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Physics and Politics Paperback – April 12, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-1566632218 ISBN-10: 1566632218
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Finely imaginative...a remarkable book. (H.S. Jones H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online)

Unflinching...a perfect antidote to the omni-present, thought-destroying political correctness that afflicts our culture. (Gregory J. Sullivan The Trenton Times)

We go to Bagehot for something that seems very difficult: the true character of political man. (Jacques Barzun)

About the Author

Banker, editor, political thinker, and literary critic, Walter Bagehot (1826–1877) edited the Economist for the last seventeen years of his life and enjoyed intimate friendships with the leading political figures of his day. He also wrote The English Constitution and Lombard Street. Roger Kimball is managing editor of The New Criterion and author of Tenured Radicals (also published by Ivan R. Dee).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (April 12, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566632218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566632218
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,935,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By meadowreader on October 23, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very entertaining book, partly because Bagehot, writing in the 1870s, is so outrageously politically incorrect by today's standards. When he quotes with approval Herbert Spencer's assertion that "the brain of the civilized man is larger by nearly thirty percent than the brain of a savage," you know you are hearing from a very different era than the one we live in.

Bagehot argues that primitive man (sorry) lived by the tyranny of religiously-based "customary law," necessary to weld the group into a fighting unit able to defend itself militarily against aggressors. Civilization itself developed because it was a military advantage, and it was thus selected for in the constant warfare that characterized those times. "Conquest is the premium given by nature to those [whose] national customs have made most fit in war." The character type valued in those "fighting days" emphasized the masculine, military virtues -- at least in those groups that survived. The problem, he says, is for a society to move beyond those ways; getting out of the yoke of customary law is a very difficult step, but eventually necessary if the society is to progress. Some societies have accomplished that, but most did not. Progress is the exceptional thing, not the norm. Those societies that have managed to advance are characterized by action based on abstract discussion, rather than superstitious conformity and immediate emotion.

The idea of societal evolution was a very popular one in the years after Darwin's writings became widely known, with human progress seen as resulting from the competition between societies. The notion of "progress" eventually became problematic, as it was recognized that it needed a more value-free definition than simply change in the direction of Victorian society.
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Format: Paperback
Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) was a British businessman, essayist, Social Darwinist and journalist; this 1872 book is subtitled "Thoughts on the application of the principles of 'natural selection' and 'inheritance' to political society."

He states, "To sum up---LAW---rigid, definite, concise law---is the primary want of early mankind; that which they need above anything else, that which is requisite before they can gain anything else. But it is their greatest difficulty, as well as their first requisite..." (Pg. 11)

He says, "I want to bring home to others what every new observation of society brings more and more freshly to myself---that this unconscious imitation and encouragement of appreciated character, and this equally unconscious shrinking from and persecution of disliked character, is the main force which moulds and fashions men in society as we now see it." (Pg. 48)

He observes, "In a former essay, I attempted to show that slighter causes than is commonly thought may change a nation from the stationary to the progressive state of civilization, and from the stationary to the degrading. Commonly the effect of the agent... is considered as operating on every individual in the nation... [But] there is a second effect... a new model in character is created for the nation; those characters which resemble it are encouraged and multiplied; those contrasted with it are persecuted and made fewer. In a generation or two, the look of the nation, becomes quite different." (Pg. 101)

Bagehot's is a "classic" description of the tension between social institutions and innovations, and the historical evolution of social groups into nations.
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