Thoughts on the phases of Victorian society – defining what an “era” is

Here’s a thought I had:

It seems to me that we are still in the “Victorian” era.  That is to say, we are still under its sway and influence.  Perhaps, we could say that we are in a “post-Victorian phase” of the Victorian era.  Some things that show this include:

  • Though we are not “Victorian”, in the popular society sense (we don’t necessarily wear their clothes, uphold their moral standards, etc.), we are under its influence, of its ideas and ideals as well as what it created.
  • We are still pursuing the “ideal society” that was begun in the Victorian era, namely a “modern world”.  The “modern world”, really, is a Victorian idea.  All of our modern gadgets, toys, and gismo’s have a base in the ideas and ideals of the Victorian era.  Many of them were even initially created during that era as well.  In some sense, all the technology, gadgets, gismo’s, and such of the “modern world” are nothing but continuations of what was created in the Victorian era and reflect its ideals.
  • A lot of society is still based in “rebelling” against the strong Victorian codes, ethics, and morality.  Interestingly, many of these no longer exist anymore as they’ve been destroyed by the “rebelling”.  Despite this, the “rebellion” continues.  One could even say that a “blind rebellion” exists, rebelling against things that aren’t there.  This shows how the “Victorian sense” is still very strong.

In this sense, we live under the shadow of the “Victorian” era and, as a result, are really still in it.  If we look at things in this way we could then say that there are, so far, various phases in the Victorian era:

  1. 1800’s – ideals and ideas are created.
  2. 1900’s – these ideals and ideas come to fruition and are created.
  3. 2000’s – the problems of these ideals and ideas become apparent.

Actually, there is an overlap or, rather, one phase blends into the next phase.  I put them in centuries for simplicity. It seems, to me, that the latter phase began to be seen a lot in the late 1900’s and is being seen increasingly.  Many of the problems we have been seeing in the late 1900’s to today appear to be a result of the ideas originating in the Victorian era as well as conditions begun in the Victorian era.  These include things such as:

In effect, these have all created serious problems.  To put it another way, the “creations” and “solutions” of the Victorian era are now starting to create problems. The important point about this is that what we create, and think’s great, ends up creating problems later.  In this sense, the last phase of the Victorian era will be the problems its “creations” and “solutions” cause.  But since the Victorian era created the modern world we could say that the fall of the Victorian era will be the fall of the modern world.  Once that happens then we could say that it has truly fallen.

This, it seems to me, reveals an aspect about what an “era” is.  In some sense, an “era” can perhaps be defined with these three phases:

  1. The creation of the “idea” of the era.  This “idea”, then, defines the era as a whole.
  2. Making the “idea” a reality.
  3. The reality of the “idea” undermines and eventually destroys the era.

An “era” can be described as a historical circumstance where an idea is created and dominates the period of time.  Eventually, though, the very idea that defines the “era” ends up destroying it in some way.  In other words, an “era” is defined by an idea that ends up killing itself. 

If this is the case, then it shows that there is an inherent self-destructiveness to “ideas”.  This is not surprising as any “idea” is too specific and narrow to encompass the greater reality of life.  An “idea” may work under specific conditions but life consists of many more conditions than any “idea” can encompass thereby making any “idea” fail after awhile.  To put it another way, an “idea” has a life span.  This life span is the “era”.  And, as with all life spans, it has a birth, a life, and a death.

The “idea” of an “era” can refer to a number of things:

  • An actual idea, principle, or thought.
  • An organized system (such as a government or religion).
  • A condition.
  • A belief.
  • An attitude.
  • A stance or point of view.

Basically, an “idea” is the bonding element that holds everything together during this time.  It is something that affects everyone and as if “harnesses” the society.  Its this “harnessing” power that helps bonds things together and this bonding, in a sense, creates the “era”.

This bond continues to work while the conditions support the “idea”.  Inevitably, though, the conditions change and the “idea” becomes irrelevant.  Despite this, the “idea” tends to be continued.  Being irrelevant, the “idea” becomes alienated from the conditions and, accordingly, it ends up undermining itself.  In fact, the “idea” is often what is responsible for bringing the “era” down.

When the “idea” and conditions no longer correlate a number of conditions can bring the “era” down:

  • The “ideas” destroy itself.  This is particularly so when the “idea” has created specific rigid “creations”, such as systems, governments, organization, inventions, machines, etc.  Since the Victorian era, and the modern world, have these “rigid” things its probably more likely the “idea” of this era will end up destroying itself.
  • The “idea” fizzes out.  Basically, changing conditions cause the “idea” to become irrelevant and useless.
  • The “idea” is overtaken by another.  When the conditions change the “idea” loses power and a new “idea” takes over with more power.
  • There is a conflict with another “idea”.  Sometimes, new conditions cause the rise of other “ideas” which may have to “fight it out” to determine which one will be dominant.

During the era the “idea” is often viewed as a truth.  This shows that truth is often determined not by actual truth by because it reflects the “idea” of the era.  Once the era ends, the “idea” fails and the era’s truth dies.  What this shows is that the bonding element (the “idea”) of an era creates its own truth in things.  We could, perhaps, speak of this as the “truth of the era”.  We must remember that it is a truth that only exists during the era.

Many “truths” that people believe are probably of the “truth of the era” sort.  This is particularly so with social-based truths, such as religion or politics or popular opinion.  This fact shows that an “idea” tends to be social in manifestation.  This is not surprising as the social manifestation is the best means of the bonding element for a population of people.  This would particularly be so in mass media society and “advanced” civilization.

In societies that are not mass societies, “advanced”, or have mass media, the best bonding element would probably be things like conditions and lifestyle . . . how one lives and not the social situation.  As a result of this, in older societies a lifestyle becomes the “idea” that bonds everything together.  Once that lifestyle falls that “era” falls.  This has been seen in the fall of many primitive societies, for example.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Britain and British things, Historical stuff, Modern life and society, Philosophy, The U.S. and American society, Victorianism and Victorian society and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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