By Walter Bagehot
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Those who doubt should go out into their kitchens: let an accomplished man try what seems to him most obvious, most certain, most palpable in intellectual matters, upon the housemaid and the footman, and he will ﬁnd that what he says seems unintelligible, confused, and erroneous – that his audience think him mad and wild when he is speaking what is in his own sphere of thought the dullest platitude of cautious soberness. Great communities are like great mountains – they have in them the primary, secondary, and tertiary strata of human progress; the characteristics of the lower regions resemble the life of old times rather than the present life of the higher regions.
The ﬁrst prerequisite of elective government is the mutual conﬁdence of the electors. We are so accustomed to submit to be ruled by elected ministers, that we are apt to fancy all mankind would readily be so too. Knowledge and civilisation have at least made this progress, that we instinctively, without argument, almost without consciousness, allow a certain number of speciﬁed persons to choose our rulers for us. It seems to us the simplest thing in the world. But it is one of the gravest things.
12 The second edition reads ‘no oﬃcial minute in all ordinary cases’. Soon after the publication of his ﬁrst Fortnightly Review article, Bagehot had been lent by the third Earl Grey some cabinet minutes made by the second earl when prime minister in –. The English Constitution but it can unmake; it was derivative in its origin, but it is destructive in its action. This fusion of the legislative and executive functions may, to those who have not much considered it, seem but a dry and small matter to be the latent essence and eﬀectual secret of the English Constitution; but we can only judge of its real importance by looking at a few of its principal eﬀects, and contrasting it very shortly with its great competitor, which seems likely, unless care be taken, to outstrip it in the progress of the world.