Sunday, September 03, 2006

After the war

Macaulay on why the politicians of the Restoration were such Bad Men. Long (I forgot how long -- I'm a hundred or so pages south by now) but sadly unlikely to lose resonance:

Scarcely any rank or profession escaped the infection of the prevailing immorality; but those persons who made politics their business were perhaps the most corrupt part of the corrupt society. For they were exposed, not only to the same noxious influences which affected the nation generally, but also to a taint of a peculiar and of a most malignant kind. Their characters had been formed among frequent and violent revolutions and counter-revolutions. In the course of a few years they had seen the ecclesiastical and civil polity of their country repeatedly changed. They had seen an Episcopal Church persecuting Puritans, a Puritan Church persecuting Episcopalians, and an Episcopal Church persecuting Puritans again. They had seen hereditary monarchy abolished and restored. They had seen the Long Parliament thrice supreme in the state, and thrice dissolved amidst the curses and laughter of millions... One who, in such an age, is determined to attain civil greatness must renounce all thought of consistency. Instead of affecting immobility in the midst of endless mutation, he must always be on the watch for indications of a coming reaction. He must seize the exact moment for deserting a failing cause. Having gone all the lengths with a faction while it was uppermost, he must suddenly extricate himself from it when its difficulties begin, must assail it, must persecute it, must enter on a new career of power and prosperity with new associates. His situation naturally develops in him to the highest degree a peculiar class of abilities and a peculiar class of vices. He becomes quick of observation and fertile of resource. He catches without effort the tone of any sect or party with which he chances to mingle. He discerns the signs of the times with a sagacity which to the multitude appears miraculous, with a sagacity resembling that with which a veteran police officer pursues the faintest indications of crime, or with which a Mohawk warrior follows a track through the woods. But we shall seldom find, in a statesman so trained, integrity, constancy, any of the virtues of the noble family of Truth. He has no faith in any doctrine, no zeal for any cause. He has seen so many old institutions swept away, that he has no reverence for prescription. He has seen so many new institutions, from which much had been expected, prodeuce mere disappointment, that he has no hope of improvement. He sneers alike at those who are anxious to preserve and those who are eager to reform. There is nothing in the state which he could not, without a scruple or a blush, join in defending or in destroying. Fidelity to opinions and to friends seems to him mere dulness and wrong-headedness. Politics, he regards, not as a science of which the object is the happiness of mankind, but as an exciting game of mixed chance and skill, at which a dexterous and a lucky player may win an estate, a coronet, perhaps a crown, and at which one rash move may lead to the loss of fortune or life.

You can choose where you want this applied or argued with according to political taste.

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