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The English Constitution (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

Walter Bagehot
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

8 Feb 2001 Oxford World's Classics
'An ancient and ever-altering constitution is like an old man who still wears with attached fondness clothes in the fashion of his youth: what you see of him is the same; what you do not see is wholly altered.' Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution (1867) is the best account of the history and working 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, and 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 seldom dull. This edition reproduces Bagehot's original 1867 work in full, and introduces the reader to the dramatic political events that surrounded its publication.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (8 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192839756
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192839756
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 343,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'ON all great subjects,' says Mr. Mill, 'much remains to be said,' and of none is this more true, than of the English Constitution. Read the first page
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bagehot - A critical Appraisal 20 Nov 2002
Format:Paperback
Bagehot's great treastise remains the definitive text on the British political system. Although written in the mid 19th century (in the period between the two reform Acts), 'The English Constitution' demonstrates a grasp of electoral politics, its underlying values and competing interests, as well a a rare insight into the parliamentary form of government and its component workings, which can inform present-day debate and can elighten the contemporary student of political science.
'The English Constitution' is not merely a study of 'comparative government', lucid as it is (particularly in its comparison witht the American presidential system), but is a work of great sociological import, exploring - in its treatment of the 'dignified' and 'efficient' functions of political institutions - the legitimacy of power, in a way which justly lays claim to a universal appeal.
Bagehot's writing style is always clear and to-the-point, as befits his training as a journalist. 'The English Constitution' is, of course, not mere journalistic 'copy', but is a deep and far-reaching analysis of the political life of the nation, at a crucial stage in this country's social, political and constitutional development.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberalism modern style 14 Nov 2000
By Warner R. Winborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
First, to the reviewer looking for the doctrine of separation of powers: you'll find it in Montequieu's "Spirit of the Laws". Also check out "The Federalist", number 51.
Now then, Bagehot, like Madison, describes the operation of a modern liberal regime. The trick for founders of liberal government is to produce a government that permits the people civil liberties, but does not permit the people to abuse those liberties, or in the words of Madison, to create a government that is "democratic yet decent". Madison and the American Founders accomplish this end by so constructing the institutions of government that mens' selfish natures will be turned against each other ("ambition is made to check ambition"), rather than united in tyrannical concert.
Bagehot too describes the operation of a system of government that rules by the consent of the governed, yet which does so by restraining the vices of those who ought not to rule. Bagehot argues that the English government is moderate and decent because of a division of government into the "dignified" and the "efficient" parts, and a "noble lie" about the relationship between the two. It is this noble lie that permits the government to operate without the interference of those who would turn it away from the public good. But to discover the noble lie, you'll have to read Bagehot.
Warner Winborne
Professor of Political Science
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney, VA
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic study of the classic English Constitution 13 Feb 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If this is the unaltered version of the book of the same name and same author that I read about 30 years ago, it is a classic. It describes how the classic English Constitution worked, before Britain joined the European Union. Especially it explained how it worked without being written down, largely by constitutional convention which was morally binding but (quite often) not legally binding.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classical exposition of the British system of government 1 Jan 2003
By Boris Aleksandrovsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Walter Bagehot was a journalist and a social and political thinker of the middle Victorian period (1850s and 1860s). His classical work "The English Constitution" comes as a collection of polemical assays upon the structure of the British political system. Cabinet, monarchy, Houses of Commons and Lords, execution of political power, and the foundation of the systems of checks and balances are explored in the book.
Throughout the book a comparison and contrast of Cabinet system and the Presidential system (a.k.a USA) is a constant theme. Bagehot does not hide it preference for the Cabinet system, which in his view is a both more dynamic and more effective. One of his main points is that direct popular election is a myth, since most of the electorate are ignorant of the nature of the political power (and moreover are forced to this ignorance by the effective uselessness of the legislative debate in the USA as opposed to the UK). Moreover, a result of the direct election is a static Presidential term of 4 years, which allows the executive branch to execute almost unchecked control of the political process. According to Bagehot, the indirect electoral system of the Commons, where people vote for the MPs and they then select the PM amongst themselves produces a more effective government, which is more responsive to the popular will since it can fall at any time due to policy disputes. A hidden secret of British success according to Bagehot is a fusion of legislative and executive powers in the Cabinet system. In the latter chapters, Bagehot exposures two forms of power - the dignified power (in the person of the monarch and the lords) and the effective power as exemplified by the Cabinet. Dignified power serves as a façade of legitimacy under which the dynamic and opportunist real effective power can subsist. He follows through to explain how each of the minister of the government exercises its power for the common goal, what are the legal powers of the monarchy and how it is exercised indirectly via control of the composition of the peerage and the power to dissolve the Commons.
Bagehot's style is clear, flavorful, his knowledge of political process is profound (with a qualification of more so of British then American), his research is well done, and he is a master of dramatic tricks to keep the reader interested. I would recommend the book as both a scholarly reference, and a well presented popular case.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boring title, scintillating book 20 Mar 2006
By J. France - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book stimulates the little gray cells. Every time I watch Prime Minister's Questions, the superiority of the Cabinet system over the Presidential system is painfully obvious. If Bush were subjected to the kind of scrutiny, in Congress, that Blair is subjected to every week in Parliament, he would have been exposed as an impostor long before supreme executive authority was placed in his hands. Refering to our Civil War, Bagehot wrote: "The notion of employing a man of unknown smallness at a crisis of unknown greatness is to our minds simply ludicrous. Mr. Lincoln, it is true, happened to be a man of... eminent justness... But success in a lottery is no argument for lotteries."

Well, we used up all of our good fortune in the 1860s. We've come up craps in this millenium.
1 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars separation of powers 8 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I am a law student in the university of Plymouth and i would like you to send me some information that this book contains, concerning the subject of the separation of powers. Your advice will be of great help. Thank you.
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