The English Constitution

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Excerpt from The English Constitution

The greatest want of our present political economy in England is, that some one should do for it what Sir Henry Maine has done so well for "ancient law". We want some one to connect our theoretical account of the origin of things with the real origin. Our theory is right enough; our notion of what is best to be done is correct, but our notions of the way practices began and customs grew up are often erroneous enough. In physical science, it would be a great mistake to take the easy "sequence" of the elementary text-book for the order of real discovery; in fact, the hard propositions at the end were often discovered first, and men worked back from thence to the simple beginnings. Just so it might be shown that the simple "definitions" of political economy are not much like the first practices of early history, but that the real commencements were odder and far harder.

I cannot pretend to write on such a subject, least of all now in a mere preface to a series of papers on a practical plan. But I mention it for this reason: - In England there is a sort of conservatism of "coinage"; we have got to fancy that our notions are not only most right, but most ancient; that they embody what men have always thought reasonable as well as what we now think so. The moment a real and radical improvement is suggested, this kind of conservatism is frightened if not shocked. "I do not know," I have heard it said, "what I would not rather change than our 'sovereign': it is about one of the best things we have."

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