Saturday, June 22, 2013

Burke's works


This new book on Edmund Burke by British MP Jesse Norman looks very interesting. The author, who is currently the number two man in the British conservative party, attempts to not only place Burke within the context of his times, but in the second half of the book illustrate how Burke's views have been co-opted for better and for worse, notably by American Republicans, who have drifted far from the intent, much less the meaning of Burke's works.

Burke was probably best known during his time for his repudiation of the French Revolution, which he compiled in his Reflections in 1790, before things turned sour.  Others, like Thomas Paine, extolled the Revolution, hoping that it would lead to a more egalitarian society.

For Burke, it didn't matter so much who ran government, but how it was run.  He was a conservative in the old sense believing in a free and open society, but one in which property rights were paramount.  He found the kind of "egalitarianism" being bandied about in France as nothing more than government usurpation, which is pretty much how things turned out.  Burke was against slavery and autocracies, believing that the best society was a stable society, grounded in British common law.

Norman considers himself the standard bearer of Burkian conservatism, and has at times schooled David Cameron on these basic principles, much to Cameron's chagrin. The interesting thing to me is that British conservatism hasn't markedly changed over the last two centuries, whereas American conservatism has morphed into a kind of theocratic thinking, which Burke would have very much abhorred.

Yet, you still see Burke's name bandied about in American conservative circles, particularly among neo-conservatives, which according to Norman, miss the mark as well.

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