Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1800-1859.

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Portrait of Lord Macaulay

English Whig lawyer, politician, essayist, poet and popular historian. In his early years after leaving Cambridge, Macaulay was active in the Anti-Slavery and Parliamentary Reform movements (although he was no fan of universal suffrage).

Macaulay's early popular writings in the Edinburgh Review ensured him a career as an intellectual pundit. In one of the most famous episodes, in 1829, Macaulay he tore apart James Mill's argument for democracy on utilitarian grounds. He also disputed Mill's notion that men always act in their "self-interest" -- that is either a truism, Macaulay argued, or an empirical falsehood. He crossed swords in economics again with his 1830 critique of Michael Sadler's population theory. Macaulay's 1830 critique of Southey's woolly socialism and imperialism, stands as a classic of laissez-faire Whiggism.

Upon entering Parliament as a liberal Whig in 1830, Macaulay was instrumental in getting the 1832 Reform Bill passed. In the subsequent election, he unseated Sadler. In 1834, he took a job at the Supreme Council of India and became heavily involved in the redrafting the Indian penal code and the promotion of education (in Indian affairs, he was much influenced by the now-reconciled Mill).

In 1839, Macauley returned to Parliament as an MP for Edinburgh, served for brief periods in cabinet posts and then retired in 1856. He was granted a peerage in 1857. During his time, Macaulay wrote his most famous work -- the five-volume (but still lightweight) History of England. This is the work that gave rise to the term "Whig history", the presentation of historical events as a "progress" from the imperfect past towards the perfect present. Macaulay's history, while vividly written, is barely anything more than a self-congratulatory exercise.

Major Works of Thomas Macaulay

Resources on T.B. Macaulay

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