I’d rather read about the past than the present. I saw a t-shirt the other day that perfectly reflects my attitude. “History buff,” it read, “I’d be more interested in you if you were dead.” One of my interests is the England of Victoria, specifically the period from 1870 to the turn of the century. It’s difficult for me to remember when I became fascinated with this era, but I can at least explain why: we are very much like the Victorians, so much so that I feel right at home with them.
During the Victorian period, the world enjoyed the benefits of Pax Britannica (“British Peace”). I don’t say that with any sarcasm; I think it’s a fairly accepted view in the world of international relations that the world benefits when a strong country or group of countries cooperate to keep sea lanes open and local despots on their toes. We’re living in the age of Pax Americana now, though how long that will last is anyone’s guess. The Victorians certainly had more experience acting as the world’s policeman; we Americans really didn’t get into the business until the Cold War. Countries choose to play this role, and it often leads to attacks upon their motives and methods (some of which are merited). Great Britain ruled the waves during the Victorian era, much as the United States is the pre-eminent military power today. The Victorians fought numerous wars to protect their interests in far-flung areas of the world, including the Middle East and Afghanistan. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s really quite instructive to read about the issues the Victorians encountered playing this role, and those that confront America.
The Victorians were an oddly divided society, just as we are. On the one hand, there was great faith in the notion that scientific progress and the application of reason would solve social problems. On the other, many Victorians were deeply religious and committed to good works, including actively supporting or staffing overseas missions. America seems to share that division of ideas, adopting a secular, social science approach to tackling issues of poverty and education, while maintaining a strong tradition of religious belief and service to the needy. I once heard a specialist in foreign policy say that one of the least understood means of transmitting American views was the missionary work of evangelical churches overseas. I’m not debating the merits of these views, merely pointing out how similar our society is in some ways to that of the Victorians.
Victorian Britain and America today share something else: a belief that our societies are unique, endowed with the best forms of government, a deep respect for individual human rights, and strong civil societies and legal systems. Both societies share a belief that the rest of the world would benefit if they adopted our practices and customs. This isn’t an academic study of the similarities between two societies. No doubt there are plenty of examples illustrating the differences between Victorian England and present-day America. However, I’ve found the resemblance strong enough to provoke some thoughtful examination. Digging into the past is a fascinating way to understand our present.
After a career as a lawyer and corporate executive, Carol K. Carr turned to writing. India Black is her firstg book. She lives in the Missouri Ozarks with her husband and two German Shepherds.
To learn more about Carol and India Black, visit Carol K. Carr.