Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Who are the Whigs and why they will fail.

My wife and I are enjoying the ITV series “Victoria” as a work of fiction. The real Queen was not a pretty starlet, had a more vicious temper, and Lord Melbourne was a rake and a Whig. But who were the Whigs, and do they still exist?

“Perhaps as long as there has been a political history in this country there have been certain people of a cool, moderate, resolute firmness… with a clear view of the next step, and a wise intention to act on it; with a strong conviction that the elements of knowledge are true, and a steady belief that the present world can, and should be, quietly improved. These are the Whigs”

Walter Bagehot

There is a Whig party in the UK. It is small, and about as useful as the Liberterian Party. They believe they are progressive. Their description of Whiggery is as fair as any, and it boils down to a belief that we are progressing. What this party gets correct is that the Whigs do exist in other names.

  • In the UK, they are the market friendly Labour party, being purged by Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrats
  • In Canada, the Whigs are the Liberals (grits). Who have now gone full SJW in their intersectionality and are ineffective
  • In Australia, the Whigs are Liberals (Turnbull variety). There is a conservative party — the Country Party and the Abbott branch of the Liberal party
  • In the USA, they are Republicans. The Democrats are the old Tories, keeping people in their castes.
  • In New Zealand, they make up the Bulk of the National Party

Whiggery is an English idea: it does not fit with the Christian Democrat or Nationalist division that occurs on the continent.

The Whig Party was originally founded in 1678, at the start of Britain’s modern political history. The key principles of the Whigs were to defend the people against tyranny and to advance human progress. After securing the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688, which established the primacy of Parliament over the Crown, the Whigs founded the Bank of England in 1694, and then crafted the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707. For the next 150 years, the Whigs laid the foundations for a decent and democratic modern Britain. During this period, there were just two political parties in Britain; the Whigs, who pressed forward, and the Tories, who tried to hold things back.

There were sixteen Whig Prime Ministers, and the main periods of progress in Britain at this time were the Whig Supremacy (1714-60) and the Whig Revival (1806-34). The Whigs passed a number of pro-immigration measures, and laws to enable the full participation of religious minorities in public life. The Whigs abolished the slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. Perhaps most notably, the Whigs passed the Great Reform Act in 1832, which expanded the electorate, and made Parliament more representative of the country as a whole.

The Whig Party was dissolved in 1868, and the reforming spirit of the Whigs was inherited by the Liberals and the Labour Party. Many of the great reforms of the 20th Century were in the spirit of Whiggery; such as the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave women the vote, the establishment of the NHS and the welfare state by the post-War Labour Government, and the reforms of Roy Jenkins in the 1960s, which decriminalised homosexuality and abolished capital punishment. This Whiggish spirit was reinvigorated by the founding of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 and the launch of New Labour in 1994, but by the early 21st Century both of these movements had ran out of ideas. By the time the global financial crisis hit the UK in 2008, there was no credible progressive response and the Tories were once again able to set the political agenda.

This has led to a false dichotomy, driven by rhetoric from the left. They consider anybody not left as the enemies, and call them Tories, Fascist, Nazis or Hitler depending on their blood alcohol level. This is not the case.

In NZ and Australia this means that politics is between Whiggish progressives, who believe in magic dirt and the progress of all peoples, and that tradition is fungible, and socialists. There is no functional conservative party. And this is why they fail.

They neglect tradition and common sense. Here David Stove gives us an example: you cannot make an Australia without Britain. I should add that the Ockers beat the Poms at Cricket for the same reason we beat them in Rugby: the English despise colonials. We hate the English. But we come from them.

IT PASSES MY understanding how anyone with even a grain of sense can feel pleasure at the prospect of a republican Australia: an Australia, that is to say, even more “base, common and popular” than it is now. Anyway, I am myself for the British connection. In my World XI, Britons – Shakespeare, Purcell, Newton, Hume and Darwin – would be the first five picked. Either to the British exclusively, or to them more than to any other nation, the world owes, and Australia especially owes, whatever it has of scientific knowledge, sober philosophy, stable government without oppression – and cricket.

Only the British, and indeed, to tell the truth, only the English, could have invented this game. It requires gentlemanliness, and teaches it. This sounds like headmaster’s talk circa 1938. It is, too. It is also true. I have seen cricket make gentlemen out of the most intractable. Australian materials, at least for four hours on Saturday afternoons, more times than I could count. It doesn’t always work, of course; that would be unreasonable to expect.

But the fact remains that the game, as it required a ripe civilisation to invent it, is also a means of transmitting civilisation to others. Of course I do not mean to suggest that this is why it is played. It is played because playing it is a pleasure beyond price.

Stove knows the game is worthy in and of itself. It does not need an intersectional analysis. It does not need to be made political. (Stove also knows that philosophers contradict themselves more than the Church Fathers did). He doubts there is progress: the evidence of his eyes suggests it is a myth.

And without that myth, Whiggery descends into the postmodern morass. The conservatives at least should know there is a truth.