Philosophes of the Conservative Nation: Burke, Macaulay, Disraeli

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Abstract

The argument here concerns the myths of the English, and of English history; it suggests that myths of providential England were powerful elements in twentieth-century British political life. Most of all, they powerfully informed Conservative conceptions of civilization, though they also exerted a wider political influence. The essay explores the invention of these myths in three pre-eminent writers: Burke, Macaulay, and Disraeli, and suggests that from their writings emerged a system of narration which came to be ‘remembered’ as the founding myth of the political nation — the conservative nation — in the twentieth century. By the time of mass democracy, the partisan divisions (between Whig and Tory) had been forgotten in favour of a wider cultural ‘transformism,’ which did much to cement the emerging coalition of landed and bourgeois politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the process, the very nature of politics itself came to be redefined.

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