The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Author of "Kubla Khan" and the epic "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Samuel Taylor Coleridge is remembered principally for his contributions as a romantic poet. This innovative reconsideration of Coleridge's thought and career not only demonstrates his importance as a philosopher but also recovers romanticism as both an aesthetic and a political movement. Pamela Edwards radically departs from classic theories of Coleridge's development and reads his writing within the framework of a constantly shifting political and social landscape.

Drawing on the ideology, rhetoric, and institutional theory at the turn of the late British Enlightenment, Edwards unearths the fundamental continuities in Coleridge's writing during the revolutionary period of 1794 to 1834, paying particular attention to the rhetoric of Coleridge's pamphlet and miscellaneous writings, the journalism of the Napoleonic years, his philosophical and ultimately political treatises within the contexts of his notebooks and letters, and his readings and intellectual friendships. What emerges is a clearer understanding of Coleridge's political philosophy and his contributions to the origins and ideology of British Liberalism.

Coleridge's interest in history, nature, and law as inherently interconnected projects producing an ideal or scientific reading of society reveals a developed progressive social and cultural state theory anchored in individual conscience, moral autonomy, and a civic and participatory human agency. If the Statesman could understand and finally master this scientific view of the world, he would be able not only to adjust political and social institutions to comprehend the historical contingencies of the moment but to see through the problem of the moment to the dynamic of change itself.


Coleridge claimed that he was “ever a man without a party.” Others, including contemporary friends and associates from Robert Southey to Henry Crabb Robinson, have viewed Coleridge’s portrait of himself as a lifelong “independent” as disingenuous. But careful examination of the political thought of Coleridge from his earliest writings on politics and religion in 1795 to his last and most coherent work of political thought, in On the Constitution of the Church and State in 1830, confirms that neither a “Young Radical” nor an “Old Tory,” Coleridge contributed to what Mill himself termed a second school of liberalism.

“Liberal” is a term at least as problematical as “radical” and “conservative.” All three of these terms entered the British political lexicon during or immediately after Coleridge’s lifetime, and he was a key participant in the debates that shaped their origin and meaning. in considering Coleridge’s life and thought in terms of these ideological categories, one invariably challenges and thereby clarifies those categories. Liberalism has, from its origins in the works of John Locke (as described by both C. B. Macpherson and Richard Ashcraft), been associated with atomistic visions of individual liberty, the doctrine of natural rights, the fiction of an “original social contract,” and the discourse of jurisprudence. But more recent notions of liberalism have tended to emphasize its connection to questions of social welfare and moral freedom. One might garner a more useful assessment of the term “liberal” from that greatest exponent of the classical republican paradigm, J. G. A. Pocock. He observes, with an eye to a twentieth-century context, that “the rise of the social to preeminence over the political (to denote which is at present one of the cant usages of the term liberalism) seems to have rested on a psychology of sentiment, sympathy, and passion better equipped to account for politeness, taste and transaction than was the rigorous individualism of private interest.” in considering a political thinker such as Coleridge, whose conception of the social . . .

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