Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

W.E.H. Lecky – Brave Critic of the New Age

Five score and five years ago today, October 22, 1903, William Edward Hartpole Lecky passed on from this world. Lecky was a historian, a political philosopher, and a Member of Parliament at Westminster for Dublin University. The new age was rising, and against it stood W.E.H. Lecky. In the words of William Murchison, he chose to write – and fight.

William Edward Hartpole Lecky
Writes William Murchison further in the introduction to W.E.H. Lecky's Democracy and Liberty:

Democracy was the late Victorian age's great passion – a concept not just to profess but to translate into reality. The democracy professed was less radical than that of the French revolutionaries who, in Burke's day, had cried "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality!" – and then decapitated thousands of their free and equal brethren. Democracy to the Victorians, meant something relatively high-minded – government by the majority for the benefit of the majority. The principle was amiable enough, certainly. It was in the practical application that things began to go wrong, as Lecky and a few others easily discerned. The implications of democracy for good government, for liberty – for precisely the values that democracy was meant to assert – were deeply disturbing.
William Murchison describes Democracy and Liberty further:
The argument of the book is the incompatibility of two concepts which, in the late 20th century, are regarded virtually as twins – democracy and liberty. The one might seem, at first glance, to reinforce and invigorate the other. But it was not so, as Lecky proceeded to establish in detail.
Murchison continues:
What had worked best for Britain, so far as he was concerned, was the electoral system that prevailed from the Reform Bill of 1832 until the Reform Bill of 1867. In 1832, the middle class had been enfranchised. The change had, at the time, split the country asunder, but it had worked. This was because, in Lecky's view, it had admitted to power a class of men solid, trustworthy, educated, and hard-working. Their merits, not their abstract “rights,” qualified them for the franchise. It was different with the millions granted the vote in 1867 and 1884. Sheer numbers was what mainly seemed to commend them as voters.
Murchison goes on:
What Lecky feared was that his country's government would pass out of the hands of gentlemen and “into the hands of professional politicians” – like those to be found in the United States.
Further Murchison writes:
Lecky was concerned, accordingly, that gentlemen should continue to govern. He was concerned especially for the future of the House of Lords, which fast was coming to be regarded as a feudal relic, occupying a “secondary position in the Constitution.” “Man for man, he wrote, “it is quite possible that (the Lords) represents more ability and knowledge than the House of Commons, and its members are certainly able to discuss public affairs in a more single-minded and disinterested spirit.” The peers' “superiority of knowledge” was “very marked.” They were more than ornamental; they contributed, along with the Throne, to the kingdom's “greatness and cohesion.”
Lecky was a Privy Councillor and was bestowed with the Order of Merit.

W.E.H. Lecky blamed the rebellion in the American colonies largely on the encroachments of Parliament on Royal Prerogative.

Of the American Electoral College Lecky wrote:
In this manner it was hoped that the President might be elected by the independent votes of a small body of worthy citizens who were not deeply plunged in party politics. But, as the spirit of party intensified and the great party organisations attained their maturity, this system wholly failed.
Of President Andrew Jackson Lecky wrote:
The modern system of making all posts under the Government, however unconnected with politics, rewards for party services was organised, in 1829, by Andrew Jackson. This President may be said to have completed the work of making the American Republic a pure democracy, which Jefferson had begun. His statue stands in front of the White House at Washington as one of the great men of America, and he assuredly deserves to be remembered as the founder of the most stupendous system of political corruption in modern history.
Of democracy and regulation Lecky wrote:
In our own day, no fact is more incontestable and conspicuous than the love of democracy for authoritative regulation.
Of the House of Commons Lecky wrote:
Of all the forms of government that are possible among mankind, I do not know any which is likely to be worse than the government of a single omnipotent democratic Chamber. It is at least as susceptible as an individual despot to the temptations that grow out of the possession of an uncontrolled power, and it is likely to act with much less sense of responsibility and much less real deliberation. The necessity of making a great decision seldom fails to weigh heavily on a single despot, but when the responsibility is divided among a large assembly, it is greatly attenuated. Every considerable assembly also, as it has been truly said, has at times something of the character of a mob. Men acting in crowds and in public, and amid the passions of conflict and debate, are strangely different from what they are when considering a serious question in the calm seclusion of their cabinets.
Of the worship of majorities Lecky wrote:
He will not, if he is a wise man, be reassured by the prevailing habit, so natural in democracies, of canonising, and almost idolising, mere majorities, even when they are mainly composed of the most ignorant men, voting under all the misleading influences of side-issues and violent class or party passions. The ‘voice of the people,’ as expressed at the polls, is to many politicians the sum of all wisdom, the supreme test of truth or falsehood. It is even more than this: it is invested with something very like the spiritual efficacy with theologians have ascribed to baptism. It is supposed to wash away all sin. However unscrupulous, however dishonest, may be the acts of a party or of a statesman, they are considered to be justified beyond reproach if they have been condoned or sanctioned at a general election. It has sometimes happened that a politician has been found guilty of a grave personal offence by an intelligent and impartial jury, after a minute investigation of evidence, conducted with the assistance of highly trained advocates, and under the direction of an experienced judge. He afterwards finds a constituency which will send him to Parliament, and the newspapers of his party declare that his character is now clear. He has been absolved by ‘the great voice of the people.’ Truly indeed did Carlyle say that the superstitions to be feared in the present day are much less religious than political; and all the forms of idolatry I know none more irrational and ignoble than this blind worship of mere numbers.
Democracy and Liberty, a two-volume work, is indeed refreshing reading, now even more than a century after its publication. We honor the memory of William Edward Hartpole Lecky. May he continue to rest in peace.

7 comments:

Adrian Kidney said...

He sounds like a smart man; I'll have to find his works. I agree with him on the House of Lords - I hope it continues to serve the United Kingdom in its present form for many generations yet.

Chris Lockhart said...

"In our own day, no fact is more incontestable and conspicuous than the love of democracy for authoritative regulation."

Too right!

Anonymous said...

What Lecky feared was that his country's government would pass out of the hands of gentlemen and “into the hands of professional politicians” - like those to be found in the United States.

...after all, those nasty, useless professional politicians've done so badly for the United States, like FDR, or that ungentlemanly, backwoods fumbler Abe Lincoln, So much worse than the Lord North who lost a certain 13 colonies.

It was different with the millions granted the vote in 1867 and 1884. Sheer numbers was what mainly seemed to commend them as voters.

And we can see how bad their choices were - such useless fools as Lloyd George and Churchill.

Yeah, your country IS growing authoritarian, but that's because your constitution's lost its checks and balances as Lords and the Queen lost their power without any compensating forces to check the PM. Bush II had nothing like as much success here as your men in power have at hollowing rights. But, history makes it clear things were far more authoritarian before Commons became able to at least serve as a check on power.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Dear Sir or Madam:

Yeah, your country IS growing authoritarian[...]

I take it you are referring to the United Kingdom.

But, history makes it clear things were far more authoritarian before Commons became able to at least serve as a check on power.

Not only do you claim that it was more authoritarian before, you also claim it to have been far more and even that it is clear – without a single argument.

Government these days is more absolute than the so-called absolute monarchs excercised.

Modern democratic government interferes more in our lives and the economy than the kings of old did.

However, you claim that it is clear that government was more authoritative before the House of Commons began to serve as a check than today? There's no room for doubt? It is clear?

Please!!!

Anonymous said...

However, you claim that it is clear that government was more authoritative before the House of Commons began to serve as a check than today? There's no room for doubt? It is clear?

Er, authoritarian.

There was nothing like any kind of freedom of anything, really. No freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, habeas corpus,reasonable taxation, forming enterprises, nothing except trial by jury in certain cases. Commons didn't instantly bring that stuff, but freedoms did start getting better faster, and rarely going backward instead of always seesawing, starting with making taxation reasonable and forcing fiscal oversight on kings.

J.K. Baltzersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.K. Baltzersen said...

There was nothing like any kind of freedom of anything, really.

There might not have been any formal freedoms on paper, like the ones we have today.

However, the size and the reach of the state was much less than it is today. Hence, freedom was in a very essential sense greater.

I don't deny that the "pre-Commons" regime had its excesses. What I deny is that history is clear on the matter of that regime compared to today's regime when it comes to authoritarianism.