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Introduction: Why ‘Deference’?

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This introduction gives a typology of political deference in relation to the Anglo-British constitution from the eighteenth century to Brexit. There are two main ways of defining political deference: it is either hierarchical in its structure or egalitarian. Because of historical circumstances, English deference began by being hierarchical and only evolved slowly into a democratic structure through a voluntary and rational form of deference to be defined in this book. An explanation of the chapters is given, with Part I focusing on how deference became a historico-political concept in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the objective of Part II is to show the various uses of deference working in practice at certain moments of twentieth- and twenty-first-century England.

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Fig. 1.1


  1. 1.

    ‘Anglo-British constitution’ is the term used by Ian Ward to express the dominance of English history and English ways of doing on the British constitution. See: Ian Ward, The English Constitution. Myths and Realities, Oxford and Portland, Oregon, Hart Publishing, 2004, vii–213 pages.

  2. 2.

    King (2010, p. 66) and Kavanagh (1971).

  3. 3.

    For example, see Sutcliffe-Braithwaite (2018), Soper (2002), Harper and Porter (2003), Mazur (2005), and Laird (1989).

  4. 4.

    Referring to English as opposed to British deference may appear problematic, but the old constitution, as opposed to the post-1997 update, had a clearly English nature which dominated the British constitutionalSeeSeeLabour Party settlement until devolution in 1998. On deference as both a ‘type of behaviour’ and a ‘set of attitudes’, the analysis that Howard Newby carried out in 1975 still remains very useful (Newby 1975).

  5. 5.

    Several interesting studies were published in the 1960s and in the 1970s on parties and voting behaviours: see the bibliography. The most challenging work written at the time is certainly Jessop (2011).

  6. 6.

    St John Stevas (1965–1986, vol. 5, p. 253).

  7. 7.

    Bagehot added, just after his famous description of the rights of the monarch: ‘[A]nd a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no others would enable him to use these with singular effect’ (St John Stevas 1965–1986, vol. 5, p. 253).

  8. 8.

    New Zealand’s Constitution Act of 1986 and the Bill of Rights Act of 1990 can be considered as covering most of the country’s constitutional law even if there is still no constitution as such. Israel also has a series of Basic Laws, without a codified document. Canada considers the Constitution Act of 1867 and the Constitution Act of 1982 as the basic principles of its constitution.

  9. 9.

    The English Constitution first appeared as nine articles published in the Fortnightly Review from 1865 to 1867. See St John Stevas (1965–1986, vol. 5, pp. 161–163).

  10. 10.

    Just to quote three, see McLean (2010), Gordon (2010), and Bogdanor (2019).

  11. 11.

    A Cabinet Manual has been put together—which makes more explicit the ‘internal rules and procedures under which the Government operates’ which, in itself, is a way of making the rules of Cabinet government clearer and of putting in writing some of the conventions of government (The Cabinet Manual 2011, p. iii).

  12. 12.

    Bogdanor (2015b).

  13. 13.

    Jennings (1968, p. 11).

  14. 14.

    The concept of ‘rational deference’ was described in a 1989 article to mirror the concept of ‘rational ignorance’ of Anthony Downs (1957) and Gordon Tullock (1967). The definition given in the present work corresponds to the way in which the English have developed with their uncodified constitution and therefore hopes to make clear what the concept means in relation to an English way of being deferential. See Buchanan and Vanberg (1989, pp. 15–17, especially pp. 18–20).

  15. 15.

    Skinner (2014, p. 112).

  16. 16.

    Vernon (1993, p. 333).

  17. 17.

    Walter Bagehot’s use of the term is the object of Chap. 3. For his description of the English as a deferential nation in The English Constitution (1867) see St John Stevas (1965–1986, vol. 5, p. 378).

  18. 18.

    Bogdanor (2009, p. 12).

  19. 19.

    J. G. A. Pocock distinguishes between ‘whiggish’ and ‘Whiggish’ interpretations of history: the former means ‘the format teleological-progressive sense given the word by Butterfield [in The Englishman and His History, 1944], i.e. that it traces the development towards a predetermined modernity’; the latter means that ‘Whig (as distinct from whiggish) history was constitutionalist before it was progressive’. Whiggish also means that ‘it contains positions and attitudes which are those of the “Whig interpretation” of English history as it was recognised as existing even before Butterfield published The Englishman and His History in 1944’ (Pocock 1987, p. 264).

  20. 20.

    The classical work on the subject is Herbert Butterfield (1965). See also Burrow (2008a).

  21. 21.

    See especially Kavanagh (1971).

  22. 22.

    See Jessop (2011, pp. 34–37).


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      Marshall, C. (2021). Introduction: Why ‘Deference’?. In: Political Deference in a Democratic Age. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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