Category Archives: Philosophy

THE CONSTITUTION AND INCONSISTENCIES IN BURKE’S DEFENCE OF THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION 1688

The publication of the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Burke’s uncompromising denunciation of French Revolutionary theory as antithetical to the British Constitution, dismayed many of Burke’s supporters and admirers, and gave deadly ammunition to his long time enemies – at least what they thought was deadly ammunition. At this time, Burke and his reputation were at a low ebb. Younger members of the House had taken to calling him ‘dinner bell’ because of his long tedious speeches, especially over the Warren Hastings impeachment. Among the avenues of attack were the charges of inconsistency and contradiction of which were the following.

First, it was claimed that Burke was inconsistent in defending the Americans against the actions of the British government while later condemning of the French Revolution. The presumption in this charge is that the American and French Revolutions were of the same kind. Burke easily (and scornfully) refuted the charge in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791). Defence of the British Constitution is central in Burke’s most important speeches as it was here. In brief, from the point of view of the Constitution Burke claimed that the Americans, as American British, were being denied the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution. From the point of view of the Constitution, Dr Price of the Revolution Society and those like him, were proposing a British version of French Revolutionary theory that would abolish the Constitution. The point was that the American and French Revolutions were different in substance.

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The History of Political Theory

Review of The History of Political Theory by Garrett Ward Sheldon

GenZconservative, 14 March 2021

Introduction

As I’ve said before, political philosophy is something I find interesting but struggle with reading and truly comprehending it. I love reading books like The PrinceLeviathan, and The Federalist Papers, but wonder how much I’m able to glean from the complex ideas in those books. However, my eyes were opened to the value of well-written, concise discussions of political philosophy when I read Professor Sheldon’s The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and, shortly afterward, The Political Philosophy of James Madison. Because I enjoyed those books so much, I chose to read his The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America.

As you should be able to guess from the title, The History of Political Theory covers how political theory has developed over the years. Beginning with Socrates and ending with Benjamin Barber, it covers some of the most influential political thinkers, generally from the West, and what their ideas were.

If you don’t have time to read the full review, just know this: The History of Political Theory is a book you need to read. To develop a better political system, we must understand the political ideas of the past, as those ideas are the concepts from which our system extends. We must understand them so that we can tweak and refine them in our quest to create the “more perfect Union” referred to in the Constitution. Read it. You won’t regret doing so.

Read the rest here…

BURKE ON NATURAL RIGHTS AND THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH

The arguments for free speech in current debates are almost exclusively based on a principal of utility. Simply put, free speech will result in benefits for society. Those acquainted with the academic discourse on free speech are likely to appeal to J.S. Mill’s utilitarian arguments which he summarises in four points. In brief, to suppress all beliefs in favour of one held to be the truth, presupposes infallible judgement. No one and no group is infallible. Thus the clash of many opinions is the way to the truth. That presupposes free speech. If people reason their way to true belief, they will not hold that belief by prejudging – not as a prejudice.

If arguments from pure utility are unconvincing for some, one can also mount a Burkean defence of free speech incorporating an idea of utility, but one drawn from man’s nature rather than resting solely on a principle of utility. There are two crucial passages in Burke that provide the basis. The first is in the Reflections:

[Without civil society] man could not by any possibility arrive at the perfection of which is nature is capable, nor even make a remote and faint approach to it… He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection – He will therefore the state – He willed its connection with the source and the original archetype of all perfection.

The second is in the Appeal:

The state of civil society… is a state of nature; and much more truly so than a savage incoherent mode of life. For man is by nature reasonable; and he is never perfectly in his natural state, but when he is placed where reason many be best cultivated, and most predominates.

These passages constitute Burke’s refutation of the state of nature arguments of Hobbes, Locke, Paine and others, but they can be extended to defend free speech within the limits of the natural law. The basic argument is that man as a being with moral consciousness and a perception of the natural law needs to be in community with other such beings in order for that consciousness and perception to operate. But it is not a question of mere operation. A being in community with others and with a consciousness of right and wrong naturally seeks what’s right and avoids what’s wrong.

Continue reading BURKE ON NATURAL RIGHTS AND THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH

Is Vladimir Putin a Burkean conservative?

That would seem a weird question to ask. After all, how could a KGB officer of the former Soviet Union hold to a political philosophy, the core of which is ‘prescription’ – the prescription of custom, tradition, and settled, proven ways of social and political organisation? Prescription underscored by the natural law is Edmund Burke’s political philosophy in a nutshell. But President Putin is a Marxist-Leninist, surely?

Well, Marxists would already be looking askance at his efforts to reestablish the Russian Orthodox Church. Those efforts have included the building or rebuilding of hundreds of churches and a fair number of monasteries. That’s not very Marxist, is it? Remember Marx saying religion was the opium of the people, meaning the proletariat?

But, as a Marxist, one would have one’s hair standing on end listening to Putin’s advice to the West on how to deal with non-Western countries. Whatever the Russian President has said in the past, the advice in this youtube video is pure Burkean: BREAKING! Putin: NATO Created A Mess In Afghanistan But Entire World Must Now Deal With Consequences . Indeed, he seems to applying this approach in Syria.

Review of Professor sheldon’s book on political theory

Recent reviewers have celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of emeritus Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon’s book on political theory: THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY. The review below is of the book in anticipation of a new updated edition.

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Review by GEN Z CONSERVATIVE

Introduction

As I’ve said before, political philosophy is something I find interesting but struggle with reading and truly comprehending it. I love reading books like The PrinceLeviathan, and The Federalist Papers, but wonder how much I’m able to glean from the complex ideas in those books. However, my eyes were opened to the value of well-written, concise discussions of political philosophy when I read Professor Sheldon’s The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and, shortly afterward, The Political Philosophy of James Madison. Because I enjoyed those books so much, I chose to read his The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America.

As you should be able to guess from the title, The History of Political Theory covers how political theory has developed over the years. Beginning with Socrates and ending with Benjamin Barber, it covers some of the most influential political thinkers, generally from the West, and what their ideas were.

If you don’t have time to read the full review, just know this: The History of Political Theory is a book you need to read. To develop a better political system, we must understand the political ideas of the past, as those ideas are the concepts from which our system extends. We must understand them so that we can tweak and refine them in our quest to create the “more perfect Union” referred to in the Constitution. Read it. You won’t regret doing so.

Read the rest here…

The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson

The world’s attention has been on American politics and American government for the last few months. The reference to the American Constitution and its founders has been constant. Indeed, understanding the impeachment process and the choice of a supreme court judge requires some knowledge of the constitution and its contributors. Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon has written a book about Thomas Jefferson, one of the most influential of the founding fathers. His book, The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, is favourably reviewed below.

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Summary of The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson by Garrett Ward Sheldon

To show what elements of what theories comprised Jefferson’s political philosophy, Sheldon traces the development of his political thoughts alongside the development of America, showing how Jefferson’s thoughts changed as America evolved throughout The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.

First, before delving into the relationship between Jefferson’s thoughts and America’s evolving national character, Sheldon describes the combination of Lockean liberalism and classical republicanism that primarily contributed to Jefferson’s political philosophy, hinting at how Jefferson was able to blend “many philosophical concepts into a comprehensive and coherent political philosophy, the essence of which [might] be closer to classical republicanism than to Lockean liberalism.”

Then, after delving into the attributes of and differences between the two, Sheldon begins his history-based approach, starting, as should be expected, with America as a colony. In this chapter, Sheldon discusses how “the position that the American colonists found themselves in…accounted for much of their feelings of both affection for, and resentment of, the royal British Empire.”

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The political philosophy of James Madison

The world’s attention has been on American politics and American government for the last few months. The reference to the American Constitution and its founders has been constant. Indeed, understanding the impeachment process and the choice of a supreme court judge requires some knowledge of the constitution and its contributors. Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon has written a book about James Madison, one of the writers of the constitution. His book, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, is favourably reviewed below.

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Summary of The Political Philosophy of James Madison by Garrett Ward Sheldon

Admin, Gen Z Conservative, 11 February 2021

The Political Philosophy of James Madison is, as you might expect, about Madison’s political beliefs and how he came to them. Given that he was a Founding Father, the author of the Constitution, an author of The Federalist Papers, and one of the pre-eminent Virginians from the early American time period, understanding how he thought and what he envisioned for America is singularly important.

To help the reader understand Madison’s political thoughts, Sheldon begins with a brief introduction to it and the ideas that will be discussed. According to him, Madison’s political views changed over time, shifting between aspects of American nationalism, Lockean liberalism, and Classical Republicanism, yet were held together and coherent because of their grounding in Protestant Christianity, specifically Calvinist culture and theology.

Additionally, although being associated with Jefferson, who had, at times, radical views on liberty, and being a key opponent of the Federalist Party, Madison was no anarchist; while his views on what measure of national control was acceptable, he never shifted away from the basic premise that the national government should remain, to some degree, supreme.

After that brief introduction to Madison and his political ideas, Sheldon shifts to the first real chapter of The Political Philosophy of James Madison, which is on the intellectual underpinnings of James Madison’s political thoughts. To Sheldon, the root of many of those thoughts was Calvinist theology and his belief that it and reason complemented each other. For example, Madison’s writings, even later in life, reflected his Calvinist upbringing; they lacked the rhetorical flair of Jefferson and were instead well-grounded and ordered.

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Edmund Burke on what it means to be a people

This essay is to be read with my post, Australia did not exist before 26 January 1788. The present debate in Australian about British Invasion and Aboriginal sovereignty is fatally flowed when one understands how peoples, societies and nation have developed over time. The history of Europe, for example, is one of shifting peoples, migration, settlement and and invasion. Nations arise out of these shifts. It is absurd and incoherent to disqualify the majority of a settled nation because its member are the descendants of people who centuries before settled or invaded a particular geographic area. A nation is a moral incorporation, not a particular mass of land distinguished by geographical coordinates The moral incorporation implies a contract.

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When Edmund Burke claimed in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs that the French Revolution ‘was a wild attempt to methodize anarchy; to perpetuate and fix disorder…that it was a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature,’[1] he was targeting a particular theory of political organization now known as ‘social contract theory’. It is important to understand that for Burke social contract theory not only determines the form of political organization of a particular people but the accompanying social organization as well.[2]

The early theorists of social contract were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Hobbes being considered the first to introduce the idea. Burke was clearly familiar with the writings of these political philosophers. There are recognizable references to Hobbes (Leviathan) and Locke (The Second Treatise of Government) in his speeches and writings, although he does not mention them by name. He was scathing about Rousseau, reducing his entire philosophy (including the Social Contract) to one of vanity, claiming that ‘with this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of madness,’ and that ‘it is plain that the present rebellion [in France] was its legitimate offspring.’ [3] In other words, he attributed the ‘wild attempt to methodize anarchy [and] to perpetuate and fix disorder’ in France to Rousseau as a major influence.

Continue reading Edmund Burke on what it means to be a people

‘Cultural Marxism in the University is Destroying American Education’

Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon on the Problem of Cultural Marxism in the University

When I taught the Classics of Political Theory, I used to introduce Karl Marx as “the least funny of the Marx Brothers”. But as I mentioned in an earlier piece in this site, “What Made American Academia Great and How It Was Destroyed”, this failed comedian’s ideas have infiltrated American Universities to the detriment of true learning. 

The core of Marxist ideology is economic class conflict (owners vs. workers; slaves vs. masters; capitalists vs. proletarians). Because of the social mobility in the American economy, this core Marxism never really took hold in our country. It was a joke in the 1930’s, at the height of American Communism, that more dues were paid to The Party by FBI informants than actual members! 

But CULTURAL Marxism succeeded in the American Left by casting everything in forms of “group conflict” (race, gender, religion, ethnic, etc.). In Chapter 13 of the textbook, THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY: Ancient Greece to Modern America, this “dialectic” of opposing but connected opposites leads to economic and political revolution, as in Russia, China, Cuba, etc.

In its cultural form, it leads to revolutions in all aspects of society: family, community, education, personal relations and everything else. This invaded the University in transforming the Humanities (History, English), Social Sciences (Government, Psychology, Sociology), and even Natural Sciences (Meteorology, Medicine. . .) from studying all perspectives and teaching the “best” to presenting the “conflict” between traditional subjects and radical perspectives.

Read the rest here on the Gen Z Conservative website...

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Other essays by Professor Sheldon:

Burke’s Catholic Conservatism

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

‘The System Worked’

John Rawls and Modern American Liberalism

Thomas Jefferson’s Conception of ‘Academic Freedom’ and Its Current Condition in American Higher Education

Life Cycle of a nation – Is the warning too late?

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

By Garrett Ward Sheldon • August 7, 2020

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome. And as the wise historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, may also be helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the “lifecycle” of a republic. Like a human being, a republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was born in 1776 (our Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the ratification of our Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800’s (during our Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, by the mid-20th century, especially after World War II, our country grew old, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and mentally-impaired.

Like human beings, elderly republics become weak and sickly, sad and demented before they die completely: into anarchy and lawlessness, or tyranny and dictatorship. A society shows its old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. 

Read on…