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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

September 3rd, 2000.

Estates of Government

Government, short of despotism1, usually consists of more than one part. Each part has, classically, been labeled as an estate. The number of estates in most advanced nations has usually been three. In England the estates as represented in Parliament were originally 1. Clergy; 2. Barons and Knights; and, 3. Commons. The final arrangement, as we learn from the OED, was to be: 1. Lords Spiritual; 2. Lords Temporal; 3. Commons. In France the three estates were 1. Clergy; 2. Nobles; 3. Townsmen. Thus the third estate is that body constituting the representatives of the people, viz., in England, the commons.

This categorization, the estates of government, is different in respect to those parts of government who must pass upon legislation; in Canada, the Commons and the Senate (religious input having long since been drummed out of the process); in the United States both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. And the categorization is to be further distinguished between the parts (legislative, executive and judicial) which are meant to balance one another as a control mechanism (see note on Montesquieu contained in my essay, "On Government").

It was Henry Fielding (1707-54), best known as the author of Tom Jones, who first observed, in 1752, that "none of our political writers take notice any more of the three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons; passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community, "The Mob."2 Carlyle also was to make reference to the fourth estate, viz., the "Able Editors" of the press.3 Burke also refered to the fourth estate as being the press, "there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters' Gallery there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all."4

More recently5, there has been reference to a fifth estate, the union bosses.



1 "The simplest form of government is despotism, where all the inferior orbs of power are moved merely by the will of the Supreme." [Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756).]

2 Covent-Garden Journal, 13 June, No. 47, Wks. (1806) X, 80; as cited by the OED.

3 French Revolution, I. vi.

4 Hero-worship, Lect. v; again as cited by the OED.

5 In a Times article which appeared on the 14th of July 8th, 1955. "Unions were now the fifth estate of the realm, Mr. Tiffin continued, and when they wanted a shorter week they would go to the employers and tell them to give it to them."

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Peter Landry

September, 2000 (2019)