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01 Sep

Steele’s Crisis

The debate between The Crisis and The Public Spirit of the Whigs exemplifies not only Swift’s personal animosity toward Steele, but, at a more profound level, the basic disagreement between Steele and his Tory antagonists about the meaning of 1688. For Steele, the authority of the monarch derived from the consent of the governed, and the people, acting jointly, had the right to replace the monarch when he or she seriously violated their safety or even interests. The difficulty of replacing the monarch acted as a restraint on civic disorder; the possibility of such replacement acted as a deterrent to monarchical excess. But for Tories no such right was structured into or implied by the constitution. The authority of the Crown derived from Divine approval as providentially manifested in history. If extraordinary circumstances required a violent intervention in order to ensure the safety of the nation (and especially of the Church), the revolution might be a lesser evil, but it did not flow from the inherent rights of citizens. For Steele, revolution principles were an important protection of civic order,; for Tories, Steele’s argument undermined the substance and continuity of monarchical rule and opened the way to radical excesses.

From Charles A. Knight (2009) A Political Biography of Richard Steele, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 135-6.

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