Port Sunlight was a model village constricted in the Wirral, in the Liverpool area, by the Lever brothers, and especially under the inspiration of William Lever, later lord Leverhulme. Their fortune was based on the manufacture of soap, and the village was built next to the factory in the Victorian/Edwardian era, for the employees and their families. It’s certainly a remarkable place, with different houses designed by various architects, parks, allotments, everything an Edwardian working class person might want. An enlightened employer, Lever was still a paternalist: he claimed his village was a an exercise in profit sharing, because “It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.” Overseers had the right to visit any house at any time to check for ‘cleanliness’ and that the rules about who could live in which house were observed (men and women could only share accommodation if they were in the same family). Still, by the stands of the day it was quite progressive – schools, art gallery, recreation of all sorts for the employees were important. Read more »
There are times when customary evils become outlandish and intolerable. Then there is a call for irreversible ethical change, a transformation of more than the way we judge this or that, times in which which old laws are struck down and new ones framed. I want to suggest that a change in the structure of feeling occurs, when the ethical substance of our lives is transformed. This can happen at a glacial pace, or – as now -very quickly indeed. In Lenin’s famous remark ‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen’.
In such a time as this, people are mobilised in new ways; symbols like statues and flags that might once have been barely registered take on the significance of exemplars. And an act of cruelty that might once have been part of the drab monotony of unchangeable oppression takes on a paradigmatic, mobilising force. Then everything seems to be moving. Of course, one can see change as merely exchanging one kind of ethical outlook for another, with no way of choosing which is best, the view of the moral relativist. ’They thought X was OK back then, and we don’t. Whose to say who is right?’This is quite mistaken. For a start there were people ‘back then’ who condemned slavery, the subordination of women, empire and much more. The society of the past, as now, did not speak with one voice: it had dissidents, reformers and heretics. Nor is the past hermetically sealed off from the present: we are what they became.Read more »