Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rectification Redux

If we’re really going to use more accurate names for the political tendencies of our time, perhaps we should consider going back a little further in history for inspiration. I’m not talking about reverting to the Plebs and the Patricians or even the Optimates and the Populares. Our politics, a struggle between elites, has no room for anything like a people’s party. I’m thinking more about the Tories and Whigs of 18th Century Britain. Especially in foreign policy, their George the Third had much in common with our George the Least. As Brendon Simms exhaustively documents in his recent book Three Victories and a Defeat, the English, mostly under Whig leadership, had been very careful to cultivate alliances in their long struggle with the French right up to the triumphant climax of the Seven Year’s War—what we call the French and Indian War. The Tories, on the other hand, didn’t have any use for diplomacy or the continent. Their sovereign, the first king from the House of Hannover who didn’t have a German accent, simply posited that England was the greatest nation on earth and didn’t need or much appreciate anybody’s help in ruling the world or keeping her colonies. Which is why when the Revolution came, England, faced by a continent full of determined enemies and hostile neutrals, was utterly alone, overmatched, and finally defeated. If you read the political pamphlets of the time, the clueless Tories even sound like American neocons and share a similarly impractical program of world domination. Pointing out that England was, after all, a rather small country was regarded as unpatriotic, just as our tub-thumpers regard any acknowledgement of the limits of our power as craven defeatism.

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