Breaking Ranks: C. P. Snow and the Crisis of Mid-Century Liberalism, 1930–1980

Guy Ortolano

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    C. P. Snow's identification of ‘two cultures’, as the literary critic F. R. Leavis pointed out in 1962, represents not an insight but a cliché, one that invites the repetition of further clichés about the origins of a divided culture, the need to bridge cultures, the emergence of a third culture, or the reality of one culture. Yet this recurrent feature of ‘two cultures’ talk does not nullify the concept's value as an object of study, if these discussions are treated as revealing points of entry into foreign historical contexts. This article adopts this approach, unearthing the liberal position that Snow developed as a novelist and critic from the 1930s, that he advanced in the form of a disciplinary lament in The Two Cultures (Snow, C.P. 1959. The two cultures and the scientific revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.), and that — to his distress — increasingly came under radical critique from the mid-1960s. Ultimately, the technocratic liberalism that Snow associated with science at mid-century came to be closer to American neo-conservatism by 1980. By tracking the fortunes of the ideological position that structured The Two Cultures, rather than lifting that text out of its moment in an attempt to engage its arguments today, this article testifies to the abiding value of contextual analysis at a moment when intellectual historians are increasingly inclined to question and even displace it.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)118-132
    Number of pages15
    JournalInterdisciplinary Science Reviews
    Issue number2-3
    StatePublished - Jul 2 2016


    • Britain
    • C. P. Snow
    • liberalism
    • mid-twentieth century
    • two cultures

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
    • History and Philosophy of Science


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