The first Earl of Shaftesbury's resolute conscience and aristocratic constitutionalism
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-10, 01:07 authored by Andrew Mansfield
This article provides a reappraisal of the first earl of Shaftesbury (1621-83) and challenges his reputation as an unprincipled politician. Conversely, it is argued that Shaftesbury's opposition to both Cromwell during the Protectorate and Charles II in the Restoration was guided by a resolute 'conscience'. While there was certainly elasticity in his conduct, Shaftesbury was very much the product of a political education framed during the Civil War and Commonwealth eras. The article explicitly demonstrates through an exposition of his activity and thought in the 1650s and 1670s that four guiding values remained consistent in his career. Both periods were shaped by concerns over political and religious tyranny by an overbearing executive and a threat to 'lives, liberty, and property' from the ruler, the church, and the army. Shaftesbury's significance lies in the aristocratic constitutionalism he believed offered a restraint to encroachment by the executive and the people in government. Relying upon long-established traditions that positioned the nobility as an independent bridle against arbitrary government, Shaftesbury suggested a forward-thinking vision of elite rule supported by the people. In clarifying Shaftesbury's values, the article rejects interpretations of him as a republican, Neo-Harringtonian, or a believer in popular government (democracy).
- Published version
PublisherCambridge University Press
Department affiliated with
- History Publications
Full text available