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Liberal Formalism in an Informal World

Liberal Formalism in an Informal World

(p.41) Chapter One Liberal Formalism in an Informal World
Living Liberalism
Elaine Hadley
University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses liberal formalism in the middle of the nineteenth century. It states that economic commerce amplified and sustained social commerce, which in turn enhanced and sustained artistic and intellectual commerce. Print discourse, as asserted by Jürgen Habermas, combined with conversational discourse in coffeehouses to produce the temperate and civilized souls that David Hume celebrated in his essays. Thomas Paine later in the eighteenth century exerted pressure on the exclusivity of this civilized public and championed a sphere of absolute publicity, where the significance of face-to-face commerce was translated into open-air politics, a conception of political publicity that survived among certain socialists and radicals, such as George Holyoake. Mid-Victorian liberalism contributed forms of abstracted embodiment to the long tradition of liberalism. Liberalism in mid-nineteenth-century Britain encompassed such a diversity of opinion and personality that it has always frustrated efforts at definition, reducing many descriptions to seemingly banal references to progress and reform.

Keywords:   liberal formalism, mid-Victorian Britain, David Hume, Thomas Paine, discourse, public sphere, social commerce, liberalism

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