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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing pre-Thatcher history
I like reading books that analyse British culture - I'm familiar with Roger Scruton's elegy for England - and as a speechwriter, it's very important to understand how we perceive ourselves and understand the purpose of our society. I picked this book up and couldn't put it down. Wiener evokes the Southern Metaphor of the country as 'romantic, illogical, muddled, divinely...
Published on 26 Dec 2010 by William Cohen

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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980
This is a first class book covering a critically important subject. It seems to me however that a major factor influencing the British peoples increasing dissenchantment with the industrial society has been largely ignored. Since the Victorian Era industrialisation concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, this new Capitalist 'elite' has single-mindedly created a...
Published on 23 April 2011 by C. W. Bradbury


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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing pre-Thatcher history, 26 Dec 2010
By 
William Cohen (London) - See all my reviews
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I like reading books that analyse British culture - I'm familiar with Roger Scruton's elegy for England - and as a speechwriter, it's very important to understand how we perceive ourselves and understand the purpose of our society. I picked this book up and couldn't put it down. Wiener evokes the Southern Metaphor of the country as 'romantic, illogical, muddled, divinely lucky, Anglican, aristocratic, traditional, frivolous and believes in order and tradition. Its sinful excess is a ruthless pride, rationalized in the belief that men are born to serve' and contrasts it with the Northern metaphor, which sees itself as 'pragmatic, empirical, calculating, Puritan, bourgeois, enterprising, adventurous, scientific, serious and believes in struggle. Its sinful excess is ruthless avarice, rationalized in the belief that the prime impulse in all human beings is a rational, calculating, economic self interest.'

Having had the education which Wiener sees as corrupting of the business instinct, I have to say he's right. I left university with a disdain for business, which I have got out of my system over the years. Yet as I read this book I couldn't make up my mind, having lived through the Thatcher and Blair years, whether I agreed with Wiener or not. The last 13 years of 'growth' were built on debt, so I can't see much that was glorious about it. The City is good at moneymaking, but they don't actually make anything tangible: by pushing up London house prices the Square Mile has damaged the nation. English institutions are still hopeless, with individuals in love with the status quo. Wiener has a pop at the Institute of Directors, and I'd say it's still a pretty useless and complacent organisation. We still find a love of the countryside and rural idyll in some glossy English magazines and right-wing newspapers.

The Wikipedia page says that Wiener's book divided journalists - men like Andrew Neil agreed with the thesis, men like Auberon Waugh and Max Hastings hated it. I would like to agree with Wiener but Andrew Neil's Sunday Times, was and remains a grubby, horrible product. A franchise like Big Brother made millions of pounds, but it impoverished our culture. Football is now a highly-commercialised pastime, presumably Wiener would see that as positive. I lived in Paddington for seven years where I witnessed the development of the Basin. Huge sums of money circulated, but the results are soulless and unbalanced. As you can see, while I want to agree with Wiener, I can't entirely renounce my scepticism towards raw capitalism.

Keith Joseph recommended that Tory ministers read it in 1980, and you can see how it might have shaped their thinking. Though it doesn't quite fit with their systematic destruction of manufacturing industry. I liked the bit when he mentions Francis Hope's description of how the fate of English radicals resembles a science fiction story 'One steps into English Society, and finds it is not a spaceship but a stomach; one expects to be transported, and is merely digested.'
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful study of how Britain lost its spirit of enterprise, 25 April 2010
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This review is from: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 (Paperback)
This is an excellent account of what happened to the culture of the UK in a period that roughly spans the period from the mid-19th Century, when Samuel Smiles penned his Self Help, up to the early 1980s when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. Wiener attempts to show that after the boom years of the 1850s and 1860s, British culture gradually changed, with influential elements in the upper and middle classes increasingly turning against entrepreneurship, trade and business and instead, embracing a more genteel ethic, with a focus on rural issues, denigration of science and the promotion of non-material values. He traces this essentially reactionary movement to the Romantic tradition in culture, as well to the concerns that many people felt about the ugliness of much industrial development. It is hard to overstate that so much hatred for business is often aesthetic as moral.

It is sometimes hard to credit how deluded, even hypocritical, many such writers such as Ruskin or RH Tawney were when they attacked business. Many of these men who liked to mock businessmen and who regarded business as "vulgar" were themselves beneficiaries of an economic system they despised. It is cringe-making to read middle class, prosperous writers as they eulogised pre-industrial peasant life, airbrushing the famines, the cruelties, the appalling ill health and infant mortality rates of pre-industrial Britain. Alas, some of this sentimental portrayal of pre-industrial Britain has not entirely disappeared from our culture.

If there are flaws in this book, it is in that I think Wiener does not give enough credit to how the Victorians, and later generations, were able to soften some of the edges of the system. Britain did, after all, manage to fight and - just - win two world wars, administer a huge empire, provide a model of stable parliamentary government. These were no mean feats, and at times Wiener does not give this enough credit.

Even so, Wiener was writing his study of UK history in the late 1970s, when the "fuddy-duddy" values he mocks must have appeared to have yielded their bitter fruits in the form of a demoralised business class, a bloody-minded trade union movement and an enfeebled political system. But ten years on, Mrs Thatcher's Tory administration had presided over the transformation of the UK scene and since then, the sort of values Wiener criticises have been in retreat - although there is some lingering anti-commercial culture in the form of the Green movement. Britain is, arguably, a more pro-business place than when Wiener wrote. We now have TV programmes like Dragon's Den, which is a clear example of how business is seen as part of the popular culture. Entrepreneurship is genuinely praised and respected - that is a very different picture from the kind of Britain Wiener wrote about.

In general, I really liked this book and it gave me a lot of food for thought. I certainly do take exception to the reviewer who gave it just one star. It deserves rather more than that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good news about the new edition, 12 May 2013
By 
Malcolm Baird - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 (Paperback)
I am delighted that this important book has been reprinted and generally well-received, although the new edition is a bit expensive.

An equally important companion volume is Charles Hampden-Turner's "Gentlemen & Tradesmen; the values of economic catastrophe", which also came out in the 1980s. Only used copies are available on Amazon, but at much lower prices.

Recent television dramas such as "North and South", "Downton Abbey" etc.etc. have helped to reinforce the bad image of manufacturing industry. Television should restore the balance by producing a documentary series based on the Weiner and Hampden-Turner books.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for the Country Set, 24 May 2010
By 
Mr. N. Foale "electronic word" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 (Paperback)
Describes the familiar model of inner decadence causing an Empire's collapse from within. In England's case this decadence takes the form of a fetishism of gentry values. The book argues that we English are still fiddling while our country's prospects turn to ashes.

We English have a special relationship with industry. The Industrial Revolution began in England, and the backlash against it began here almost at once. In particular this book describes England's retreat into pseudo-gentrification as the new wealth sought to temper its perceived brashness by buying up country piles and taking up country & gentry pursuits. This anti-industrial mindset came to define English culture and sapped it of its competence and confidence. Nice but dim Oxbridge types could be sent off to administer our global market, but without a healthy stock of committed industrialists The Empire & England's preeminence in the world was doomed to decline.

While the retreat to nature might be argued to have protected our natural environment, the cost in terms of human dynamism and subsequent economic decline is high. This book does not explicitly probe how we might re-balance industry and environment. Rather it trusts in human industry and its positive benefits. Consider for example how the Cornish landscape would be lessened without Brunel's Tamar Bridge or its, similarly iconic, disused tin mines.

Ultimately the hint is that we should join nations like Germany & America, who embrace and benefit from technological progress, rather than continue to tend our gardens and tut (such an English trait).

P.S. Interestingly in The Angry Island: Hunting the English A.A. Gill argues that the unhealthy levels of anger he detects in the English are due to our endemic industriousness not being put to good use.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980, 23 April 2011
By 
C. W. Bradbury (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 (Paperback)
This is a first class book covering a critically important subject. It seems to me however that a major factor influencing the British peoples increasing dissenchantment with the industrial society has been largely ignored. Since the Victorian Era industrialisation concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, this new Capitalist 'elite' has single-mindedly created a high-price/low-wage economy across the Western World. Anything which stood in the way of this 'Free Market' economy has been systematically attacked and destroyed. The result is that although today's world is richer than it has ever been, even in wealthy nations such as America or the UK, almost half the available jobs do not pay enough to house/feed a two child family. This artificial poverty is made worse by the deliberate creation of unemployment by Government sponsored mass/unskilled immigration and the tranfer of labour intensive industries to even lower wage (but also low price) Third World locations. Faced with such a situation, the behaviour this book ridicules actually makes sense.

Like ancient Rome, even the most short-sighted Gov'ts pay welfare to the urban poor, not from generosity but from fear of starvation-fueled civil insurrection if they don't. This welfare is calculated by need and thus frequently excedes the meagre 'wages' available to even the most hard-working but poorly educated. It thus becomes the 'foundation' upon which millions base their lives. The human costs of this deliberate economic deprivation by the State of it's people are massive however:-

1. From the results of widespread contraception/abortion the indigenous white British birthrate is now 1.38 babies per mother, the greatest collapse in population ever recorded.
2. Half of all those children fortunate enough to be born are to single mothers, while half all marrages collapse before any children reach school leaving age; economic pressure being a significant factor in both situations.
3. By the age of forty years 40% of women have undergone treatment for mental illness, largely as a result of attempting (and often failing) to be both homemaker and wage earner in single parent households.
4. Male deaths as a result of alcohol/drug abuse and suicide are at record levels, largely as a result of the lack of self-esteem which comes with repeated 'relationship' failures and welfare dependancy.
5. Youth crime is at record levels, with machine guns being used ever more frequently in what may be the beginnings of civil revolt.

If looked at impartially, the true picture revealed is not of an idle parasitic underclass exploiting the hard work of their fellow citizens. It is of increasingly large numbers of our fellow citizens being deliberately reduced to Third World conditions by the calculated actions of corrupt Governments, acting not on behalf of the people they purport to represent; but for the benefit of a tiny plutocratic Capitalist clique, which cares nothing about tomorrow, but everything about today's short-term profit.

This is the root reason for the "decline of the industrial spirit" this book speaks of; not only in England, but throughout the Western World. We all clearly understand that industrial methods are essential to further human development, but resent the increasing possibility of being condemned to a poverty-stricken underclass even as we labour. Like the old landed Aristocracy, our new Capitalist masters should demonstrate the 'Noblesse Oblige'; IE Use just a fraction of their vast resources to ensure that the citizenry whose labour provides their profits, can enjoy at least a little of the wealth created.
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4 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An extremely unpleasant book, 26 Jan 2008
This review is from: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 (Paperback)
Wiener's thesis as articulated in this book can be summarised as :
'the industrial revolution was wonderful and unrestrained economic growth is also. However unfortunately there exists within English culture weak characteristics such as concern for the environment & Wordsworth's nature poetry which dares to question the gospel of economic growth'.
Wiener seems to believe that any concern over pollution or the human cost of the industrial revolution is some foppish upper-class indulgence.
A myopic, stale and nasty little book.
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English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980
English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980 by Martin J. Wiener (Paperback - 13 Sep 2004)
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