By R. Eccleshall
English Conservatism because the recovery presents the main incisive account of the doctrine of conservatism. Robert Eccleshall strains the background of the doctrine from its origins in divine-right monarchy to the present preoccupation with the firm tradition.
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Additional info for English Conservatism Since the Restoration: An Introduction and Anthology
32 The gulf between radicals and conservatives widened with the French Revolution of 1789, which made a dramatic impact upon British public opinion. Numerous organizations sprang up to campaign for political reforms, including repeal of the reviled Test and Corporation Acts, which excluded religious dissenters from public office. Radicals now used contractual arguments to demand a transfer of power from the propertied élite to the community at large. Tom Paine, the leading publicist of the ideals of the Revolution, advocated the establishment of a British democratic republic, in which religious liberties and the other ‘rights of man’ would be safeguarded by a written constitution.
5] One of Reeves’s admirers hailed the Letter as ‘the finest panegyric on good order and subordination; the happiest defence of Executive Government at this period of seditious quixotism; and the ablest refutation of Sectaries’. 39 Notwithstanding the hyperbole, there is a kernel of truth in these remarks. If Reeves’s enthusiasm for monarchy had briefly rekindled the political debates of a bygone age, his Letter also contained the ingredients of a forward-looking and sturdy conservatism: his vindication of kingship and the established church, endorsement of strong executive government, approval of political pragmatism and historical wisdom, detestation of egalitarianism and the doctrine of popular sovereignty, sanctification of social hierarchy, and his censuring of the Whigs for their tendency to behave as a faction by indulging in theoretical abstractions and forming alliances with lower-class radicals—all were eventually to feature in a reinvigorated Toryism.
During this prolonged period of one-party government, Whigs promoted the interests of landed and financial capital through a corrupt and oligarchical political system, which weakened Parliament’s control of the executive by a combination of extensive patronage and managed elections. Although the Whig Establishment did not share a monolithic political outlook, 21 its members rejected Lockean contractualism which endowed the people with a r ight of resistance to arbitrary power. Court Whigs adopted an ideological position not dissimilar from that of Tories in Anne’s reign, who had professed to walk a middle way between tyranny and populism.