The Public Interest

Constitutional Enmities

Jeremy Rabkin

Fall 1986

LORD MACAULAY, who had mastered a great many intricate partisan maneuvers in his historical research, perceived an inner logic in party conflicts. It is “in the nature of parties,” he observed, “to retain their original enmities far more firmly than their original principles.” This makes for a good deal of hypocrisy and confusion at times, but it is not altogether a bad thing. For partisans often show better sense in choosing their targets than they do when reaching out for “principles” with which to assail those targets.  Though Macaulay was thinking primarily of popular or electoral parties, his observation often seems to be more apt in regard to intellectual parties. That is because the “principles” of the latter are usually more remote from the actual concerns of the partisans. For the same reason, it may also be true of intellectual parties that their lack of “firmness” in their “original principles” is more often cause for relief rather than regret. In any event, the record of most intellectual partisans in the great constitutional battles of this century certainly does bear out the truth of Macaulay’s dictum.

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