Penguin Books and political change

Britain’s meritocratic moment, 1937–1988

Dean Blackburn
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This books explores the non-fiction publishing of Penguin Books to offer a new account of Britain’s post-war politics. This account decentres some of the categories that scholars have commonly employed to understand this period. The three decades after 1944, it argues, constituted a ‘meritocratic moment’ in Britain’s intellectual politics. That is not to say that political elites sought to realise a meritocratic order. But the argument that status and rewards should be determined by observable merits was accommodated by key ideological formations and provided a starting point for much political thinking. The perceived crises of the 1970s led to the eclipse of this meritocratic moment. But to understand this development as a victory for Thatcherism is problematic. Indeed this ideology was not able to accommodate or account for many of the antagonisms that followed from the collapse of the post-war political order.

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