One of the few sociological books I have read that deserves the descriptions "brilliant" and "exciting." The author traces the decline in ethical individualism and the ideal of the ethical state in Britain between the late 19th century and the 1950s and 1960s. This old belief is replaced by something she calls causalism. The former rested on the principle that "the main purpose of public policy was to reward the virtuous, portect the innocent nad penalize the wicked." In the causalist vision of the world, the purpose of policy is to "minimize harm in aggregate regardless of the dessert." Further: "Moralism assumed the existence of the autonomous and responsible indivdiual frely choosing betwen modes of conduct. Causalism, by contrast, assumed thathe actions of individuals were to a large extend cased by their circumstance."
The author traces the replacement of the old order of things by the new causalism by examining the langage of debates over capital punishment, abortion and homosexuality. She also uses sociological and anthropological data to buttress her arguments.
The book concludes by arguing that the new language of causalism undermines the traditional notions of national sovereignty.
The book is brilliantly, if speculatively, argued. The author frequently makes comparisons to the United States, arguing that in Britain the state is conceived of as moral, unlike the States where the individual tends to take moral precedence. She has interesting observations on the connection (or lack of connection) between the "family values" movement and treatment of homosexuals.
The book should be read by people from the political left and right. THe book is less about the "decline of morality" as the title might imply, than the rise of a new form of power operative in modern British (and European) society. The author occasionally lets her preferences show and she does not consider the possiblity that Britain may retain its moral stature--despite not retaining medieval attitudes towards cap. punishment, homosexuality and abortion.
Nevertheless, a must read.