 like the continental European nations (Perkin 262). Workers only received the vote and the right to organize labor unions when the ruling class was certain that they were no longer socialistic, communistic or revolutionary. In 1870, Britain was confidently Liberal, including the bourgeoisie, the Whig landowners and the labor aristocracy who all supported William Gladstone. None of them anticipated the long stagnation and decline of British industry (Hobsbawm 110). Conservatism had appeared to be moribund for decades, "lacking an ideology or a program" apart from ideas that Tory reformers like Benjamin Disraeli borrowed from the Liberals and Radicals. Even Queen Victoria appeared to be "a visible pillar of middle class respectability" which had definitely not been the case with earlier monarchs (Hobsbawm 99).

By the 1890s, the Liberal Party had begun to fragment, with the industrialist, bankers and Whig aristocrats moving into the Conservative Party, where they have remained ever since. Workers shifted to the new Independent Labour Party so that after this time the Liberals could only win political power in coalitions with Labour (Hobsbawm 110). Although the Labour Party did not commit formally to a platform of nationalization until 1918 -- and was not able to implement it until after 1945 -- doubts about the viability of free market capitalism had been growing for decades. After all, laissez faire turned out to be ineffective at providing public health, safety and sanitation in the absence of government action, or in improving the wages, hours and working conditions of labor without government intervention (Perkin 272). Although business interests remained committed to laissez faire and free markets, intellectuals, civil servants and academics became increasingly skeptical of it in the 19th Century. Even John Stuart Mill, once the leading exponent of laissez in Britain, privately admitted that he had become a socialist as early as 1865 (Perkin 266).

Rappaport's middle and upper class female consumers hardly represented the majority of people in Victorian Britain, but rather the vanguard or first wave of the modern consumer society. Britain was also one of the first Western countries to move toward democracy and enfranchisement of the lower classes, at least once it ruling elites were certain these were no longer revolutionary. All the available evidence indicates the working class was still at or below the subsistence level as late as 1900, and that a substantial minority were at the starvation level. Nor were there any pensions or social welfare programs to protect these workers even in old age. In this sense, the West End stood out as an island of relative prosperity in a sea of misery, just as many wealthy enclaves do today. From the start of the industrial revolution, merchants and industrialists realized that women were the primary consumers, and even if shopping was not exactly in keeping with their role in the domestic sphere, it was always vital to the capitalist economy. In reality, most middle and upper class women did not have to do the shopping since they had household servants to perform chores like these. Shopping was a diversion and a pleasure for these women, a chance to get out of the house, socialize with friends and visit theaters, museums, cafes and restaurants. Some of them also used this as an opportunity to meet with like-minded… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Shopping for Pleasure Consumer Society.  (2011, May 24).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/shopping-pleasure-consumer-society/6904635

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"Shopping for Pleasure Consumer Society."  Essaytown.com.  May 24, 2011.  Accessed July 22, 2019.