Be Prepared: Risk and the Neoliberal Sensibility in Modern Britain


LAC Burkhardt




For residence at the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley during academic year 2021-2022


“Be Prepared” explores how Britons have understood, and sought to prepare for, catastrophic risks in the modern era. The project follows the public debate about the hazards of empire, industrialization, war, and nuclear annihilation from the Victorian period through the 20th century, uncovering the broader cultural pattern that underlay British responses to risk. By moving beyond the conventional narrative of Britain’s 20th century, which has centered on the world wars and the rise of the welfare state, “Be Prepared” illustrates that Britons have long perceived risk in ways that value individualism, self-reliance, and competition over social trust and collectivism. The study thus reveals the deep roots of Britain’s “neoliberal sensibility,” helping to explain the popular basis of neoliberalism today.