By Walter Bagehot
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Extra info for Bagehot: The English Constitution
It must vary if the government does its duty. The miscellaneous estimates of the English government contain an inevitable medley of changing items. Education, prison discipline, art, science, civil contingencies of a hundred kinds, require more money one year and less another. The expense of defence – the naval and military estimates – vary still more as the danger of attack seems more or less imminent, as the means of retarding such danger become more or less costly. If the persons who have to do the work are not the same as those who have to make the laws, there will be a controversy between two sets of persons.
People wonder that so literary a people as the Americans – a people who read more than any people who ever lived, who read so many newspapers – should have such The English Constitution bad newspapers. The papers are not as good as the English papers, because they have not the same motive to be good as the English papers. At a political ‘crisis’, as we say – that is, when the fate of an administration is unﬁxed, when it depends on a few votes, yet unsettled, upon a wavering and veering opinion – eﬀective articles in great journals become of essential moment.
But an observer who looks at the living reality will wonder at the contrast to the paper description. He will see in the life much which is not in the books; and he will not ﬁnd in the rough practice many reﬁnements of the literary theory. It was natural – perhaps inevitable – that such an undergrowth of irrelevant ideas should gather round the British Constitution. Language is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees, but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness, but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a series of inapt words – of maxims once true, but of which the truth is ceasing, or has ceased.
Bagehot: The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot