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October 23, 2004

Disraeli on Change

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It isn't often that I run across a political quote I can get entirely behind, but I think I may have found one today. I'm still kicking it around, but the more I do the solider the thinking in this quote feels. Benjamin Disraeli:

In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, the traditions of the people, or in deference to abstract principles and arbitrary and general doctrines.

Now, if only one of our presidential candidates genuinely represented one of these approaches, and our other presidential candidate genuinely represented the other approach ...



posted by Michael at October 23, 2004


And then there's another quote from another fave conservative, Edmund Burke:

"The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints."

Nice paradox: the people, via their customs, can act as a necessary governor, holding back change so it operates within a tolerable range. But the people do not come with a guarantee of good judgment either.

Posted by: fenster on October 24, 2004 9:16 AM

Nice quotes (both) but what the devil do they mean? In reality? Apply them, please, so that I can get a sense of what you are saying.

Standing alone, those quotes are floating free so far above that I can just dimly see their shape.. Please being them down to earth. How would Bush or Kerry (or anyone) use these principles? In any realm of human endeavor? (And it would be especially nice to see if their utility when it comes to urban design as that is, of course, the concrete test.)

Posted by: David Sucher on October 24, 2004 9:39 AM

David, here's how we say all that out here in the hinters:

Disraeli: If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Burke: Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it.

I can't help you with how any of that might work out in urban design.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on October 24, 2004 5:30 PM

I think what I'm afraid of isn't change that most people really want, or change that is consistent with "abstract principles and doctrines" (assuming that they are sincere principles and doctrines) but change designed to benefit the politically well connected. To pick three examples out of countless others: the current scandals affecting the insurance industry, the state of public education today and the current situation with illegal immigration all suggest the power of well-connected subgroups (to wit, (1) insurance companies that have captured their state regulators and successfully avoided national regulation, (2) teacher unions, (3) Democratic politicians eager for immigrant votes and Republican businessmen eager for cheap labor) to have their way with both tradition and principle--and, in the process, effect fairly radical and long term change than few of their fellow citizens would ever vote for or desire.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 27, 2004 9:33 AM

I think Scott's translations of these quotes are brilliant, and offer an all-you-need-to-know guide to urban design!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 27, 2004 10:29 AM

Hi there,

This is a very interesting quote of Disraeli's and is an important one in rebutting a portrayal of conservatism as completely anti-progressive.

There is another quote by Burke to a similar effect : "A state without the means of some change is without the means of conservation."

Not wanting to blogwhore to blatantly, but if you are interested, I have been trying to tease out some implications of these kind of thoughts over at


Posted by: willchill on October 28, 2004 12:58 PM

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