John Macmurray and the politics of rationality in interwar Britain

Matthew Kane Sterenberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article proposes a new approach to understanding the interwar work of the philosopher John Macmurray. Because Macmurray stood outside the main currents of twentieth-century British philosophy and cultural critique, scholars have sometimes struggled–as did many of his contemporaries–to assess his significance as a thinker. This article suggests that we can understand much of Macmurray’s work as a sustained exercise in the ‘politics of rationality’. That is, he was attempting to shift public understanding of the nature of reason itself, as part of a broader effort to address the roots of modern social ills. When we approach Macmurray’s work in this way he begins to seem a much less idiosyncratic figure, and we can situate him in the context of broader concerns about an escalating crisis of reason. Moreover, the notion of a politics of rationality helps reframe how we appraise key themes of twentieth-century British intellectual history, allowing us to see Macmurray as part of an important but under appreciated tradition that aimed to integrate the intellectual and emotional aspects of human personality in order to revive and fortify British democracy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018 Jan 1


  • emotion
  • interwar Britain
  • John Macmurray
  • liberalism
  • rationality
  • reason

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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