Item of the Day: Bolingbroke’s Dissertation on Parties (1754)

Full Title: The Works of the Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke. Vol. II. London: Printed in the Year MDCCLIV.

A Dissertation on Parties.  Letter I.

Sir, To corrupt and to divide are the trite and wicked expedients, by which some ministers in all ages have affected to govern; but especially such as have been least capable of exerting the true arts of government.  There is however a difference to be made between these two expedients, to the advantage of the latter, and by consequence between the characters of those who put them in practice.

Every busy, ambitious child of fortune, who hath himself a corrupt heart, and becomes master of a larger purse, hath all that is necessary to employ the expedient of corruption with success.  A bribe, in the hand of the most blundering coxcomb that ever disgraced honor and wealth and power, will prevail as much as in the hand of a man of sense, and go farther too, if it weigh more.  An intriguing chamber-maid may flip a bank-note into a griping paw, as well as the most subtle daemon of hell.  H**E may govern as triumphantly by this expedient as the great knight his brother, and the great knight as BURLEIGH himself.

But every character cannot attempt the other expedient of dividing, or keeping up divisions, with equal success.  There is, indeed, no occasion for any extraordinary genius to divide; and true wisdom despises the infamous task.  But there is need of that left-handed wisdom, called cunning, and of those habits in business, called experience.  He that is corrupted, co-operates with him that corrupts.  He runs into his arms at the first beckon; or, in order sometimes to raise the price, he meets him but half way.  On the other hand, to divide, or to maintain and renew the divisions of parties in a state, a system of seduction and fraud is necessary to be carried on.  The divided are so far from being accessory to the guilt, that they would not be divided, if they were not first deceived.

From these differences, which I have observed between the two expedients, and the characters and means proper to put them in practice with success, it may be discovered perhaps why, upon former occasions, as I shall hereafter shew, the expedient of dividing prospered so much better than that of corrupting; and why, upon some later occasions, the expedient of corrupting succeeds so well in those hands, which are not, and I trust, will not be so lucky in maintaining or renewing our party divisions.   

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Filed under 1750's, Government, Political Philosophy, Politics, Posted by Matthew Williams

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