Note that the market here is not portrayed as destroying other values, like love and fidelity, as is often the case in both Marxist and conservative critiques, but as putting them on a realistic and stable foundation. Moreover, a successful life does not consist of throwing off authority or vindicating the authentic self, but in creating enduring associations with others. Middlemarch is thus a riposte to those who think that the essence of liberalism must loosen rather than strengthen the bonds of community and family.

And it is also clear that Eliot contrasts politics unfavorably with the market and a market infused family life. The story takes place in the shadow of the struggles to enact the Reform Bill — probably the most important democratizing act in British history, greatly expanding the franchise and making it more effective by eliminating or at least tempering rotten boroughs. But the people acting together without the bonds of market or familial associations are not portrayed favorably. When they condemn Dr. Lydgate, they are mostly motivated by malice and envy. Political actors are generally represented as quite self-interested. At the end of the book, some characters speculate how they can use the initial failure of the Reform Bill to get into the House of Lords. If the danger of marriage is that it will be built on illusions, however benevolent, the danger of politics is that it may rest on sheer malevolence.

Of course, Middlemarch is not a political tract. But Eliot makes important points about the relation of private life, public life, and the spirit of market liberalism that are as powerful today as they were when she wrote them almost 150 years ago.

Source: Law & Liberty