The subject of this book is public action for the public good in England between the early sixteenth and the early eighteenth centuries, the shapes that it assumed, and the reasons why it took the forms that it did. This book also deals with the agents who translated these concepts into activity. All of them found a formulation of the public good, turned it to their own purposes, and in doing so determined the practical outcome. Sometimes the aim was reformation, with the implication of radical, comprehensive innovations. Sometimes it was improvement, implying gradual change. The following chapters explore some of the reasons for the shift and show the ways in which European states came to provide those manifold public services for the welfare of their citizens which have been held to be one of the more distinctive features of their history.
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