NPG D12551; 'The death of the Great Wolf' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

You will no doubt be asking yourselves about the print posted above?  Well, it’s by James Gillray – one of ol’ Robbo’s favorite late 18th Century British politickal cartoonists – and is a 1795 piece titled “The Death of the Great Wolf”.  It is a parody of Benjamin West’s famous 1770 painting, “The Death of General Wolfe“, another great favorite of mine, given my (well-known to regular friends of teh decanter) fondness for colonial American history, and has to do with a bit of Gubmint over-reach in re the (then) Tory effort to crack down on seditious speech in the face of the French Revolution.

Anyhoo, I won’t go into all the details of Gillray’s parody – go here for a brief description – but I will point out that the glasses-wearing fellah on the immediate left of  the expiring Billy Pitt’s “Wolfe” is a caricature of Edmund Burke.

I bring all this up – well, besides using it as a pretense for posting a Gillray print – because I have started in on Yuval Levin’s latest books, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.   Levin’s thesis, very broadly put, is that the differences in the philosophies of the relationship between governors and governed between Burke and Paine, specifically regarding the French Revolution, have framed the same debate between classical liberalism and progressivist radicalism that has haunted American politicks ever since, and which seems, at least IMHO, to be coming to something of a  head these days.   I don’t often read politickal books simply because I loathe politicks as a whole (what the great Peej O’Rourke once described as the business of achieving status and power without merit), but somehow I thought this one was worth a dekko.

We shall see.  As I say, I’ve just started.  So long as Levin reaches the conclusion that Burke was an incremental realist who, with a genuine desire for gradual societal improvement, also took into account both empirical historic evidence and an understanding  of Man’s inherent fallibility;  and also that Paine was a rabble-rousing Utopian moron who believed in a unicorn in every garage and free, rainbow-flavored Skittles for all, and who didn’t care how much blood it took to get to this vision; well, then we’re good.

As long as I’m on the subject, allow me to throw out this:  While I have a great many Whig sympathies about societal improvements, I utterly reject what is called the Whig theory of history.  Per Wiki:

Whig history (or Whig historiography) is the approach to historiography which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians emphasize the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms, and scientific progress. The term is often applied generally (and pejoratively) to histories that present the past as the inexorable march of progress towards enlightenment. The term is also used extensively in the history of science for historiography which focuses on the successful chain of theories and experiments that led to present-day science, while ignoring failed theories and dead ends.[1] It is claimed that Whig history has many similarities with the Marxist-Leninist theory of history, which presupposes that humanity is moving through historical stages to the classless, egalitarian society to which communism aspires.

Whig history is a form of liberalism, putting its faith in the power of human reason to reshape society for the better, regardless of past history and tradition. It proposes the inevitable progress of mankind. Its opposite is conservative history or “Toryism.” The English historian A. J. P. Taylor commented, “Toryism rests on doubt in human nature; it distrusts improvement, clings to traditional institutions, prefers the past to the future.”

A.J.P. Taylor was a Commie bastard.  Suff on his “interpretation”.  More generally, however, I take this whole “inevitable progression” reasoning as a variation on the Unicorns n’ Skittles thing I mention above and condemned as a load of crap.   You’re damned right, Mister A.J.P. Taylor, that I have doubts in human nature.  History bears me out, I think.   And as I repeatedly tell anyone who will listen (an increasingly shrinking audience, I’ll allow), there is nothing, nothing that guarantees our current level of prosperity and order.  See, e.g., Fourth Century Rome.

So I suppose that I am either a conservative Burkean or else an enlightened Tory.  Which is why I use a portrait of Billy Pitt as my, how do you kids say it, avaterz when commenting on teh toobs.

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