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ABSTRACT. This paper seeks to rehabilitate the central political proposals of the British Idealists, with specific reference to T. H. Green, freeing their social democratic politics from their dependence on idealist philosophical assumptions, especially those embodied in the work of G. W. F. Hegel, and justifying them in relation to models and theories of complexity that developed in the twentieth century from the physical sciences. It argues that complexity theories advance a version of holism freed from the difficulties of traditional idealist theories. It claims that the affinities between these approaches enable Green’s arguments for social democracy in the 19th century, to be restated on grounds that are more plausible today. This is pertinent as it gives useful insights into how social democratic principles can be retained in the 21st century, which is becoming increasingly characterized by systemic factors such as interconnectedness, interdependence, uncertainty, self-organization, and openness. Indeed, by re-visiting the political philosophy of British Idealism at this time, we will see that far from his own ideas being discrepant with the dominant and effective discourse on science of the day, as they were in his day, they are now congruent with it.

Keywords: T. H. Green; complexity theory; British Idealism, social democracy; holism; organicism, common good, continuance ethics

How to cite: Olssen, Mark, and Will Mace (2021). “British Idealism, Complexity Theory and Society: The Political Usefulness of T. H. Green in a Revised Conception of Social Democracy,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 20: 7–34. doi: 10.22381/LPI2020211

Received 10 September 2018 • Received in revised form 17 April 2020
Accepted 18 April 2020 • Available online 10 May 2020

Mark Olssen
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Department of Politics,
University of Surrey, Guildford, UK
Will Mace
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Department of Politics,
University of Surrey, Guildford, UK

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