Walter Bagehot (// BAJ-ət; 3 February 1826 – 24 March 1877) was a British journalist, businessman, and essayist, who wrote extensively about government, economics, literature and race. He is known for co-founding the National Review in 1855, and for his works The English Constitution and Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market (1873).
|Born||3 February 1826|
Langport, Somerset, England
|Died||24 March 1877 51) (aged|
Langport, Somerset, England
|Alma mater||University College London|
Bagehot was born in Langport, Somerset, England, on 3 February 1826. His father, Thomas Watson Bagehot, was managing director and vice-chairman of Stuckey's Bank. He attended University College London (UCL), where he studied mathematics, and in 1848 earned a master's degree in moral philosophy. Bagehot was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn, but preferred to join his father in 1852 in his family's shipping and banking business.
In 1858, Bagehot married Elizabeth (Eliza) Wilson (1832–1921), whose father, James Wilson, was the founder and owner of The Economist; the couple were happily married until Bagehot's untimely death at age 51, but had no children. A collection of their love-letters was published in 1933.
In 1855, Bagehot founded the National Review with his friend Richard Holt Hutton. In 1861, he became editor-in-chief of The Economist. In the 17 years he served as its editor, Bagehot expanded The Economist's reporting on politics and increased its influence among policymakers. He was widely accepted by the British Establishment and was elected to the Athenaeum in 1875.
In 1867, Bagehot wrote The English Constitution, a book that explores the nature of the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically its Parliament and monarchy. It appeared at the same time that Parliament enacted the Reform Act of 1867, requiring Bagehot to write an extended introduction to the second edition which appeared in 1872.
Bagehot also wrote Physics and Politics (1872), in which he examines how civilisations sustain themselves, arguing that in their earliest phase civilisations are very much in opposition to the values of modern liberalism, insofar as they are sustained by conformism and military success, but once they are secured it is possible for them to mature into systems which allow for greater diversity and freedom. His viewpoint was based on a distinction between the qualities of an “accomplished man” and those of a “rude man”, which he considered the result of iterative inheritances by which the “nervous organisation” of the individual became increasingly refined through the generations. He regarded this distinction as a moral achievement whereby through the actions of the will, this “accomplished“ elite was able to morally differentiate themselves from “rude men“ by a “hereditary drill“. He equally applied such reasoning to develop a form of pseudoscientific racism, whereby those of mixed race lacked any “inherited creed” or “fixed traditional sentiments” upon which, he considered, human nature depended. He attempted to provide empirical support for his views by citing John Lubbock and Edward Tylor, although neither of them accepted such arguments for hereditary difference in their writings on human evolution. Tylor in particular rejected Bagehot's view of the centrality of physical heredity and that the modern “savage“ mind was “tattooed over with monstrous images” by which base instincts had been preserved in crevices, as opposed to the accomplished European man, for whom such instincts had been smoothed away through inherited will to exercise reason.
In Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market (1873) Bagehot seeks to explain the world of finance and banking. His observations on finance are often cited by central bankers, most recently in the wake of the global financial crisis which began in 2007. Of particular importance is "Bagehot's Dictum" that in times of financial crisis central banks should lend freely to solvent depository institutions, yet only against sound collateral and at interest rates high enough to dissuade those borrowers that are not genuinely in need.
Bagehot never fully recovered from a bout of pneumonia he suffered in 1867, and he died in 1877 from complications of what was said to be a cold. Collections of Bagehot's literary, political, and economic essays were published after his death. Their subjects ranged from Shakespeare and Disraeli to the price of silver. In honour of his contributions, The Economist's weekly commentary on current affairs in the UK is entitled "Bagehot". Every year, the British Political Studies Association awards the Walter Bagehot Prize for the best dissertation in the field of government and public administration.
As of June 2021[update], Adrian Wooldridge, political editor of The Economist, continues to write a weekly column entitled "Bagehot", described as "an analysis of British life and politics, in the tradition of Walter Bagehot".
- (1848). "Principles of Political Economy," The Prospective Review, Vol. 4, No. 16, pp. 460–502.
- (1858). Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotchmen.
- (1867; second edition, 1872). The English Constitution. (online)
- (1872). Physics and Politics (online).
- (1873). Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market. (online)
- (1875). "A New Standard of Value," The Economist, Vol. 33, No. 1682, pp. 1361–63.
- (1877). Some Articles on the Depreciation of Silver and on Topics Connected with It.
- (1879). Literary Studies.
- (1880). Economic Studies.
- (1881). Biographical Studies.
- (1885). The Postulates of English Political Economy.
- (1889). The Works of Walter Bagehot.
- (1933). The Love Letters of Walter Bagehot and Eliza Wilson (with his spouse).
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- Hutton, Richard Holt (1915). "Memoirs." In: The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, Vol. 1. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., pp. 1–54.
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National Review (1855–64) one of the most prestigious quarterlies of mid-century
- Walter Bagehot (1867), The English Constitution (1st ed.), London: Chapman & Hall, OCLC 60724184.
- Bagehot, Walter (November 1867). "Physics and Politics. No. I. The Pre-Economic Age". Hathi Trust. Fortnightly Review. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
This three-part article was published over the course of three years in the Fortnightly Review: the first section was published in November, 1867; the second section in April, 1868; and the third in July, 1869.
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- "Adrian Wooldridge". The Economist. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
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