The English Constitution

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At a time when constitutional issues are assuming a greater importance in public life than they have held for perhaps 25 years, it seems a particularly apt moment to re-publish Walter Bagehot's classic analysis of the constitution. Major changes to the constitution are promised by the new Labour government, and the political controversy over these suggests that changes generated during the 1997 election campaign have thrust critical analysis of the constitution once more into the limelight.

The English Constitution provides the most lucid and readable account of what has been termed the 'Golden Age' of the nineteenth century constitution, before the advent of universal male suffrage and the rise of party as the overriding force in the British polity. Despite being strongly rooted in its time, Bagehot's work can still provide us with fascinating insights into the basic nature of the constitution and its organic connections with the society within which it functions. In sketching connections between class and political systems, in its use of ideology, in what we would now term its interdisciplinary approach, Bagehot's study provides insights and analysis of sometimes startling modernity.

In this new Introduction, Gavin Phillipson provides a fresh and distinctly contemporary appraisal of Bagehot's famous work. The Introduction clearly elucidates how the actual workings of the constitution have changed since Bagehot's time but powerfully illuminates the strong continuing value and contemporary relevance of his analysis.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This timely new edition of Bagehot’s classic study is essential reading for today's constitutional reformers and students of Britain's elective dictatorship. Gavin Phillipson’s scholarly and shrewd introduction makes key links between past and present.”  —Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199539017
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/25/2009
  • Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 976,845
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Bagehot "Badgett"; 3 February 1826 - 24 March 1877) was a British businessman, essayist, Social Darwinist and journalist who wrote extensively about literature, government, and economic affairs.
Bagehot was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn, but preferred to join his father in 1852 in his family's shipping and banking business. He wrote for various periodicals, and in 1855 founded the National Review with his friend Richard Holt Hutton.[3][4] Later becoming editor-in-chief of The Economist, which had been founded by his father-in-law, James Wilson, in 1860, Bagehot expanded The Economist's reporting on the United States and on politics and is considered to have increased its influence among policymakers over the seventeen years he served as editor.

In 1867, he wrote The English Constitution, a book that explored the nature of the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the functioning of Parliament and the British monarchy and the contrasts between British and American government. The book appeared at the same time that Parliament enacted the Reform Act of 1867, requiring Bagehot to write an extended introduction to the second edition, which appeared in 1872. The book became an instant classic, has been translated into many languages, and is still available in scholarly editions from Oxford University Press (in its "World's Classics" series) and Cambridge University Press.

Bagehot also wrote Physics and Politics (1872), in which he coined the still-current expression "the cake of custom" to describe the tension between social institutions and innovations. In this book, he also expressed the fundamental ideas of the struggle school and described the historical evolution of social groups into nations. Bagehot argued that "these nations evolved principally by succeeding in conflicts with other groups". For many political scientists, sociologists, and military strategists, this strain of social Darwinism justified overseas expansion by nations (imperialism) during the 1890s. In his contributions to sociological theory within historical studies, Bagehot may be compared to his contemporary, Henry James Sumner Maine.

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Table of Contents

The English Constitution 1
I The Cabinet 3
II The Monarchy 21
III The House of Lords 50
IV The House of Commons 71
V On Changes of Ministry 97
VI Its Supposed Checks and Balances 110
VII The Prerequisites of Cabinet Government 139
VIII Its History, and Effects - Conclusion 149
Introduction to the Second Edition, 1872 160
Further Reading List 193
Index 195
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2012

    A fascinating essay on the English Constitution.

    A fascinating essay on the English Constitution.

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