Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bagehot on Good Government

Bagehot--yes, that Bagehot--recalls us to a politics sufficiently unfamiliar as to belong in a sci fi novel:
Pubic opinion is the test of [a] polity; the best opinion which, with its existing habits of deference, the nation will accept: if the free government goes by that opinion, it is a good government of its species; if it contravenes that opinion, it is a bad one.

Tried by this rule, the House of Commons does its appointing business well.  it chooses rulers as we wish rulers to be chosen.  If it did not, in a speaking and writing age we should soon know.  I have heard a great Liberal statesman say: "The time will come when we must advertise for a grievance."
On the other hand, it is clear that when Bagehot says "the public," he certainly doesn't mean what we mean by "the public:"
The working classes contribute almost nothing to our corporate public opinion, and therefore, the fact of their want of influence in Parliament does not impair the coincidence of Parliament with public opinion.  They are left out  in the representation, and also in the thing represented.
Any questions?  

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