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Notes from Chapter 2 – Section 1

– Many thought Burke was wrong or mad that he spoke so forcefully against the French Revolution

– After the book it was hard for intellectuals to defend the French Revolution and many abandoned their favorable views

– Burke’s words established British conservatism in the face of sweeping revolutions in France and United States and was a model for statesman in those countries.

Edmund Burke was against “arbitrary power” expressed by the brown but felt that revolution wasn’t needed because mankind was working toward the equality they wanted – equality of the lower man with aristocracy

– He recognized this was already happening in Parliament

– He was a genius who could’ve done anything but chose to manage Whigs

– Four main areas define Burke’s career but he was consistently a classical liberal who wanted to maintain order and save man from his desire for anarchy

  1. The restraining of royal authority
  2. The American controversy and the Revolution
  3. The Indian debates and the trial of Hastings
  4. The French Revolution and consequent war

“‘Burke was all his life a passionate maintainer of the established order of things, and a ferocious hater of abstractions and metaphysical politics. The same ideas that explode like bombs through his diatribes against the French Revolution are to be found shining with a mild effulgence in the comparative calm of his earlier writings….Burke, as he regarded humanity swarming like bees into and out of their hives of industry, is ever asking himself, Hos are these men to be saved from anarchy?'” – Augustine Birrell (16)

– He was a conservative of systems but more importantly he was “the conservative of the species.”

“‘As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher nature, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place….

Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts….

You would have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedient people, taught to see and to recognize the happiness which is to be found by virtue in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of mankind, and not in the monstrous fiction, which by inspiring false ideas into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter the real inequality, which is never can remove; and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must leave in an humble state, as those whom it is able to exalt to a condition more splendid, but not more happy….

In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not to equal things….

By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country, who are promptly rash to hack the aged parent in pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds, and wild incantations, they may regenerate the paternal constitution, and renovate their father’s life.'” – Edmund Burke (17-18)

– We recognize our equality when we recognize we all must work to find happiness. Inequality is fostered when people don’t understand that true equality and only embitters us against each other. In working for our goods we fine we are equal, but not equal in what we get for that work. Just because they earned more, doesn’t make them happier.

– Society is passed along from generation to generation through well established order and understanding – it’s a contract

– Prejudice is what helps man make decisions in emergencies and leads to expression of virtues a habit.

Conservatism is applicable to any system and boils down to 3 things:

  1. Moral order
  2. Good old prescription
  3. Cautious reform
Notes and Quote from The Conservative Mind

– Burke was about preserving the order of the British liberties and rights

“Spiritual continuity, the immense importance of keeping change within the framework of custom, the recognition that society is an immortal being: these deep truths were impressed upon Burke’s mind through his observation of free English institutions.” (20)

– Voting is about representing interests – not ego

– Reform must be about reinforcing society, not about new fashions breaking the “continuity of political development”

– Societies can be reshaped, but advancements must be made in increments with Providence – England went from feudal to democratic in generations

– Burke sees society as a “spiritual unity” that self perpetuates – like the Church

– Liberty is brought about by respecting societal order through law determined by prescription

“Liberty, Burke knew, had risen through an elaborate and delicate process, and its perpetuation depended upon retaining those habits of though and action which guided the savage in his slow and weary ascent to the state of civil social man.” (20-21)

– Man’s liberties were not merely discovered in Burke’s time, but immemorial and must be expressed but only by careful measures to protect societal order.

– Burke worked against the visionaries that would try to shape society themselves rather than letting nature

– His flaw was ignoring economic circumstances

– Conservatism depends on those connected to old ways – farmers & rural folk

“Innovation (as Burke, and Jefferson, knew) comes from the cities, where man uprooted seeks to piece together a new world; conservatism always has had its most loyal adherents in the country, where man is slow to break with the old ways that link him with his God in the infinity above and with his father in the grave at his feet.” (20-21)

– In politics he didn’t settle for anything less than Providence

– He saw through abstraction for the vain generalizations that didn’t account for the factors of the time

Rights of Man from Thomas Paine is filled with those abstractions

– Expression of rights took prescription and circumstances to construct the correct methods to preserve societal standards.

– Burke fought the the crown and Hastings’ ideas vehemently because they fought to reshape society rather than conserve it

– He was endured as a “permanent manual of political wisdom”

  • Birrell, Augustine. Orbiter Dicta, Second Series, pp. 188-89
  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001

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