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Shrikanth K @shrikanth_krish
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The Indian Supreme court today is hearing petitions challenging the "constitutionality" of Section 377 of IPC that outlaws homosexuality

One of the key points of the petitioners is that the law is quaint and smacks of "Victorian morality"

But what exactly is Victorian morality?
There is a tendency in our times to use words unthinkingly. The term "Victorian" is one such word, which has lost nearly all of its original import.

Today anyone who is prudish, conservative or "old fashioned" so to speak is labeled "Victorian"
The term Victorian as we know strictly refers to the era in history between 1837 and 1901 - a 64 year old period when Queen Victoria was the monarch of Great Britain.
Far from being an antediluvian period, the Victorian era was a period of great tumult and change - an era that practically gave birth to what we regard as the "modern world" - for better or worse
It was a period when Great Britain's empire grew in size to eventually engulf nearly 1/4th of the global land-mass by the end of Victoria's reign.

It was also the period when the Industrial Revolution picked steam (though it had begun a few decades prior to the Victorian era)
For practically all of history, the human species were in the Malthusian trap - where the growth in economic activity never kept up with the growth in population, resulting in static living standards

The escape from this trap occurred for the first time during this era
To put things in perspective with some numbers -

Between 1851 and 1901 the population of England and Wales doubled from 16.8MM to 30.5MM

This is despite the massive massive emigration of 15MM from Great Britain between 1837 and 1901 mostly to America, Aus and Southern Africa
But despite this doubling of population, the British per-capita income increased from $1218 to $3465 - a near tripling in living standards between 1820 and 1913.

So this was a momentous escape from the trap that had been impossible to escape from for all of human history
But what about "Victorian morality"? Was it real? Or is it just a meaningless phrase?

It was very much real. There was a very distinctive change in the moral climate in UK during this period - a change that abetted the rise of Britain as an economic and geopolitical power
Historian Harold Perkin remarks thus on "Victorian morality" -

"Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world" (Contd..)
"and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical. The transformation diminished cruelty to animals, criminals, lunatics, and children (in that order); suppressed many cruel sports, such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting" (Contd..),
"as well as innocent amusements, including many fairs and wakes; rid the penal code of about two hundred capital offences, abolished transportation [of criminals to Australia], and cleaned up the prisons; turned Sunday into a day of prayer for some and mortification for all"
At the beginning of the period in 1833 , the institution of Slavery (a facet of life across the world for much of human history) was banned all over the Empire

As the century progressed, under the instigation of Britain, Slavery was banned in most parts of the world including US
It was also a period of political liberalism

1832 - there was a Reform act that introduced electoral reform, enabling close to 1 in 5 men to vote

1867 - another reform act that doubled that proportion

By 1913 - all men could vote

1928 - we had universal franchise
It was also a period of Free trade.

The Corn laws were abolished in the 1840s and tariffs were low throughout the period.

So it was an era that you should like if you are a "libertarian" sort
It was also the period of the invention of much of modern technology.

The introduction of macadam road construction and later tarred roads

The introduction of railways - prior to Victorian era the fastest mode of transport on land was the horse carriage

Commercial telegraphy
It was also a period when modern sport took birth.

The great games of Football and Cricket for instance were codified and became commercial enterprises during this era
All of this was not by ANY means unrelated to Victorian morality.

These were consequences of the change in moral climate - a climate that emphasized hard work, and austerity and looked askance at sensuality and license
"Sexual restraint" was a major part of this "morality" and contributed to a certain regimentation of social life that created the work ethic necessary for rapid industrialization and a highly productive urban life - a life that the human race was largely unused to.
As a conservative and more importantly as an Indian, I have many qualms against the Victorian era.

It was an era of much hypocrisy, and ofcourse a tainted Empire that hurt several traditional indigenous institutions very badly.
One also has reservations about the extreme political liberalism of the era - I am not very sure if the move to 100% adult franchise has altogether been a good thing for the human race
But what we cannot do is to accuse the "Victorian era" of being ante-dilivian.

It was anything but that.

It was a force for "Change" - for better or worse
Political liberals and Libertarians actually should have lots of reasons to like that era.

It was precisely Victorian morality that prepared a slothful world culturally ready for a Post-IR (Industrial revolution) existence
What the "liberals" of today want - is all the fruits of that era (be it universal franchise, welfare state, ever increasing incomes)

But they don't want the cultural values of the era - the restraints, the work ethic, the puritanism - that made these "fruits" possible
It is a hypocritical mindset in its own way (a much greater hypocrisy than anything that one accuses the Victorian era of)

A mentality that seeks to have the cake and eat it too
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