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Notes from Chapter 2 – Section 4

– Burke needed to remind the “Age of Reason” why they relied upon God’s wisdom to run society

– Our morals and principles come from Him to make big decisions

“Burke answered that Providence had taught humanity, through thousands of years’ experience and meditation, a collective wisdom: tradition, tempered by expedience. A man should be governed in his necessary decisions by a decent respect for the customs of mankind; and he should apply that custom or principles to his particular circumstances by a cautious expediency.” (37)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

“The individual is foolish, but the species is wise” (37)

– Means that man has built a series of prescriptions, prejudices, and presumptions to help guide man as a whole through actions or ideas of a foolish individual

– Burke believed that people are born with a portion of intellect that has been collected throughout history

– We participate in the vast collective of human knowledge – much is instinct some formalized – and if we ignore it we’ll be left wondering and adrift

– Great prudence must be applied when making adjustments or adding to the whole knowledge

– Burke’s opinions and thoughts have stood the test of time and professional scrutiny where other’s haven’t

– Burke understood the dark and savage nature of man that through eons of experience he has been able to partially tame

– Myth, ritual, instinct help to express this dark nature through safe means

– Burke places Principle and Prescription above abstraction

“Principle is right reason expressed in permanent form; abstraction is its corruption. Expedience is wise application of general knowledge to particular circumstances; opportunism is its degradation. One arrives at principle through comprehension of nature and history, looked upon as manifestations of divine purpose; one acquires prudence by patient observation and cautious investigation, and it becomes the director, the regulator, the standard of all the virtues. Expedience implements principle, but never supplants principle. For principle is our expression of cognizance of providential purpose. (40)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

– History reveals the grand design of God for man but allow the free-will of man to determine the path through character and conduct

– Historical knowledge must be used in tandem with understanding of human nature to make the wisest decisions

– Habit and custom are their own set of wisdom that help guide man where reason alone leaves him in the desert of temptation to be guided by his own pride

– It is hard to trust the reason of every man because it is limited – but pooled together reason can direct actions in society for the better based on the previously established prejudice which can protect man from danger

– Fierce individualism is dangerous to the society

– Moral extravagance rather than consistency is a dangerous thing for mankind

“‘Prejudice – the half-intuitive knowledge that enables men to meet the problems of life without logic-chopping; ‘prescription’ – the customary right which grows out of the conventions and compacts of many successive generations; ‘presumption’ – inference in accordance with the common experience of mankind: employing these instruments, men manage to live together in some degree of prosperity and amicability.” (42)

– Society needs: prejudice, prescription, and presumption to allow man to live with each other without an iron-fisted master

– The one thing keeping us from primitivism is reason, but that isn’t in abundance in the average man who can still fall for the allure of the tyrant.

– Sometimes the radical may be right, but sometimes it’s better to slowly implement change rather than all at once

– Defense of the Ps ran counter to the “enlightened” time

– His faith humbled him that his intellect did not corrupt his character

– We have a duty to respect tradition and Ps or we go to our destruction with “reason” as our guide

– A generation who doesn’t respect the ancient traditions will teach to the next generation and destroy the fabric that binds them together

– It leads to societal waste and destruction

– The Ps are delicate and hard to put together again – fools take apart a clock hopint to take the parts and fashion a new and better machine

– Society will change – not all bad – but with the Ps in mind and slowly – man must see the benefits of change in order for it to be properly implemented

“But let change come as the consequence of a need generally felt, not inspired by fine-spun abstractions.” (45)

“The perceptive reformer combines an ability to reform with a disposition to preserve; the man who loves change is wholly disqualified, from his lust, to be the agent of change.” (45)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

– For all his persuasive power, Burke couldn’t fully overcome the power of individualism and advancement of demagogues

– It’s easier to attack Burke rather than advise a new system

Edmund Burke’s main accomplishment is teaching men how to soften the blow of change and avoid outright rebellion

Conservatism never is more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation; and the impetuous Burke, of all men, did most to establish that principle.” (47)

  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001

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