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Environmental law-making in Victorian Britain: The cross-currents of Bentham's and Coleridge's ideas

Pontin, Ben 2014. Environmental law-making in Victorian Britain: The cross-currents of Bentham's and Coleridge's ideas. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 34 (4) , pp. 759-790. 10.1093/ojls/gqu015

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Abstract

It is increasingly clear that law and its enforcement in Victorian Britain were quite effective in tackling formative industrial problems concerning pollution and broader threats to nature. What is unclear is the political philosophy, if any, underlying this historic achievement. A prevalent view is that early ‘environmental’ law lacked any philosophical underpinning (being instead a piecemeal reaction to the various problems of industrialization as and when these presented themselves). The article revisits this issue with reference to Dicey’s analysis of 19th century ‘law-making public opinion’. Dicey identified three broad streams of seminal opinion that, he argued, shaped laws as the century unfolded. The early part of the century was dominated by ‘Old Toryism’, including the romantic conservatism associated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This then gave ground to ‘Benthamism’ (or ‘individualism’) which in turn ceded dominance to ‘collectivism’ (also influenced by Bentham’s ideas). Whilst Dicey ignored laws relating to the environment, I argue that this is not because these presented a particular difficulty for his thesis. Indeed, all three seams of ‘law-making opinion’ converged around the legal protection of nature to offer a rich and diverse philosophical foundation for environmental law.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: ?? LAWPL ??
Law
Publisher: Oxford University Press (OUP)
ISSN: 0143-6503
Date of Acceptance: 24 February 2014
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2020 10:15
URI: http://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/120723

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