- A nineteenth-century term referring to an ideology of radical individualism. In English, the term radical was often a contraction of philosophic radical , the name given to the followers of Jeremy Bentham, and most radicals in the first half of the century looked to his doctrines for inspiration. As the term’s Latin etymology implies, radicals went, or believed they went, to the roots of a question. The Benthamite practice of reasoning from the root premise that social policy should aim at the maximization of social happiness, or utility, provided a powerful weapon against traditional mores and usages, and especially against prescriptive royal, aristocratic, and ecclesiastical privileges. While not necessarily egalitarians or democrats, radicals were normally individualists who supported meritocracy.Although the word radical was often used in the twentieth century as a synonym for extreme , nineteenth-century radicals in the latter half of the century found themselves outflanked on the left by various kinds of socialists, and in some countries anarchists. Radicals were for most of the century on the extreme left of the British parliamentary political spectrum. In France, the radicals looked back to the revolution and were de-fined by their antimonarchism, a position that ceased to be particularly radical in the later sense of the term following the advent of the Third Republic in the 1870s. Radicals were generally anti-aristocratic and - especially but not solely in Catholic countries -anticlerical. Radicals in Britain were antimilitary, the services being associated with the aristocracy, but in theory, if not always in practice, they were less opposed to the navy, which was seen as a more meritocratic and also a more defensive institution.Whereas in Britain many radicals were almost if not absolutely pacifist, French radicalism looked back to the levée en masse of 1792 and indulged few such tendencies. Radicals supported private property, and British radicals were almost by definition free traders, although the petit-bourgeois supporters of French radicalism were not. Radicals were often anti-authoritarian and antigovernment - government being seen as an aristocratic tool - and in favor of individual liberties. Their veneration of individual autonomy led some radicals to an opposition to socialism as earnest as their earlier hatred of aristocracy, while others from a radical tradition - including figures as divergent as H. M. Hyndman, founder of the first specifically British Marxist party, the Social Democratic Federation, and Joseph Chamberlain - were led by their radical egalitarianism to the view that meaningful personal equality required that free market individualism would have to be supplemented or supplanted by a more positive kind of state action. Radicals were an important, and arguably the leading, component of the coalition that made up the Victorian Liberal Party. By 1914, much of the original radical program had been achieved, and arguments from social utility and human happiness often went in socialist rather than radically individualist directions; by this time the term was losing much of its original meaning, yet retained an antimilitarist valence. In imperial affairs, the philosophic radicals began by following Bentham in their opposition to commercial colonies and their support for selfgovernment in settlement colonies, Lord “Radical Jack” Durham in Canada being a prime example of the latter. Later in the century, radical individualism, support for Free Trade, and an inherited distaste for the aristocratic military led most selfdescribed radicals to follow the likes of John Morley in opposing imperialism, and they formed the backbone of the anti-imperialist wing of the Liberal Party.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Burgess, Glenn, and Matthew Festenstein, eds. English Radicalism, 1550–1850. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007;Fraser, Peter. Joseph Chamberlain: Radicalism and Empire, 1868–1914. South Brunswick: A. S. Barnes, 1967;Maccoby, S. English Radicalism. 6 vols. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1961.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.