Saturday, August 21, 2010

Daniel Szechi on what's at stake if we take the Jacobites seriously:

If we accept that Jacobitism was a force to be reckoned with at all levels of
the British polity, then we can find a continuous, deep vein of social and
political conservatism running throughout British history at least up to the
late 1820s. This would radically alter our whole historical perspective on the
last four centuries. The Great Civil War becomes little more than a belated
attempt to stop an innovating king –something with which a great many medieval
barons would have felt a good deal of sympathy. The Glorious Revolution, because
it went against the grain of this conservatism, likewise becomes a Whig coup
d’├ętat with very shaky foundations, and so on. By this interpretation, Britain,
rather than leading the world in the attainment of constitutional government and
political stability (the conventional view), came to it very late. Maybe as late
as the 1830s. If this argument can be sustained than many other classic
interpretations fall to the ground. For example, Britain’s legendary political
stability cannot have helped precipitate the industrial revolution, as is
assumed by so many economic historians, if it was not in fact stable, but rather
volatile. Likewise, if the dream of liberty kept alive by the seamless vein of
hidden political radicalism which historians like Christopher Hill have detected
coursing from the 1640s to the 1790s becomes instead the touchstone for a
movement which to twentieth-century eyes looks like the polar opposite of
political radicalism –jacobitism—then what are we to make of working-class
agitation in the early nineteenth century. The dialectic of history, in
particular the gathering class consciousness of the workers, is broken
.

(From Daniel Szechi, The Jacobites: Britain and Europe, 1688—1788 [Manchester and New York: MUP, 1994]:4--5. I'm not sure about the easy political labelling here, but this adds another dimension to the "primacy of foreign politics" point of view that asks us to take the anti-Jacobite exertions of British foreign policy seriously. As Szechi himself points out a little later, the main work done by Jacobitism is still to promote the growing power of the state. So I would take a different line here. What if promoting the line that the Jacobitism wasn't a threat was a serious part of the agenda of those tremendously important Eighteenth Century authors we still read --Smith, Fielding, Gibbons, Hume? What if, for every English-speaking historian, it is still Derby at 9AM on the fifth of December , 1745, and we are trying to bluff the council to turn away from London?

PS: the block quote function here doesn't impress me. No doubt I'm doing it wrong.

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