The Emergence of Liberal Democracy in Britain

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The Emergence of Liberal Democracy in Britain

Liberal democracy, a political system characterised by freedom of

expression and education, free elections, universal suffrage and a

multiplicity of political parties, political decisions made through an

independent governing body, and an independent judiciary, with a state

monopoly on law enforcement (Elkin, 1985. p.1-8), became a central

element of political discourse and struggle in the 19th century. It

was an age of intense debate and battles over the relationship between

state and civil society and proper distribution of political power

between and within both. Old regimes of these states – monarchy,

church, aristocracies and landlords – found themselves challenged by a

cluster of institutions that emerged, such as the bureaucratic

nation-state, extension of franchise, industrialisation and the

changing social composition of the population. In this essay I shall

discuss these social and economic conditions that gave rise to the

emergence of a liberal democratic state in 19th century Britain.

By the 19th century the invention of labour-saving lime-saving

machines had revolutionised industry. By 1851 at the Great Exhibition

the UK was dubbed the workshop of the world as most mass manufactured

items were produced more efficiently and competitively in Britain than

elsewhere. Britain also had the commercial, financial and political

power to edge out rivals at home and abroad. Large-scale production

led to a long-term decline in agricultural employment and rural

population. Workers were needed in coal mines, steel works, railways

and ship yards, in labour that pulled them away from agricu...

... middle of paper ...

... facilitates economic exploitation.

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