Tag Archives: Edmund Burke

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.

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Edmund Burke on Rights

Edmund Burke on Rights: Inherited, Not Inherent

By Owen Edwards|June 16th, 2020

On what basis are political constitutions actually formed and remain valid? Where do rights come from? Edmund Burke offers us an account different from that of many of our contemporaries.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – Preamble to the Declaration of Independence of the United States

And thereupon the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare. – Bill of Rights, 1689

Where do “rights” come from? Are they to be found tangled in DNA? Can they be discovered, so that as human wisdom increases we find more rights that people ought to possess? At what age does one have rights, and which rights? Is there a right to privacy? What about a right to choose your own pronoun?

Thomas Jefferson eloquently expressed one view—that it is self-evident that all men (women, persons) have certain unalienable rights. These are endowed by a Creator, yes—but they are self-evident, and exist separately from that Creator. An atheist can recognise those rights. (Kant argues the same.) Jefferson limited the enumerated rights to just three: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—though how much is bound up in just those three!

Read the rest here…

ROGER SCRUTON: BURKEAN AND BOHEMIAN

By Prof. John Haldane, First Things, 18 January 2020

The death of Sir Roger Scruton has deprived academic aesthetics of one of its most creative, insightful, and wide-ranging practitioners. Roger was one of a kind: poetic, courageous, and funny. We have lost a truly great figure, but his writings remain to nourish, encourage, and educate those who value the humane conversation of mankind and the wisdom philosophy can bring to it. 

I first got to know Roger forty years ago at London University’s Birkbeck College, where he was lecturing in philosophy and I was studying it. He was not one of my teachers, but I learned a good deal from listening to him in various settings—including reading parties at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. 

Eventually Roger left the academy to give himself wholly to writing, public lecturing, broadcasting, and afflicting the comfortable in the prevailing liberal-socialist establishment. Michael Dummett and Bernard Williams were leading members of the tribe that Roger taunted (sometimes needlessly), and this led to a long delay in his merited election to the Fellowship of the British Academy. In fact, however, he and Williams had much in common as philosophers. 

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What it means to be a people

Each year, approaching Australia Day. I repost my essay on Edmund Burke’s ideas about what it means to be a people. Aboriginals and those of Aboriginal ancestry are now part of a seamless nation called Australia. See the next post for the extended argument.

EDMUND BURKE ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A ‘PEOPLE’

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]

Read on…

Edmund Burke and the Dignity of the Human Person

By Bradley J. Birzer|December 17th, 2019, The Imaginative Conservative

Edmund Burke believed that one must see the human being not for what he is, or the worst that is within him, but rather as clothed in the “wardrobe of moral imagination,” a glimpse of what the person could be and is, by God, meant to be.

Though we correctly remember Edmund Burke as the father of modern conservatism, we too often forget that he was also a pure and unadulterated radical when it came to promoting the dignity of the human person. In his own writings, speeches, and legislation, he never ceased to promote the rights of Irish, Americans, Roman Catholics, Hindus, and Africans (against the slave trade). One could only impossibly describe Burke’s life and purpose by ignoring the oppressed he sought to liberate and strengthen.

Contrary to much modern conservative and traditionalist misunderstandings, Burke embraced completely the concept of natural rights, though he feared that any attempt to define such rights as this or that would end in a disaster of abstractions. “I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society,” Burke wrote in 1790. “I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction.” Properly understood, rights come from the laws of nature, Burke wrote, but they did so not as a direct line, but rather as refracted light. Rights must always and everywhere take into account the complex nature not only of man but, especially, of men. “The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned.”

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Edmund Burke on what it means to be a 'people'

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'

The Political Economy of Edmund Burke: A New Perspective

Nobuhiko Nakazawa is Professor of the History of Economic Thought at Kansai University, Osaka, Japan.

In this essay I will throw new light on a relatively neglected aspect of Edmund Burke’s (1730–97) economic thought.1 Most scholars have recognized its central assumptions as advocacy of a freely competitive market economy and justification of laissez-faire commercial policies. But this conventional interpretation is unsatisfactory and incomplete. There have been very few extensive studies of what Burke meant by political economy, although he frequently used this term and prided himself on being a political economist.

The first section of this paper will present enough documentary evidence to sketch the scope of Burke’s political economy. What he meant by political economy was different from the classical school of political economy, not to mention modern sophisticated economics. Rather, it was much more akin to what is now called public finance. The second section will describe the moral nature of his political economy in relation to that of his politics. To him, political economy was an essential constituent of his politics of prudence. The third section will focus on his prudent choice of economic policies, and how his political economy distanced itself from theoretical laissez-faire dogma.

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Edmund Burke and the Magna Carta

A reading by Gerard Charles Wilson at the Savage Club celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta on 15th June 1215.

In the eighth chapter of his Abridgment of English History, Edmund Burke provides us with an account of King John’s reign. He records that it was near the end of John’s reign that the barons forced him to place the royal seal on provisions and undertakings that form the document call Magna Carta, Latin for Great Charter. The Abridgment of English History is a little known and almost entirely disregarded work of Burke’s. He began it in 1757 as a commission from publisher Robert Dodsley. It was one of the projects taken up when he abandoned the law to devote himself to a literary career. He never completed the planned series of books. Indeed, chapter eight is the final full chapter. The eight chapters plus a fragment of chapter nine, ‘An Essay Towards An History Of The Laws Of England’, appeared after his death.

The reader should take the ‘abridgment’ seriously. Burke is not engaged in writing a mere short history of England. Through the sometimes sparse historical details, the reader finds a concentration on the effect of the different settled arrangements (like custom and tradition) on the development of the law governing the English people. The contrast, though nowhere near as explicit in his later writings, is between law as developed out of the concrete circumstances of a people being a people and law as the product of abstract speculation.  The fragment of chapter nine confirms this analysis.

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Edmund Burke Society blog reactivated

Because my attention has been turning to the recent dramatic developments in the Catholic Church, I have decided to keep my interest in Edmund Burke and political philosophy separate from my primary website. I don’t want the Edmund Burke material and matters related to conservative theory lost among my other interests. Comments from a Burkean conservative position will be on this site from now on. There will, of course, be some overlap. I will repost some of my major comments and essays on Edmund Burke.

Waterloo and Burke’s stunning prophecy

Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) dismayed many of his Whig colleagues and infuriated his enemies, both of whom imagined the revolution ushering a glorious era of freedom. Burke’s masterpiece nerved the pen of Thomas Paine into a fury of scribbling to produce one of the most overrated works of political philosophy – The Rights of Man – taking Hobbes’s idea of the state of nature to its logical absurdity. Burke’s analysis of the Revolution’s action and theory contained a number of prophecies which in time proved accurate. The most extraordinary for its prescience and accuracy was the following:

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.
(Reflections, p. 342 Penguin Edition)

That man Burke foresaw was Napoleon. Napoleon mounted a coup in 1799 and with his French army attempted to take the revolution to the whole of Europe. The Duke of Wellington eventually stopped him at Waterloo. The revolution/Napoleon paradigm of social degeneration to dictatorship would repeat itself through the next two hundred years without its lesson sufficiently penetrating the consciousness of the people of Western Civilization.