Salutary neglect

While Dignified Flippancy gives the best summary of the means by which the British Empire was extended — especially in its later stages (after the loss of the southern bits of British North America) — we need a phrase to explain the philosophy of government that allowed it to prosper through years of sublime peace.¬†As so often, the Irishman, Edmund Burke, supplied this phrase, in his second speech on the Conciliation with America. It was “a wise and Salutary Neglect” that permitted the American colonies to succeed; as it had been the relaxation of the Navigation Acts and many other Cromwellian schemes and encumbrances, that removed the chief impediments to the growth of their manufacturing and trade.

This did not require any legislation to negate, however. The laws were simply not enforced by the neglectful authorities. And this method worked more generally through the rest of the Empire upon which the sun never set.

Sir Robert Walpole should be given some share in the credit, for his corrupt and Whiggish nature had been pleased to stuff the colonial governments with his incompetent political shills, who did not apply what the mercantile theorists had long suggested. Too, they were often corrupt themselves. Men who are busy making money “unofficially” are more likely to forgive the unofficial behaviour of others. This is what makes corruption such a welcome relief of tyranny.

Indeed, I have often thought that the current progressive, democratic regimes, in the United States and Canada, offer a better excuse to violent revolution than anything extant in the 18th century.

Salutary Neglect was the shining principle (to be distinguished from “benign neglect,” a mere policy of urban planning), by which the British were able to rule the world’s most extensive empire, with a small fraction of the soldiers and bureaucrats employed by the French and others in their European empires.

It was a method not permanently infallible, however. It allowed the Dominion of New England (my maternal ancestry) and other flourishing colonies to become independent. This was a natural development, once they became habituated to free trade. Alas, that is where the politics of nonsense re-enters the picture, metastasizing within each newly created domestic cell. For men will be men, as boys will be boys. They will rule themselves, even to destruction, as the instinct to freedom becomes an instinct to tyranny.

But suffice to say: the earthly paradise is formed with dignified flippancy, and sustained through salutary neglect. And yes: Rule Britannia!