David Marquand

in The Oxford Handbook of British Politics

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780199230952
Published online January 2010 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations


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The association between political biography and the academic study of politics in Britain varies between the distantly tolerant and the mildly suspicious. British and American readers have shared Disraeli's assumption that the biographer's ‘life without theory’ is somehow more real. Non-academic writers have tended to follow suit. Against that background, this article tries to review the evolution of political biography, particularly in Britain, over the last century and a half. The story begins with the vast, intimidating, so-called ‘tombstone’ biographies of the Victorians and their early twentieth-century successors. There is more than a hint of Carl Schmitt's famous insight that the crucial political relationship is that of ‘friend’ to ‘enemy’, indeed that politics is about the identification of friends and enemies. Charismatic leadership is — or at least ought to be — fertile soil for political biographers.

Keywords: political biography; Britain; tombstone biographies; Victorians; Carl Schmitt; charismatic leadership

Article.  6720 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; UK Politics

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