Friday, May 15, 2009

Catechism on American Wealth: How it Works and Why to Read Ben Franklin, X.V

Mr. Poor Richard, what was the implosion of the doctrine legitimating the English sovereign?

The Tories of the 1680s, in an attempt to curb the claims of the political anteriority of law, Parliament, or the constitution to the sovereign’s authority, argued that none of those things was actually immemorial, and that the sovereign’s anteriority was evinced by the feudal past. After the Glorious Revolution, this claim became harder to maintain, especially under the attendant scrutiny that the constitution was receiving, showing that it had always undergone historical change (“pre-feudal to feudal to post-feudal”), and thus contained no precedent of antiquity on which to judge allocation of authority. The sovereignty conversely had to revert to Hobbes to ground the legitimation of its presence in the present, as an absolute law without which there simply would be no law. Its polemic, however, retained the vestiges of ancient rule by constructing a present moment (which had somehow always been and would consequently always be) that was recorded in the continuous memory of the English people and their ancestors before them. Cf. Sir John Davies, “Le Primer Report des Cases et Matters in Ley Resolves et Adiudges en les Courts del Roy en Ireland (1615),” Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, ed. David Wooton (Indianapolis 2003), 131-143. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History (Cambridge 1985), 95-6; Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (Cambridge 1987).

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