November 8, 2008

Peel's prescience

The Reform Bill has made a change in the position of parties and in the practical working of public affairs, which the authors of it did not anticipate. There is a perfectly new element of political power -- namely, the registration of voters, a more powerful one than either the Sovereign or the House of Commons. That party is the strongest in the point of fact which has the existing registration in its favour ... We shall soon have, I have no doubt, a regular systematic organisation of it. Where this is to end I know not, but substantial powers will be in the Registry Courts and there the contest will be determined.

-- Robert Peel, in a letter to Arbuthnot, 1839 (emphasis added); quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846.

... Hilton goes on to observe: "In 1843, accordingly, Conservatives sought to disenfranchise certain Dissenters on technical grounds, while Anti-Corn Law League officials tried to create bogus freeholds in the counties."

Evidently, little has changed.

November 5, 2008


[I]f his straining after effect is often irritating it can also produce phrases ("the chill, footless years," "the mackerel-crowded seas") which suddenly overwhelm one like a girl's face seen across a room.

-- Orwell, "Review of The Development of William Butler Yeats by V.K. Narayana Menon" (in Collected Essays, Everyman ed.).

The Zen of the ancient Greeks

Many people are afraid to empty their minds lest they may plunge into the void. They do not know that their own mind is the void. The ignorant eschew phenomena but not thought; the wise eschew thought but not phenomena.

-- The Chun Chou Record of the Zen Master Huang Po, tr. John Blofeld.

Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial -- out of profundity.

-- Nietzsche, The Gay Science, preface to the 2d edition, tr. Walter Kaufmann.

Two different humors

In the body of every republic there are two different humors -- that of the people and that of the nobles -- and all the laws that are passed in favor of liberty arise from their discord.

--Machiavelli, Discourses 1.4, tr. Peter Constantine, Essential Writings of Machiavelli.

Odious but intelligible

Do not you think that the tone of England -- of that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs, which is called public opinion -- is more liberal -- to use an odious but intelligible phrase -- than the policy of the Government? Do you not think that there is a feeling in favour of some undefined change in the mode of governing the country?

-- Robert Peel, in a letter, 1820; in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846.