Two of the most influential books of the 1980s on British economic performance identified a cultural malaise at the heart of contemporary society. Wiener (1981) argued that since the mid-nineteenth century Britain’s elite had been ambivalent about the ‘industrial spirit’. In his aggressively written polemic, Barnett(1986) insisted that during the Second World War postwar planning was driven by a religious revivalism towards ideas of social consensus and stability and away from the starkly obvious and frankly urgent needs of manufacturing industry. Neither book was exactly in tune with the Thatcher project, but both were seen to support the Thatcherite idea that Britain’s fundamental need was cultural regeneration. Both volumes were widely read, even at the highest reaches of government. They received only mixed reviews from professional historians but their emphasis on the power of values, beliefs and culture to shape economic decisions and performance was a valuable counter to the growing tendency of economic historians to explain actions in narrowly economistic terms. Both Barnett and Wiener were described by Edgerton (1996a, 7) as exponents of the ‘cultural history of anti-technology’, but there are good grounds for separating these terrible twins.
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