Village Politics or Propaganda?

December 5, 2011

Political Theory


Hannah More

Hannah More’s Village Politics explicitly says that it is “addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen and day labourers in Great Britain”.  So it can be reasonable assumed that Village Politics was written to stem the feeling of dissatisfaction among the lower classes in 18th century England.  Hannah More uses Tom to personify the disgruntled working class and she uses his dialogue with Jack to characterize Tom as being somewhat immature and ignorant to the complicated intricacies of society.  Hannah More’s article provides some compelling arguments against the complaints of the working class.  I think that Hannah More’s most logical point is when she argues that society cannot function without some level of inequality and that some members of society must perform menial tasks to help society continue to function.  She completes this argument by making the analogy to a “fable about the Belly and the Limbs”.

However, it seems to me that Hannah More also makes some inaccurate assumptions about the working class.  For example, Hannah More has the character Tom say that he wants a “perfect government”.  I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that the working class is expecting perfection.  Furthermore, it seems that many of More’s arguments are based on slight exaggerations.  More uses Jack to imply that the French Revolution has left France worse off than before and in a disorderly state, “they make free to rob whom they will, and kill whom they will If they don’t like a man’s looks, they make free to hang him without judge or jury…”.

Looking into Hannah More’s life, I learned that she was born into a lower class family but was able to obtain an education and eventually was able to financially excel through her success in writing. (Learn more at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/more/bio.html) I find it hard to believe that an educated Hannah More could believe that the French Revolution was fought so that the lower classes could rob and kill freely, or that the working classes of Great Britain were unwilling to settle for less than a “perfect government”.  After analyzing her different arguments, there appears to be some inconsistencies of strength and validity.  So, I began to wonder whether or not Hannah More actually believes in her own arguments.  I think this is a valid question because when she wrote Village Politics, More had already achieved enough success with her writing to be considered financially stable; at the very least not in the lower classes.  It would make sense for Hannah More to want to maintain the status quo in order to keep her status. 

Did Hannah More truly believe in the message of Village Politics or did she exaggerate certain perspectives in order to convince the lower class to stay content and not revolt?  This is obviously a very complicated question and cannot be answered in terms of black and white.  Maybe she believed the majority of her arguments but exaggerated some aspects in order to sell her point of view better.  But I think it is an important idea to consider because these arguments of inequality seem to routinely resurface throughout history.

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One Comment on “Village Politics or Propaganda?”

  1. maryblee Says:

    I think that this is a very interesting point, and a situation that we still see. Many modern day conservatives had humble upbringings and managed to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” through education and perseverance, yet are against welfare programs and the like that would have helped their family when they were growing up. Conservatives in this position are proud of their accomplishments and success. They are proud that they could turn their lives around all by themselves, and they have personal experience telling them that it is possible to get out of poverty without the help of anyone else. Much in the same way we would be against an automatic A policy for next semester’s PolSci101 class, those that have worked themselves out of poverty are against welfare because it disregards the work they have done by making it easier on those that come after them. Although this is a rather selfish view, I think it is one we can all relate to.

    So I think that Hannah More really did believe the message she was writing because she knew through her personal experience that it was possible to overcome poverty without revolution.

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