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Milbank on Coleridge

So, having been diverted from my lovely new books by packing, I have at last been able to return to them, and coincidentally, read to page 25 in each yesterday. For Milbank's The Future of Love, this encompassed his first essay, on Coleridge's political philosophy, "Divine Logos and Human Communication." As might be expected in a Milbank article, the majority of it was on metaphysics and I was able to follow very little of it. Even the parts on Coleridge's political philosophy proper often left me rather bamboozled. But a couple important points stuck out.

First, it appears that Kirk's classification of Coleridge as a fine example of "the conservative mind" is rather oversimplistic. Milbank categorizes the development of Coleridge's political thought in three main phases, only the second of which might be considered "conservative" in a classical sense. The final synthesis that he was working toward could be better described as a kind of Biblically-driven Christian socialism.

Second, Milbank makes some remarks that contribute intriguingly to my recent attempts to rethink law in terms of custom and tradition, as opposed to the desiccated, inescapably coercive structures of positive law that dominate our modern political understanding:

In accord with his understanding of the symbolic logic of human evolution, Coleridge develops a sort of doctrine of political indeterminism, which insists, against all rationalist politics, on the essential political value of the latent and obscure. He writes: "A Democratic Republic and an Absolute Monarch agree in this; that in both alike the Nation or People delegates its whole power. Nothing is left obscure, nothing is suffered to remain in the idea, unevolved as an existing, yet indeterminate right." The notion of sovereign power, notes Coleridge, too often involves the idea that our entire will has been alienated from us: it is as if "the whole will of the body politic is in act at every moment." Instead of this, Coleridge proposes, political delegation must be thought of as a trust, in which authority is not only answerable to the declared will of the electors, but must be attuned to their latent will, so that "non-formalised" interests can also play their part in politics.

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