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of Feudality™) for declaring ˜Locke™s Treatise on Civil Government . . . the
worst book ever written™ and assert as certain ˜that it needs no farther
recommendation™.34
One would be hard put to imagine that the anonymous author of
Civil Polity and the members of the Sheffield Constitutional Society had
read the same book. While the former glossed it with Hanoverian
complacencies, the latter gleaned the sense that the compiler of Political
Aphorisms had made of the Treatises. The editorial decisions of the
Constitutional Society, however, are themselves nothing if not interesting,
for their abbreviation of the book to ˜as small a compass as possible™
simply lopped off the first seven chapters and turned the original™s eighth
chapter, ˜Of the Beginning of Political Societies™, into their pamphlet™s
first. Further, they deleted entirely the tenth, fourteenth, fifteenth
and seventeenth chapters À which, respectively, in the original considered
commonwealth and prerogative; compared political, paternal and des-
potic power; and discussed usurpation À and made various sentence-
level excisions through the rest. For present purposes it might suffice
to mention but one of the latter, the excision of Locke™s observation,

32 33 34
[Yorke?] 1794, p. vii. [Yorke?] 1794, p. viii. [Yorke?] 1794, p. viii.
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in the final chapter on ˜The Dissolution of Government™, that the people
are generally averse to change and that previous revolutions in England
typically reverted to their old constitution of King, Lords, and
Commons.35 Thus shorn of materials that tied the book most closely
to the political struggles of its original context, the ˜spirit of John Locke™
was assertively new-modelled to speak to late eighteenth-century British
`
problems vis-a-vis events across the Channel. In effect, the ˜change
in speaking subjects™ marked by the Sheffield redactions spawned
a decidedly rationalist and radicalized text, one happily rid of the fabled
state of nature, paternal power, the practical necessity of prerogative
and all the rest that might complicate that project.
My final example of eighteenth-century readings of the Treatise is
Thomas Elrington™s 1798 publication of the Second Treatise as a free-
standing whole. French editions of the second essay alone had began to
appear soon after the original, and one American printing had appeared
in 1773, but this was the only solo version of the treatise published in
the British empire in the eighteenth century. Extensively annotated and
footnoted as well as prefaced by a substantial introduction, Elrington™s
edition of An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil
Government36 took the scholarly high-ground in relation to a work that
had proved itself inconveniently open to radical appropriations. That the
stakes of reading Locke had become a question of the relative proximity
or distance between the events of 1688 and those of a new revolutionary
epoch was no small part of Elrington™s concern. Here, however, we might
note the scholarly form and accentuation of this variant as an element
of the political life of the book. Criticisms and refutations of Locke™s
various arguments pepper the margins of the work, but so too do
explanatory notes and other citations. That it was produced in Dublin
in 1798 is also significant, for its opposition to the revolutionary edge
of the Treatise was also an opposition not only to English friends
of the French Revolution but to events brewing in Ireland as well.
The choice of an edited republication rather than a separate rebuttal,
however, may reflect more than the churchly calling of the editor.
It might equally well signify a recognition that the relative indirection of
a scholarly voice enhanced the weight and status of the criticisms for
the ˜better sort™ among whom a volume of this kind might be thought
to find its audience.

35 36
Compare Locke 1988, ii.223, with [Yorke?] 1794, p. 29. Locke 1798.
Reflections on Political Literature 249
Like Civil Polity and The Spirit of John Locke, then, Elrington™s critical
edition itself manifested the ˜active responsiveness™ and ˜change of
speaking subjects™ that, on Bakhtin™s account, characterize of the chain
of speech communication in time. As in the other two works as well À
indeed, like the parcels of the Treatises braided into Political Aphorisms
and its successors À ˜Locke™s™ text, or what appears of it, remains
embedded in the language of natural law. For the others, however, it
remains akin, too, to the notions of the ˜ancient constitution™ and the
˜ancient liberties™ of the country. By contrast, and ironically since
Elrington™s was the only solo printing of the second Treatise in Britain
and Ireland, here Locke™s reasoning is often found deeply flawed (in ways
polemicized by previous generations of critics), and far too close to
the experience of recent history for comfort. All read the same text,
but the diversity of the politics they drew from it is testimony to the
ways in which the level of parole might spin off substantially different
orientations to action from a single work in different times and places,
even within a vernacular language that is ostensibly ˜the same™ as well.


iv. the great literalization: satire, progress and
a ˜vindication of natural society™
My last example of the political life of books began as a mid-eighteenth-
century parody of rationalism only to be mobilized, a hundred years
later, as a support for emergent social science. It has, of course, become
something of a late-modern commonplace that the sense or meaning
evoked by the idea of a political or social ˜science™ is itself a historical
construct.37 In the history of print culture, however, it might be some-
thing of a surprise to find that books first pitched as criticisms of the
naturalizing tendencies that culminated in such scientistic understandings
could have been polemically reiterated in terms more friendly to that
˜political language™. Edmund Burke™s initially anonymous Vindication of
Natural Society (1756), originally penned as a politically invested satire
of Bolingbroke™s ideas of natural religion might, in this context, serve as
a telling instance of how the ironies of eighteenth-century rhetoric could
be literalized into a practical and prospective ˜science™ for mid-Victorian
Britain. Indeed, a recent editor of the book marks a version of this
dilemma by asking whether the original should be understood ˜as a satire

37
See, for example, Wolin 1969; Pagden 1987a, esp. part IV; Foucault 1970; Winch 1990.
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or a serious tract™.38 The print history of the book, however, suggests
that this phrasing is itself part of the historiographical, political and
theoretical problem presented by the amphibolous character of the
original publication.39 But this is to get ahead of myself À so again, let me
begin at the beginning.
Attributed to ˜a late noble writer™, the Vindication first launched into
print in 1756. An advertisement noting its editor™s regret that it had not
appeared in that writer™s recently published Works clearly implicated
Bolingbroke as its author. This apparently caused quite a stir, as it
extended Bolingbroke™s criticisms of artificial religious institutions to
political institutions as well. However this may have pleased the enemies
of the recently deceased ˜noble writer™, the credibility of its style
apparently so alarmed his friends that David Mallet, the editor of
Bolingbroke™s Works, was reported to have rushed to the shop of the
Vindication™s publisher to deny either Bolingbroke™s or his own responsi-
bility for the book.40 A year later, the second edition avoided that
dilemma by dropping the pretense of Bolingbroke™s authorship. Instead,
a ˜new preface™ by an anonymous editorial persona announced the book
as an imitative satire, one intended to show how the ˜specious™ reasoning
that Bolingbroke used against the church could be similarly deployed
to turn unwary readers against any artificial institutions, the state itself
foremost among them.
This paratextual attempt to insulate the text from literal readings À as
the modern editor has it, from the charge of ˜seriousness™ À was in the
long run generally successful. As we have seen in previous examples,
however, the mid-1790s was a perilous time for historical texts, and
two reprintings of the no longer anonymous Vindication in 1796 seem
to have shadowed Burke™s Reflections with a renewed equivocality. Indeed,
it seems to be during these years that a youthful radicalism was first
ascribed to Burke by radical pamphleteers intent upon painting the
Reflections as the mark of an inconstant and hypocritical character.
38
Pagano 1982, p. xvii.
39
The ˜amphibolous™ dimensions of ˜classic™ texts À that is, phrasings that can be understood in
two (or more) ostensibly stable systems of meaning À is a core insight of Condren 1985,
esp. pp. 242À50. In literary terms, of course, this is a defining feature of satire, and modern
scholarship on the Vindication is a testimony to this dilemma. For the authenticity of Burke™s
ironic voice, see Prior 1824, pp. 33À5; Copeland 1949, p. 133; Weston 1958; Stanlis 1958, p. 125;
Stanlis 1967; and Kirk 1967, pp. 30À1. On Burke™s own ambivalence, see Kramnick 1977,
pp. 88À93. For defenses of the literal sense and Burke™s early ˜radicalism™, see Bury 1928,
´
pp. 181À2; Halevy 1934, pp. 215À16; and Rothbard 1958, pp. 114À18.
40
Burke 1853, i, p. 22.
Reflections on Political Literature 251
One of the leading radicals of the time, however, gave a rather different
account. After news of Burke™s death in 1797, William Godwin added
a footnote to the third edition of his Political Justice that recounted
the statesman™s central flaw not as hypocrisy, but rather as corruption.41
In the half-century that followed, however, Burke™s reputation remained
largely unscathed, and the numerous editions of his Works issued in
both Britain and the United States bore witness to his continuing stature.
Until the mid-nineteenth century there was no further solo edition of
the Vindication. In 1858, however, an inventive reader appropriated the
text of the Vindication from the 1854 ˜Bohn™s British Classics™ edition of
Burke™s Works. Issued by the radical publisher George Jacob Holyoake À
stalwart secularist and friend of the Cooperative movement in Britain À
this reprint was marked by a series of paratextual devices that again,
though now more substantially, floated Burke™s first book as a monument
to radicalism. Newly titled The Inherent Evils of All State Governments
Demonstrated, this was not the radicalism of the 1790s, but one of a
decidedly different and more recent sort. Dropping both the ˜advertise-
ment™ of the first edition and the ˜new preface™ of the second, it sub-
stituted an extended preface questioning the ironic intent of the original.
Beyond this, it added extensive annotations to the text as well as a lengthy
appendix elaborating ˜the principles™ through which the Vindication™s
˜natural society™ might be realized in practice. As the editor put it,
this addition supplemented ˜an important deficiency™ in the original by
suggesting how ˜Artificial Society™ and its evils ˜may be superseded
by a ˜˜Natural Society™™ in which truth, peace, and happiness shall pre-
dominate over error, strife, and misery™.42 Finally, the insertion of five
epigraphs on the verso of the title page associated the book both with
a long-standing Biblical warning about kings and a series of European
and American radicals who took a critical distance from the institution
of government as such.43
Taken together, these paratextual changes effectively undid the ways
in which the alterations of the second edition had guarded the book
41
Godwin 1797, ii, p. 546n.
42
The Inherent Evils of All State Governments Demonstrated 1858, p. vi.
43
The epigraphs are: ˜Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said,
Nay, but we will have a King to rule over us™. À 2 SAM., viii, 9; ˜Government is a necessity
of undeveloped society™. S. P. ANDREWS; ˜The least possible amount of governing must be the
formula of the future™. VICTOR HUGO; ˜Governments are the scourges of God to discipline
the world; for them to create liberty would be to destroy themselves™. PROUDHON; ˜I own
I have little esteem for Governments. In this country, for the last few years, the Government
has been the chief obstacle to the commonweal™. EMERSON.
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252
from literalism. Indeed, they encouraged a new sort of literalism by
recasting the book as a prophetic antecedent of the Equitable Society
Movement, the anarcho-socialist wing of American Owenite rationalism
and the European left. It is these last aspects of the newly minted
Vindication that are particularly striking. In the appendix, for instance,
Burke™s ˜natural society™ is associated not with Bolingbroke, nor even
Godwin, but with Fichte™s five epochs of human development and
the decidedly prospective views of ˜the Science of Equitable Human
Relations™. And, by a linkage to Steven Pearl Andrews™ Science of Society
(1851) and Josiah Warren™s Equitable Commerce (1852), it was practically
animated toward a new pragmatics of political action as well. Through
all these editorial supplements, the Vindication was assertively aligned
with assorted variants of social science on offer in the mid-nineteenth
century, and the ˜active responsive understanding™ of its editor turned
it more particularly toward projects of practical transformation through
concerted social action.

v. remainders
In the discussions above I have suggested some of the ways in which
generations of readers À as translators, subscribers, editors and scholars,
but in any case as writers À participated in the chain of speech com-
munication that linked a textual past to the political controversies of
successive presents. Not unlike the ways in which writers, editors and
publishers of fiction took up, imitated, transformed and recast earlier
literatures, these readers responded to the ˜utterance™ of historical texts
with ˜utterances™ of their own. In each case, their compilations, glosses
and creative editorial work accord broadly with the history of the various
political languages identified by Cambridge historiography. But in each
case, as well, the original texts were not simply carried forward into new
venues of political contestation; they were made to speak differently,
or more brashly, or with calmer authority in some hands than they
did in others. Further examples of this process could have been drawn
from the shifting political interpretations added to dramatic works
or novels, sometimes by editors and critics, sometimes by the original
authors themselves: the different sense made of Shakespeare, for instance,
by Johnson in the eighteenth century and Hazlitt in the nineteenth, or
the migration of Felix Holt™s address to working men from the pages of
Blackwood ™s Magazine to the pages of George Eliot™s novel. In these cases,
as in those considered here, the line between fiction and political prose
Reflections on Political Literature 253
is anything but bright. Our conventional understandings of genre would
hardly permit us to speak of Johnson, Hazlitt or Eliot as writers of
political theory, but perhaps this views the enterprise far too narrowly.
To the extent that political theorizing consists in offering not simply
a perspective on the political world but also an orientation to action
within it, its containment within conventional genre distinctions looks
more like a matter of academic convenience than a characteristic of its
historical expressions.
By the same token, however, perhaps attention to ˜literary™ works™
embeddeness in political discourses, languages or ideologies is too broad
to capture the ways in which specific writings might orient interested
readers to political action À or what early-modern readers might have
understood as opportunities for ˜application™. Yet if this is the case, it may
be that the nestling of ˜theoretical™ texts into analogously broad concep-
tions of political languages, compelling though it may be as history,
also constrains our ability to grasp the sorts of ˜events™ that such texts
can become through repetition, reiteration and adaptation. Indeed,
if the ˜utterance™ of such texts finds an answer in the form of scholarly
discourse À Elrington might well come to mind here À it becomes
increasingly difficult to regard the ˜active responsive understanding™ of
scholarship as an inherently neutral third-order analysis of second-order
theoretical statements about first order political activities. Instead, generic
differentia notwithstanding, all become links in a chain of speech com-
munication that can blur the boundary between past and present and
infuse all such utterances with pertinence for the political contestations
of the latest time and place.
Finally, perhaps the same dynamics might operate with respect to
the astonishing variety of historical and near contemporary texts now
populating the internet and inviting contemporary readers to make what
they will of them.44 Admittedly, this seems far afield from my focus
here on history, theory and printed books. But if the political point
and theoretical edge of political literature is something persistently
rearticulated in the inventive ˜applications™ of writing readers, the internet

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