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The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot

The English Constitution (1867)

by Walter Bagehot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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288539,063 (3.82)8
  1. 20
    The Constitution of England by Jean Louis de Lolme (patito-de-hule)
    patito-de-hule: de Lolme's work was written in the 18th Century and is a classic on the subject. It is more philosophical than Bagehot's work, showing how the English Constitution is better than other European Constitutions. Bagehot's work is more descriptive of the English Constitution and compares it with the United States Constitution.… (more)
  2. 00
    Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (thorold)
    thorold: Parliament at the time of the 1867 Reform Act: in fact and fiction

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Showing 5 of 5
The classic on British politics in the mid-Victorian period, originally published in 1867 on the eve of the Great Reform Act, and re-issued five years later with an introductory essay speculating about the consequences of enfranchising working-class men — "We have in a great community like England crowds of people scarcely more civilised than the majority of two thousand years ago..." (He goes on to encourage any reader who doubts his view of the lower classes to go down to the kitchen and try out a few abstract ideas on the housemaid and footman.)

Apart from Bagehot's touching — and almost certainly misplaced — faith in the deference and ignorance of the lower orders, this is a fascinating and very convincing analysis of what made the British constitution work, enlivened by constant sniping at the failings of the American and French systems and the frailties of monarchs. At the core of his argument is the strength of the cabinet system, in which the executive is appointed — and dismissed — by the legislature from among its own members. A lot of what he says looks remarkably prescient: in his discussion of the House of Lords and the power to create new peers, he certainly anticipated the budget crisis of 1909-1911 and the Parliament Act. He's also a strong supporter of life peerages (not to be realised until 1958) and a firm critic of the hereditary principle: he even hints, thirty years before Queen Victoria died, that the then Prince of Wales (Edward VII) is already doomed to be a useless king. (Plus ça change....)

This is clearly the Liberal side of Victorian Britain: Bagehot came from a banking and shipping family, and was a graduate of the determinedly secular UCL, a fan of people like John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin. An entertaining read, and interesting background to Trollope's Palliser novels, which also span the 1867 watershed. ( )
  thorold | May 23, 2012 |
“…Of course, it is a bit quaint now from the title on: if you talked of the English constitution in Glasgow or Cardiff you would be strung from a lamp-post. But, though the subject has moved on, some of Walter’s concepts are eternally useful. The ‘dignified’ bit of the constitution then referred to the monarchy and the ‘efficient’ bit to parliament. Today it is parliament that is largely dignified, the efficient bit being the leader columns of The Sun and the Daily Mail. What, however, has not dated at all is the style and the verve: a great journalist in action as well as a great brain and today insufficiently read. …”-reviewed by Lord David Lipsey in FiveBooks.

Full interview is available here: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/david-lipsey-on-british-politics ( )
  FiveBooks | May 5, 2010 |
This is really an excellent book for anyone who is interested in different forms of government. Bagehot is wholeheartedly in favor of the English parliamentary system. He admits it's not perfect, but he thinks it's better than anything else out there. He examines each institution (House of Commons, monarch, etc.) and explains why he thinks that institution plays an important role in the system. While the book has some dry sections, it is very well-written overall, and occasionally pretty funny. Some choice tidbits:

"As it is, Mr Mill was returned by the electors of Westminster; and they have never, since they had members, done themselves so great an honour. But what did the electors of Westminster know of Mr Mill? . . . They meant to do homage to mental ability, but it was the worship of an unknown God -- if ever there was such a thing in this world."

"When you establish a predominant Parliament, you give over rule of the country to a despot who has unlimited time -- who has unlimited vanity -- who has, or believes he has, unlimited comprehension, whose pleasure is in action, whose life is work. There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament."

"But there is a still worse case, a case which the life of George III--which is a sort of museum of the defects of a constitutional king--suggests at once."

"Now a competent legislature is very rare."

"Great communities have scarcely ever--never save for transient moments--been ruled by their highest thought. And if we can get them ruled by a decent capable thought, we may be well enough contented with our work." ( )
  carlym | Jan 2, 2010 |
Walter Bagehot was editor of the Economist and his name is still on the weekly page about England. This book describes the English Constitution and compares it favorably with the United States Constitution. ( )
  patito-de-hule | Dec 22, 2008 |
The English constitution has, in fact, never been written down.... "We have no constitution," the English say. "We have Bagehot."...Bagehot employes scientific observation, couched in a lively, conservational style, to describe how within the cabinet system the executive and the legislature form a highly effective nexus of power. -- Classics of Liberty ( )
  Rickmas | Dec 23, 2006 |
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Walter Bagehotprimary authorall editionscalculated
Taylor, MilesEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'On all great subjects,' says Mr. Mill, 'much remains to be said.'
There is no limit to the curiosity of Parliament.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192839756, Paperback)

Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution (1867) is the best account of the history and workings of the British political system ever written. As arguments raged in mid-Victorian Britain about giving the working man the vote, and democracies overseas were pitched into despotism and civil war, Bagehot took a long, cool look at the "dignified" and "efficient" elements which made the English system the envy of the world. His analysis of the monarchy, the role of the prime minister and cabinet, and comparisons with the American presidential system are astute and timeless, pertinent to current discussions surrounding devolution and electoral reform. Combining the wit and panache of a journalist with the wisdom of a man of letters steeped in evolutionary ideas and historical knowledge, Bagehot produced a book which is always thoughtful, often funny, and surprisingly entertaining.This edition reproduces Bagehot's original 1867 work in full, and introduces the reader to the dramatic political events that surrounded its publication.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:51 -0400)

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