THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION
By Walter Bagehot
Read by Peter Wickham
11 hours 20 minutes
Though published in 1867 when the British Empire was approaching its height, Walter Bagehot’s essay The English Constitution is not only one of the great political classics but is also an unquestionably relevant document for our times. Despite the passing of over 150 years, despite huge changes in enfranchisement, in attitudes, and in world order, this fascinating document prompts us to re-evaluate the process of government – wherever we live. And what is more, it is written with grace, elegance – and wit! Of course, it is a document of its time. It appeared just as the working classes of Britain were enfranchised by the Reform Act of 1867, which meant that Bagehot had to bring out another edition with an extended Introduction. His comments are shrewd in some cases and will raise 21st century eyebrows in others. Nevertheless, the body of the book remains a clear and astute look at how the famously ‘unwritten’ English Constitution operates, with all its pros and its cons… a system that emerged over centuries to become a unique constitutional monarchy. The work is divided into nine chapters, including The Cabinet, The Monarchy, The House of Lords, The House of Commons, and Its Supposed Checks and Balances. Overall, Bagehot (1826-1877) casts an admiring but coolly analytical eye over the whole construction. In a fascinating section, still apposite today, he compares the Cabinet Government of England with the Presidential Government of the US, pointing out that in the former, the executive and legislative functions are joined, whereas in the latter they are separated. Not surprisingly, Bagehot unequivocally prefers the former. He salutes the political temperance of English constitutional monarchy – though he acknowledges the performance of the individual on the throne can and does vary with the individual. When he refers appreciatively to his current monarch – ‘she’ – one could almost be excused for thinking that he is speaking of Queen Elizabeth II! This appraisal of the English form of government, which evolved over time rather than being implanted with form and structure complete, is absorbing listening to all who are interested in the governing of societies, politics, and England. This is true particularly because of the immense changes and challenges we are experiencing today. A classic commentary on its subject, it is read admirably by Peter Wickham.
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