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These no doubt are developments unforeseen by Bagehot, and scarcely realized. even now, by the world at large. They would have greatly changed his view of the Monarchy. He would no longer have treated it as little more than a dignified and venerable survival of an earlier age, shorn of all prerogative that could threaten liberty, and valuable chiefly through its facile appeal to the imagination of the ignorant. He would, I believe, have seen how great a part it is destined to play in the consolidation of Empire; how important is its aid in maintaining moral unity in the face of all the difficulties due to physical separation. He would certainly have noted how impossible this would have been if the twentieth-century Monarchy, like that of the eighteenth, had taken a hand in the Party game; or like that of Bagehot's own day was acting in (what are now) Dominion affairs on the advice of Ministers dependent on British majorities. The Empire in its modern shape is a bold experiment and a very novel one. On its success hangs the assurance of peace, happiness, and prosperity, over no small portion of the world; and when we reflect that without the Crown the experiment could never even have been tried, we cannot doubt that among the transformations which by insensible degrees have converted our most ancient and most venerable institutions to the most modern uses, not the least fortunate and successful has been the transformation of the British Monarchy.



November 1927



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1 This Introduction first appeared in the second edition
of 1872. It has been here transferred to the end of the
book because it has the nature rather of an epilogue than
of a prologue, and because the removal leaves the reader
free (as in the first edition) to open at once on the
main theme.




'ON all great subjects,' says Mr. Mill, 'much remains to be said,' and of none is this more true than of the English Constitution. The literature which has accumulated upon it is huge. But an observer who looks at the living reality will wonder at the contrast to the paper description. He will see in the life much which is not in the books; and he will not find in the rough practice many refinements of the literary theory.

It was natural-perhaps inevitable-that such an undergrowth of irrelevant ideas should gather round the British Constitution. Language is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees, but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness, but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a series of inapt words of maxims once true, but of which the truth is ceasing or has ceased. As a man's family go on muttering in his maturity incorrect phrases derived from a just observation of his early youth, so, in the full activity of a historical constitution, its subjects repeat phrases true in the time of their fathers, and inculcated by those fathers, but now true no longer. Or, if I may say so, 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.

There are two descriptions of the English Constitution which have exercised immense influence, but which are erroneous. First, it is laid down as a principle of the English polity, that in it the legislative, the executive, and the judicial powers, are quite divided-that each is entrusted to a separate person or set of persons-that no one of these can at all interfere with the work of the other. There has been much eloquence expended in explaining how the rough genius of the English people, even in the middle ages, when it was especially rude, carried into life and practice that elaborate division of functions which philosophers had suggested on paper, but which they had hardly hoped to see except on paper.

Secondly, it is insisted that the peculiar excellence of the British Constitution lies in a balanced union of three powers. It is said that the monarchical element, the aristocratic element, and the democratic element, have each a share in the supreme sovereignty, and that the assent of all three is necessary to the action of that sovereignty. Kings, lords, and commons, by this theory, are alleged to be not only the outward form, but the inner moving essence, the vitality of the constitution. A great theory, called the theory of 'Checks and Balances', pervades an immense part of political literature, and much of it is collected from or supported by English experience. Monarchy, it is said, has some faults, some bad tendencies, aristocracy others, democracy, again, others; but England has shown that a government can be constructed in which these evil tendencies exactly check, balance, and destroy one another-in which a good whole is constructed not simply in spite of, but by means of, the counteracting defects of the constituent parts.

Accordingly, it is believed that the principal

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