Downton Abbey Explains Classic Conservatism

Over the weekend, I finally took the dive into Downton Abbey.  I have been amazed to see English society of that time presented in a well thought out way.  You really see life from the point of view of a maid, a butler, a man of the middle class, etc.

But the one that really got my attention was the Earl of Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville.  The Earl is in the unusual position of having lost two heirs in the Titanic.  His American wife’s huge fortune merged with his own when they married.  They have produced no sons.  Now, the estate (including her money) will go (by English law) to a distant cousin.  No one really approves of this result.  But when the Earl is encouraged to find some way to smash the entailment, he refuses.  Why would he not seek some device to benefit his wife and daughters at the expense of a cousin?  It makes all the sense in the world.  But he does not.

His explanation for his lack of combativeness on behalf of his nuclear family and their rights is informative with regard to classic conservatism.  He will not try to defeat the ancestral entailment because he views himself as a custodian of the estate, not as its owner.  He knows that someone else conceived and built Downton Abbey.  The simple fact that he is the current possessor does not entitle him to tear down their intent in favor of his own.  In short, the Earl of Grantham is connected to his ancestors and to those who come after him.  He has duties and obligations to both.  He may not view himself as a disconnected atom capable of doing whatever he can conceive, especially when he acts in a setting in which he stands on the shoulders of those who came before.

If you want to know what authentic conservatism is, that is it.

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One thought on “Downton Abbey Explains Classic Conservatism

  1. Nice observation, Hunter. My wife and I delved into Downton recently, also. I was struck by that very same thing, although I didn’t make the connection to classic conservatism. The Earl’s decision did strike me as very noble, I must say. Much like classic conservatism.

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