English Totalitarian Constitutionalism and Manichaean Nationalism

The articulation of the world into a focus on the English children of light and the surrounding darkness enables [William Warburton, later bishop of Gloucester, in a political sermon given on the occasion of the Scotch Rebellion of 1745-1746] to assess the role of England in politics and history. In the present emergency of the Rebellion it is the duty of every Christian and Briton to rally to the defense of the country, for this country is "The pride and confidence of our friends! The envy of our neighbours! The terror of our enemies, and the admiration of mankind!. . . . Happy nation! The nurse of heroes, the school of sages, the seminary of holy martyrs, the distinguished favorite of Heaven!"

In relation to other nations this England has now "the distinguished glory of being the Depository, as it were, of civil and religious Freedom, for the rest of mankind. And while we continue faithful to our trust, there are still hopes that the degenerate sons of men may, sometime or other, catch this noble fire from us, and vindicate their ravaged birthright. . . . The preservation of British liberty. . . is the preservation of the liberties of Mankind."

[In his second political sermon, Warburton admits the corruption of English society.] The English people are rich in vice, and the state of immorality may lead to disaster, but such disaster will come in the order of natural causation insofar as the dissolution of the individuals may ultimately undermine the social order. It will not come as a judgment of God. The analogy with the fate of Israel is impermissible because under the Christian dispensation God has separated the problems of private and public morality. The state is an independent moral agent and is not responsible for the conduct of individuals. . . . Hence the rottenness of the people, while fraught with natural dangers, is no cause for defeatism with regard to the fate of the nation in international politics. On the world scene only the morality of the state is crucial in the present contingency [the Scotch Rebellion]. With regard to this point we can rest assured, for the state of England is a paragon of public virtue. . . .

The political evocation of Warburton holds a peculiar fascination for us because here we can observe in it origins the state of sentiments that later, after having outgrown the remnants of Christian tradition, develops into the totalitarianism of our time. Warburton's position my be characterized as a totalitarian national constitutionalism. The structure of the constitution has separated from the moral and spiritual substance of the nation. . . . The rottenness of society may even engulf the state, because precisely the procedural protections accorded by a free constitution may degenerate in practice into the protection of the criminal against punishment.

Nevertheless, the constitution is perfect. It is free even if it suppresses Nonconformists and nonjurors and deprives Catholics of political representation. It is wholesome even if it gives free reign to dissoluteness to the point of criminality. The idolatry of a shell without substance, which in our time has produced the fantastical situation of the overthrow of democracy by the means of democratic procedure, is fully developed.

Moreover, this free constitution is the political form of a nation. We see fully developed the conception of the nation as the chosen people, the Manichaean articulation of the field of politics into the pure nation and the surrounding darkness, the idea of a national mission, the identification of the national civilization with the civilization of mankind, and the identification of the national destiny with the destiny of mankind at large. Warburton elaborates a system of national megalomania that, once it is taken over by the other nations, can only result in the war of all against all that we witness in our time. . . .

Warburnton's dogmatism of national exclusiveness and the balance of power is the English equivalent to the French and German imperial expansion. In the disaster that resulted from the clash of these megalomanic nationalisms the Germans have fared the worst, while to date [post WWII-fjw] the English have managed only to come dangerously close to the point where they have balanced themselves out of power.

CW Vol 24 (HPI-VI)
Chapter 4, The English Quest for the Concrete
§ 1 d Warburton's Political Sermons, pp 156-161.