Coleridge was also a profound political thinker. While he began his life as a political radical, and an enthusiast for the French Revolution; over the years Coleridge developed a more conservative view of society, somewhat in the manner of Burke. Although seen as cowardly treachery by the next generation of Romantic poets, Coleridge's later thought became a fruitful source for the evolving radicalism of J. S. Mill. Mill found three aspects of Coleridge's thought especially illuminating:
- First, there was Coleridge's insistence on what he called "the Idea" behind an institution – its social function, in later terminology – as opposed to the possible flaws in its actual implementation. Coleridge sought to understand meaning from within a social matrix, not outside it, using an imaginative reconstruction of the past (verstehen) or of unfamiliar systems.
- Secondly, Coleridge explored the necessary conditions for social stability – what he termed Permanence, as distinct from Progress, in a polity – stressing the importance of a shared public sense of community, and national education.
- Coleridge also usefully employed the organic metaphor of natural growth to shed light on the historical development of British history, as exemplified in the common law tradition – working his way thereby towards a sociology of jurisprudence.