Sunday, December 27, 2015

Edmund Burke was a closeted liberal!

Irish historian Richard Bourke has argued that, in fact, Edmund “Burke Was No Conservative” – so contemporary “conservatives can’t claim [him] as one of their own.” The evidence? Burke – who supported the American revolution and loved the American constitution – did not condemn all revolts against established authority; and his defense of religion, property, and government has been embraced by thinkers of “liberal” ideological stripes, too. Perhaps. Yet, Burke once saw something the liberal intelligentsia did not – and still doesn’t. In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” he observed: “The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints.

It is an observation filled with premonition – though Burke might have been pleasantly surprised by the anti-democratic instincts of the “founding fathers.” Richard Burke, however, glosses over such insights in an attempt to present Burke’s political vision as a pragmatic amalgam of elements habitually labeled as “conservative,” “liberal,” or “radical.” Or perhaps this is just a case study of the incommensurability of Burke’s more holistic mindset with the fragmented, hyper-“weird” perspective (or lack thereof) of contemporary academics? Curiously, the latter typically posit their own peculiar predispositions as a universal norm to which any reasonable human being should conform – and tend to explain all illiberal deviations (from nationalism and religious fundamentalism to patriarchy and intolerance) as a conspiracy conjured up by reactionary forces. Could post-Enlightenment rationalism have mutated into its ostensible nemesis – magical thinking, though of a very peculiar kind.

Of course, I would be curious if Richard Burke and Edmund Burke are somehow related – but, for once, will resist the temptation to Google that.