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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Thursday, May 14, 2009  

Carnival of Whiggery

When something fades into obscure obsolescence it's said to have gone the way of the Whigs. Jack Aubrey had no use for them, but the Irish Elk thinks that politically, at the end of the day, he is more than anything else a Whig. Turns out he is not alone.

Karen Hall writes:

That does it. I was never a Republican. It was all a bad dream.

I'm a Whig.

Meantime, something called the Modern Whig Party is staging a national online conference on May 19.

So for those Whiggishly inclined, some items of interest found on the Web:

Keira Knightly goes to a Whig rally.


The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide: Tarts of the Week.

* * *

From the Time archive, a 1970 profile of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (pictured above), then a Nixon appointee:

"Whig in the White House"

He blossomed out in Savile Row suits and developed a taste for fine food and wines. Captious critics suggest that England gave him the airs of an Edwardian intellectual dandy who became intoxicated with the sound of his own voice; it is perhaps more accurate to say that London life turned him into a spiritual descendant of the Whigs —the 18th and early-19th century oligarchs who combined a sense of personal elitism with a certainty that they knew what was best for society. In any case, the experience imbued him with a fondness for place and a lively sense of the past. He is the contented owner of a 300-acre farm in the land of James Fenimore Cooper in upstate New York...

* * *

From the Guardian, a 2001 review by John Charmley of Roy Jenkins' Churchill:

"Once a Whig"

Very Whig of very Whig, begotten not made, would not be a bad summary.

* * *

Burke's Corner:

The theologies of conservatism:

The low church spirit of Bryan dominates American conservatism. If conservatism in the Great Republic wishes to reconnect with Burke's concern for prudence and order, it should stop listening to revivalist preachers - and read Rerum Novarum.

* * *

Edmund Burke caricature, 1790:

"Sublime and beautiful reflections on the French revolution, or the man in the moon at large"

* * *

Snarksmith on Burke the Whig as crypto-Catholic, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France was written in response to the enthusiasms of the local Revolution Society:

The 18th century Irishman was not merely defending the church in France out of an a fortiori defense of monarchy as being inextricable from divine right. Apart from his general esteem of the ecclesiastical tradition, Burke was acutely concerned with the denomination of church in question. His mother was a Roman Catholic and his father, as Conor Cruise O'Brien has brilliantly argued, was in all probability something of a "closeted" one, too. Richard Burke may well have been confirmed to the Protestant Established Church of Ireland only to protect his legal practice and to indemnify himself and his family against England's viciously anti-Catholic Penal Code. Burke fils spent the better part of his political life agitating for Catholic rights and suffering no small amount of obloquy and persecution for it. He at one point lost his Parliamentary seat in Bristol following the passage of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which was the fruit of his singular labors. Burke was also personally blamed by the psychotic Lord George Gordon, imago and populist egger-on of the anti-Catholic riots which swept London in 1780 and bore the aristocrat's name.

In short, then, he was well attuned to the anti-Papist subtext of the banners of 1789. The Revolution Society was after all founded to celebrate England's Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which the Catholic King James II was ousted in favor of his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch Protestant husband William III. Here is O'Brien:

"This particular combination of defending 1688 while attacking Roman Catholicism hurt Burke deeply, for it hit him along a fundamental fault line in his political personality. Burke was a Whig, and thus ex officio committed to the principles of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, including the Protestant succession. But at the same time he was disqualified from sharing the feelings of normal English Whigs toward that Revolution: Burke needed to play down its anti-Catholic elements. When the Revolution Society played up the latter, Burke suffered and needed to strike back."

* * *

From the First Things archive, a 1990 article by Michael Novak:

"The Return of the Catholic Whig"

In his famous Postscript to The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich von Hayek identified Thomas Aquinas as "the first Whig," and has several times since noted how important it is to distinguish the Whig tradition from that of many exponents of the classical liberal tradition. Among Hayek’s favorite exemplars of the Whig tradition are Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton. It is noteworthy that all three of Hayek’s models are Catholic, and to his list other names can readily be added: Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon, and John Courtney Murray.

In important ways, all these thinkers go beyond the usual positions of "liberals." For example, they have a respect for language, law, liturgy, and tradition that, in some senses, marks them as "conservative." Still, they believe in some human progress, and they emphasize human capacities for reflection on alternatives and choice among them—characteristics that mark them as realistic progressives. With the liberals, they locate human dignity in liberty, but
ordered liberty (just as, for Aquinas, practical wisdom is recta ratio). The Catholic Whigs, then, present a distinctive mix: conservative, progressive, liberal, and realistic.


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