The Character Factory: Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire

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The Character Factory: Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire

By Michael Rosenthal
Pantheon, 1986
335 pp. $22.95
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Ending the "immunity from critical scrutiny" that the Boy Scout movement and its founder had previously enjoyed, Michael Rosenthal provides a brilliant account of the presuppositions of the movement, an analysis of its conscious and unconscious aims, its much-touted virile values and prejudices. Baden-Powell had fashioned himself a hero of the Boer War, the war that for many Britons intensified their fears of imperial decline and internal degeneracy. Rosenthal is less concerned with the innocent trappings of a uniformed youth movement than with its historic meaning, its class and imperial aspects. Scouting was to teach the lower-class children the austere and patriotic virtues that their betters acquired in British public schools. A scholarly work, felicitously written and broadly conceived, that tells us much about a particular strain in British and European culture-and does so with wit, irony and just a trace of excessive, merry revisionism.

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