Bagehot: The English Constitution

Bagehot: The English Constitution

Bagehot: The English Constitution

Bagehot: The English Constitution

Synopsis

This is a new and highly accessible rendition of one of the classics of English political writing. Paul Smith presents the text of the first (1867) edition of Bagehot's The English Constitution, together with the original conclusion, as well as Bagehot's long introduction to the second edition of 1872. All the usual student-friendly features of the Cambridge Texts series are present, including a concise explanatory introduction, select bibliography and brief biographies of key figures, as well as annotation designed to explain to modern readers some of Bagehot's more arcane contemporary allusions.

Excerpt

'On all great subjects', says Mr Mill, 'much remains to be said', and of none is this more true than of the English Constitution. The literature which has accumulated upon it is huge. But an observer who looks at the living reality will wonder at the contrast to the paper description. He will see in the life much which is not in the books; and he will not find in the rough practice many refinements of the literary theory.

It was natural – perhaps inevitable – that such an undergrowth of irrelevant ideas should gather round the British Constitution. Language is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees, but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness, but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a series of inapt words – of maxims once true, but of which the truth is ceasing, or has ceased. As a man's family go on muttering in his maturity incorrect phrases derived from a just observation of his early youth, so, in the full activity of an historical constitution, its subjects repeat phrases true in the time of their fathers, and inculcated by those fathers, but now true no longer. Or, if I may say so, an ancient and ever-altering constitution is like an old man who still wears with attached fondness clothes in the fashion of his youth: what you see of him is the same; what you do not see is wholly altered.

There are two descriptions of the English Constitution which have exercised immense influence, but which are erroneous. First, it is laid down as a principle of the English polity, that in it the legislative, the executive, and the judicial powers, are quite divided – that each is entrusted to a separate person or set of persons – that no one of these can at all . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.