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Jonathan Mayhew: Conservative Revolutionary
Unformatted Document Text:  Conclusion We began by noting a potential tension at the core of Mayhew’s political and social thought. In the Discourse, and especially in his August 1765 sermon, Mayhew offered a strident version of Whig political theory and the doctrine of resistance to tyranny. In The Snare Broken, on the other hand, he emphasized the need for social stability. Bailyn highlights this tension, remarking that the controversy over the S.P.G. “more deeply confirmed than ever . . . his opposition to hierarchy, authority, and power in all its oppressive forms” and that even prior to the accession of George III “his hatred of autocracy had been expressed in a passing condemnation of the whole institution of monarchy and an encomium to the virtues of “the vulgar and middle sorts”.” In the Snare, however, “the emphasis now [fell] on the hitherto unarticulated assumption that a stable social order was the counterpart of political freedom and that a reform of politics need not be associated with social upheaval.” 54 While it may well be that this tension “between political antiauthoritarianism and social stability . . . is the essence of the libertarian creed,” Bailyn’s assessment is exaggerated. 55 One is hard pressed to discover where Mayhew speaks glowingly of the “vulgar and middle sorts.” Likewise, Mayhew did not object to hierarchy, per se; indeed, he perceived it to be the inevitable and beneficial effect of the natural order of things. While he argued for resistance to the unlawful exercise of authority, he embraced the need for authority rightfully exercised. Nor did he advocate for political reform. Instead, Mayhew’s political thought centered around the ideas of a self-correcting constitution and of the king as a paternal figure whose primary desire was to promote the felicity of his subjects. Political reform was thus unnecessary. Indeed, reform 54 Ibid., 121. 55 26

Authors: Lubert, Howard.
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Conclusion
We began by noting a potential tension at the core of Mayhew’s political and social
thought. In the Discourse, and especially in his August 1765 sermon, Mayhew offered a strident
version of Whig political theory and the doctrine of resistance to tyranny. In The Snare Broken,
on the other hand, he emphasized the need for social stability. Bailyn highlights this tension,
remarking that the controversy over the S.P.G. “more deeply confirmed than ever . . . his
opposition to hierarchy, authority, and power in all its oppressive forms” and that even prior to
the accession of George III “his hatred of autocracy had been expressed in a passing
condemnation of the whole institution of monarchy and an encomium to the virtues of “the
vulgar and middle sorts”.” In the Snare, however, “the emphasis now [fell] on the hitherto
unarticulated assumption that a stable social order was the counterpart of political freedom and
that a reform of politics need not be associated with social upheaval.”
While it may well be that this tension “between political antiauthoritarianism and social
stability . . . is the essence of the libertarian creed,” Bailyn’s assessment is exaggerated.
One is
hard pressed to discover where Mayhew speaks glowingly of the “vulgar and middle sorts.”
Likewise, Mayhew did not object to hierarchy, per se; indeed, he perceived it to be the inevitable
and beneficial effect of the natural order of things. While he argued for resistance to the
unlawful exercise of authority, he embraced the need for authority rightfully exercised. Nor did
he advocate for political reform. Instead, Mayhew’s political thought centered around the ideas
of a self-correcting constitution and of the king as a paternal figure whose primary desire was to
promote the felicity of his subjects. Political reform was thus unnecessary. Indeed, reform
54
Ibid., 121.
55
26


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