The Powers of the Victorian State

Philip Harling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines five points about the powers of the Victorian State. The first is that the remarkably deep and broad legitimacy that Victorian Britons conferred on their agencies of government was largely predicated on what those agencies did not do: spend too much of the taxpayers' money, or blatantly privilege some sectional interests at the expense of others. The second point is that the ostensibly 'minimal' Victorian State was nevertheless a strict moral disciplinarian that was armed with formidable powers to force self-reliance, sobriety, orderliness, and sexual decency on the reprobate, most notably paupers, prisoners, and prostitutes. The third point is that the Victorian State's attempts to impose market discipline on the poor obliged it occasionally to intervene in the market itself in an effort to make the living and working conditions of the poor broadly tolerable. The fourth point is the centrality of the local agencies of the state in the delivery of non-military services. The last point is that the imperial and social crises of the fin-desiècle challenged traditional notions of the proper limits of government and triggered the rapid expansion of the responsibilities and fiscal capacities of the state. The end result was an Edwardian State that possessed broader powers than its Victorian predecessor, not only to promote a more capacious notion of the 'common good' but to punish those who were thought to pose a threat to it.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiberty and Authority in Victorian Britain
ISBN (Electronic)9780191699511
StatePublished - Oct 3 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Several Contributors 2006. All rights reserved.


  • Legitimacy
  • Market discipline
  • Moral discipline
  • Victorian Britons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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