In this original and illuminating study, Mark Knights reveals how
the political culture of the eighteenth century grew out of earlier
trends and innovations. Arguing that the period 1675-1720 needs to
be seen as the second stage of a seventeenth-century revolution
that ran on until c.1720, the book traces the development of the
public as an arbiter of politics, the growth of a national
political culture, the shift towards a representative society, a
crisis of public discourse and credibility, and a political
enlightenment rooted in local and national partisan conflict. The
'public' acquired a new status in the later Stuart period as a
result of frequent elections, the lapse of pre-publication
licensing, the emergence of party politics, the creation of a
public debt and ideological conflict over popular sovereignty.
These factors enlarged the role of the public and required it to
make frequent acts of judgement. Yet contemporaries from across the
political spectrum feared that the public might be misled by the
misrepresentations peddled by their rivals. Each side, and those
ostensibly of no side, discerned a culture of passion, slander,
libel, lies, hypocrisy, dissimulation, conspiracy, private
languages and fictions. 'Truth' appeared an ambiguous, political
matter. But the reaction to partisanship was also creative, for it
helped to construct an ideal form of political discourse. This was
one based on reason rather than passion, on politeness rather than
incivility, on moderation rather than partisan zeal, on critical
reading rather than credulity; and the realisation of those ideals
rested on infrequent rather than frequent elections. Finding
synergies between social, political, religious, scientific,
literary, cultural and intellectual history, 'Representation and
Misrepresentation' reinvigorates the debate about the emergence of
'the public sphere' in the later Stuart period.
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