Cookie Consent

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Tory Constitution

"Ask an Englishman what nation in the world enjoys most freedom, and he immediately answers, his own.  Ask him in what that freedom principally consists, and he is instantly silent.  This happy pre-eminence does not arise from the people's enjoying a larger share in legislation than elsewhere, for in this particular several states in Europe excel them;  nor does it arise from a greater exemption from taxes, for few countries pay more;  it does not proceed from their being restrained by fewer laws, for no people are burdened with so many;  nor does it particularly consist in the security of their property, for property is pretty well secured in every polite state in Europe.

How, then are the English more free--for more free they certainly are--than the people of any other country, or under any other form of government whatever?  Their freedom consists in their enjoying all the advantages of democracy, with this superior prerogative borrowed from monarchy, that the severity of their laws may be relaxed without endangering the constitution.

In a monarchical state, in which the constitution is strongest, the laws may be relaxed without danger;  for though the people should be unanimous in the breach of any one in particular, yet still there is an effective power superior to the people, capable of enforcing obedience, whenever it may be proper to inculcate the law either towards the support or welfare of the community.

But in all those governments where laws derive their sanction from the people alone, transgressions cannot be overlooked without bringing the constitution into danger.  They who transgress the law in such a case are those who prescribe it, by which means it loses not only its influence, but its sanction.  In every republic the laws must be very strong, because the constitution is feeble;  they must resemble an Asiatic husband, who is justly jealous, because he knows himself impotent.  Thus, in Holland, Switzerland, and Genoa, new laws are not frequently enacted, but the old ones are observed with unremitting severity.  In such republics, therefore, the people are slaves to laws of their own making, little less than in unmixed monarchies, where they are slaves to the will of one subject to frailties like themselves.

In England, from a variety of happy accidents, their constitution is just strong enough, or, if you will, monarchical enough, to permit a relaxation of the severity of laws, and yet those laws still to remain sufficiently strong to govern the people.  This is the most perfect state of civil liberty of which we can form any idea:  here we see a greater number of laws than in any other country, while the people at the same time obey only such as are immediately conducive to the interests of society;  several are unnoticed, many unknown;  some kept to be revived and enforced upon proper occasions;  others left to grow obsolete, even without the necessity of abrogation.

There is scarcely an Englishman who does not almost every day of his life offend with impunity against some express law, and for which, in a certain conjuncture of circumstances, he would not receive punishment.  Gaming-houses, preaching at prohibited places, assembled crowds, nocturnal amusements, public shows, and a hundred other instances, are forbid and frequented.  These prohibitions are useful;  though it be prudent in their magistrates, and happy for the people, that they are not enforced, and none but the venal or mercenary attempt to enforce them.

The law in this case, like an indulgent parent, still keeps the rod, though the child is seldom corrected.  Were those pardoned offences to rise into enormity, were they likely to obstruct the happiness of society, or endanger the state, it is then that justice would resume her terrors, and punish those faults she had so often overlooked with indulgence.  It is to this ductility of the laws that an Englishman owes the freedom he enjoys superior to others in a more popular government:  every step, therefore, the constitution takes towards a democratic form, every diminution of the regal authority, is , in fact, a diminution of the subject's freedom;  but every attempt to render the government more popular not only impairs natural liberty, but even will at last dissolve the political constitution.

Every popular constitution seems calculated to last only for a time:  it grows rigid with age;  new laws are multiplying, and the old continue in force;  the subjects are oppressed, burdened with a multiplicity of legal injunctions;  there are none from whom to expect redress, and nothing but a strong convulsion in the state can vindicate them into former liberty:  thus the people of Rome, a few great ones excepted, found more real freedom under the emperors, though tyrants, than they had experienced in the old age of the commonwealth, in which their laws were become numerous and painful, in which new laws were every day enacting, and the old ones executed with rigour.  They even refused to be reinstated in their former prerogatives, upon an offer made them to this purpose;  for they actually found emperors the only means of softening the rigours of their constitution.

The constitution of England is at present possessed of the strength of its native oak and the flexibility of the bending tamarisk;  but should the people at any time, with a mistaken zeal, pant after an imaginary freedom, and fancy that abridging monarchy was increasing their privileges, they would be very much mistaken, since every jewel plucked from the crown of majesty would only be made use of as a bribe to corruption:  it might enrich the few who shared it among them, but would in fact impoverish the public.

As the Roman senators, by slow and imperceptible degrees, became masters of the people, yet still flattered them with a show of freedom, while themselves only were free:  so it is possible for a body of men, while they stand up for privileges, to grow into an exuberance of power themselves;  and the public become actually dependent, while some of its individuals only govern.

If then, my friend, there should in this country ever be on the throne a king who, through good nature or age, should give up the smallest part of his prerogative to the people;  if there should come a minister of merit and popularity--but I have room for no more.--Adieu" The Citizen of the World by Oliver Goldsmith Letter Fifty

Eighteenth Century Reality TV

"But these people are not more fond of wonders than liberal in rewarding those who show them.  From the wonderful dog of knowledge, at present under the patronage of the nobility, down to the man with the box, who professes to show 'the best imitation of nature that was ever seen,' they all live in luxury.  A singing woman shall collect subscriptions in her own coach and six;  a fellow shall make a fortune by tossing a straw hat from his toe to his nose;  one in particular has found that eating fire was the most ready way to live;  and, another, who jingles several bells fixed to his cap, is the only man that I know of who has received emolument from the labours of his head.

A young author, a man of good-nature and learning, was complaining to me some nights ago of this misplaced generosity of the times.  'Here,' says he, 'have I spent part of my youth in attempting to instruct and amuse my fellow-creatures, and all my reward has been solitude, poverty, and reproach;  while a fellow, possessed of even the smallest share of fiddling merit, or who has perhaps learned to whistle double, is rewarded, applauded, and caressed!'  'Prithee, young man,' says I to him, 'are you ignorant, that in so large a city as this it is better to be an amusing than a useful member of society?  Can you leap up, and touch your feet four times before you come to the ground?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you pimp for a man of quality?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you stand upon two horses at full speed?'  'No, sir.'  'Can you swallow a penknife?'  'I can do none of these tricks.'  'Why then,' cried I, 'there is no other prudent means of subsistence left, but to apprise the town that you speedily intend to eat up your own nose by subscription.'The Citizen of the World by Oliver Goldsmith, Letter Forty-Five

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Toryism in a Nutshell

"Politics, however, was the subject on which our entertainer chiefly expatieted;  for he asserted that liberty was at once his boast and his terror.  After the cloth was removed, he asked me if I had seen the last Monitor?  to which, replying in the negative, "What! nor the Auditor, I suppose?" cried he.  "Neither, sir," returned I.  "That's strange, very strange!" replied my entertainer.  "Now, I read all the politics that come out:  the Daily, the Public, the Ledger, the Chronicle, the London Evening, the Whitehall Evening, the seventeen Magazines, and the two Reviews;  and, though they hate each other, I love them all.  Liberty, sir, liberty is the Briton's boast!  and, by all my coal-mines in Cornwall, I reverence its guardians."--"Then, it is to be hoped," cried I, "you reverence the King?"  "Yes," returned my entertainer, "when he does what we would have him;  but if he goes on as he has done of late, I'll never trouble myself more with his matters.  I say nothing.  I think, only, I could have directed some things better.  I don't think there has been a sufficient number of advisors:  he should advise with every person willing to give him advice, and then we should have things done in another guess manner."  "I wish," cried I, " that such intruding advisors were fixed in the pillory.  It should be the duty of honest men to assist the weaker side of the constitution, that sacred power that has for some years been every day declining, and losing its due share of influence in the state.  But these ignorants still continue the same cry of liberty, and, if they have any weight, basely throw it into the subsiding scale."  "How!" cried one of the ladies, "do I live to see one so base, so sordid, as to be an enemy to liberty, and a defender of tyrants?  Liberty, that sacred gift of Heaven, that glorious privilege of Britons!"  "Can it be possible," cried our entertainer, "that there should be found at present advocates for slavery?  Any who are for meanly giving up the privileges of Britons?  Can any, sir, be so abject?"  "No, sir," replied I, "I am for liberty! that attribute of gods! Glorious liberty! that theme of modern declamation! I would have all men kings!  I would be a king myself.  We have all an equal right to the throne:  we are all originally equal.  This is my opinion, and was once the opinion of a set of honest men who were called Levellers.  They tried to erect themselves into a community where all should be equally free.  But, alas! it would never answer:  for there were some among them stronger, and some more cunning than others, and sure as your groom rides your horses, because he is a cunninger animal than they, so surely will the animal that is cunninger or stronger than he, sit upon his shoulders in turn.  Since, then, it is entailed upon humanity to submit, and some are born to command and others to obey, the question is, as there must be tyrants, whether it is better to have them in the same house with us, or in the same village, or still further off, in the metropolis.  Now, sir, for my own part, as I naturally hate the face of a tyrant, the farther off he is removed from me the better pleased am I.  The generality of mankind also are of my way of thinking, and have unanimously created one king, whose election at once diminishes the number of tyrants, and puts tyranny at the greatest distance from the greatest number of people.  Now the great, who were tyrants themselves before the election of one tyrant, are naturally averse to a power raised over them, and whose weight must lean heaviest on the subordinate orders.  It is the interest of the great, therefore, to diminish kingly power as much as possible;  because, whatever they take from that is naturally restored to themselves;  and all they have to do in the state is to undermine the single tyrant, by which they resume their primeval authority.  Now, the state may be so disposed, or its men of opulence so minded, as all to conspire in this business of undermining monarchy.  For, in the first place, if the circumstances of our state be such as to favour the accumulation of wealth, and make the opulent still more rich, this will increase their ambition.  An accumulation of wealth, however, must necessarily be the consequence, when, as at present, more riches flow in from external commerce than arise from internal industry;  so that the rich, with us , have two sources of wealth, whereas the poor have but one.  For this reason, wealth, in all commercial states, is found to accumulate;  and all such have hitherto in time become aristocratical.  Again, the very laws of this country may contribute to the accumulation of wealth;  as when, by their means, the natural ties that bind the rich and the poor together are broken, and it is ordained that the rich shall only marry with the rich;  or when the learned are held unqualified to serve their country as counsellors, merely from a defect of opulence, and wealth is thus made the object of a wise man's ambition:  by these means, I say, and such means as these, riches will accumulate.  Now, the possessor of accumulated wealth, when furnished with the necessaries and pleasures of life has no other method to employ the superfluity of his fortune but in purchasing power.  That is, differently speaking, in making dependents, by purchasing the liberty of the needy or venal, of men who are willing to bear the mortification of contiguous tyranny for bread.  Thus each very opulent man generally gathers around him a circle of the poorest of the people;  and the polity abounding in accumulated wealth may be compared to a Cartesian system, each orb with a vortex of its own.  Those, however, who are willing to move in a great man's vortex, are only such as must be slaves, the rabble of mankind, whose souls and whose education are adapted to servitude,and who know nothing of liberty except the name.  But then there must still be a large number of the people without the sphere of the opulent man's influence;  namely, that order of men which subsists between the very rich and the very rabble;  those men who are possessed of too large fortunes to submit to the neighboring man in power, and yet are too poor to set up for tyranny themselves.  In this middle order of mankind are generally to be found all the arts, wisdom, and virtues of society.  This order alone is known to be the true preserver of freedom, and may be called  THE PEOPLE.  Now, it may happen that the middle order of mankind may lose all its influence in a state, and its voice be in a manner drowned in that of the rabble;  for, if the fortune sufficient for qualifying a person at present to give his voice in state affairs be ten times less than was judged sufficient upon forming the constitution, it is evident that great numbers of the rabble will thus be introduced into the political system, and they, ever moving in the vortex of the great, will follow where the greatness shall direct.  In such a state, therefore, all that the middle order has left is to preserve the prerogative and privileges of the one principle governor with the most sacred circumspection.  For he divides the power of the rich, and calls off the great from falling with tenfold weight on the middle order placed beneath them.  The middle order may be compared to a town of which the opulent are forming the siege, and of which the governor from without is hastening the relief.  While the besiegers are in dread of an enemy over them, it is but natural to offer the townsmen the most specious terms;  to flatter them with sounds, and amuse them with privileges;  but if they once defeat the governor from behind, the walls of the town will be but a small defence to its inhabitants.  What they may then expect, may be seen by turning our eyes to Holland, Genoa, or Venice, where the laws govern the poor, and the rich govern the law.  I am then for, and would die for monarchy, sacred monarchy:  for if there be anything sacred amongst men, it must be the anointed SOVEREIGN of his people;  and every dimunition of his power, in war or in peace, is an infringement upon the real liberties of the subject."
The Vicar of Wakefield, Chapter Nineteen, by Oliver Goldsmith

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Defoe, Gay, and Snoop Dogg

Having read a internet news story about how Snoop Dogg has endorsed Obama, Estase will, as usual, relate it back to the eighteenth century.  John Gay's The Beggar's Opera is the origin of what may be called hip hop Whiggery, along with that remarkable Daniel Defoe novel Moll Flanders.  These two works are a celebration of criminality, where the thieving Moll Flanders (we never learn her actual name) describes her life of thievery.  The Beggar's Opera celebrates a whole society on the take, from the simply corrupt lawyer to the king of the thieves, Bob Bluff (Walpole).  Are these works designed to turn morality inside out?  Or is the point simply that people who cannot profit in legitimate ways will find other ways to profit?  Estase tends to believe the second explanation, particularly in the case of his fave Daniel Defoe, champion of the tradesman.  Unlike Jonathan Swift, who held shopkeepers and tradesmen in low esteem, Defoe exalted this new commercial middle class.  So when Defoe explored the criminal underbelly of Britain, it was perhaps with an eye towards what might happen when the legitimate commerce of a nation becomes impossible.

On a totally unrelated note, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has sent out a threatening note discouraging churches from participation in the 2012 election, which would have absolutely nothing to do with the current president's obsession with gay marriage and abortion.  The letter promises that any church that involves itself with politics will lose non-profit status with the IRS.