The Whig Theory of (Contemporary) History

John Rentoul
ckegg getty 300x225 The Whig Theory of (Contemporary) History

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Our slow progress towards liberalism, by David Aaronovitch in today’s Times (pay wall), writing about female succession and royals marrying Roman Catholics:

We need to remind ourselves that, good nation that we certainly are, we can be slow as a forest sloth to change what needs changing. Mr Clegg’s travails should recall how incredibly recent some of our liberalisations are. We did not have full adult franchise till 1928. We decriminalised most homosexual acts only in 1967, and a year later we abolished theatre censorship (ie, some chap telling us what we could watch on stage). Four years earlier the last men were hanged in Britain; 20 years later we stopped corporal punishment (ie, sanctioned physical abuse of children) in schools. Four years ago — four years! — we abolished the crime of blasphemous libel. And though Sweden effectively outlawed it in 1966 and Albania and the Congo by 2010, we still allow children to be physically abused, or “reasonably chastised”, at home. Schade!

That’s German for shame.

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  • creggancowboy

    You still jail bloggers and tweeters and have 2 million innocent on an illegal DNA database. Now I a off to shoot a Welshman with bow and arrow in Chester, or is it Hereford?

  • Whigphilosophie der Geschichte

    [At last, a blog post with a creditable title].

    Yes, but being jailed for blogging or tweeting doesn’t quite amount to being arrested, outlawed and exiled under a general warrant for publishing obscenity that was never actually published. I think the real point is that liberal progress has been assumed to have certain terminal points (the Glorious Revolution, the Great Reform Act, the Factory Acts, Lloyd George breaking the House of Lords, or whatever) beyond which liberties need not go and which should be reflexively ‘defended’, which indicates how Toryism can emerge from original Whiggishness.

  • Junius

    I am not a distinguished visiting lecturer, so it may be considered presumptuous of me to question whether contemporary history is not a contradiction in terms. After all, the word contemporary means living occurring or originating at the same time; history is the study of past events. Macaulay, in his excellent essay on the subject, tells us that history has been defined as philosophy teaching by examples.

    No matter, Whiggism is essentially about reform, but not too much. It may reasonably be argued that Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair were all prime ministers in the Whig tradition. Gordon Brown’s period in office was too short to form a judgement. I rather suspect that in retrospect David Cameron and Nick Clegg will be considered to have been trimmers rather than Whigs.

    As for namby-pamby attitudes towards chastisement, a good thrashing is often deserved in order to teach the young the error of their ways. And I am not just thinking of recalcitrant ball-boys.

  • creggancowboy

    THe Times (paywall) The Indy (Truth wall)

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