Burke - The Great Melody

I started reading The Great Melody by Conor Cruise O'Brien. comments and summary of notable bits follow.

Churchill had a very good interpretation of burke! ^_^

man, you hear about Churchill in school of course for his role in WWII, but no one tells you he was a skillful historian and epistemologist. and the commie WWII hater types who bash Churchill certainly are ignorant of it!

so the good interpretation of burke is roughly: Burke is a classical liberal. a very important one who revived that way of thinking. he was consistent in this throughout his entire political career. he hated tyranny and abuse of power. Conor calls this the Whig interpretation, and it was dominant until ~1930.

some very harsh and false attacks were made on Burke by James Mill (John Stuart Mill's father).

a bastard named Namier trashed Burke's reputation and held major sway from 1930-1970 and beyond. he didn't ever refute the good interpretation. he just pretended it had already been refuted and referred to it that way and implied only a simpleton would think otherwise. he also focussed his writing mostly on second and third rate people. seems like something out of Atlas Shrugged. "give the little guy a chance; the important people already got to be important in their own time, just ignore them now to even things up"

one of the bastard's books trashing burke only mentions burke 8 times. he's subtle. one could read the book and not realize burke was the primary target. he acts like burke doesn't matter to history, and is only worth mentioning in passing. he talks about issues where burke was very influential and fails to mention burke's famous speech and sort of takes it for granted that it's too ridiculous to bother examining. in the few passing remarks, and with no evidence to support it, and ignoring that these interpretations were refuted at length in existing books, Namier says Burke is a lackey without special skill who spreads myths. then Namier went back to talking at length about people he admitted weren't very important, but were evidently more important to discuss than Burke. Namier tries to get reader's to accept his statements about Burke on authority; he supplies no evidence for them. it's true that Namier did a lot of research, but he didn't spend that time researching Burke, he instead focussed on the second-raters.

Namier's next book is worse. this stuff is really wicked. but conor is dignified and objective and unemotional. i guess that's more effective. he just points out the facts and lets the reader use his own judgment, without ever suggesting what is the appropriate feeling.

it's pretty frustrating how such a bastard with such anti-truth-seeking and immoral tactics -- which are despicable even by mainstream standards -- can be so influential. Besides the obvious, Conor should never have had to waste his time reading that filth, let alone commenting on it; it'd be nicer if his book was about good things. but i don't disagree with his judgment that including the Namier stuff was for the best. Namier did exist and does need discrediting. sigh.

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Godwin-like Burke Quote

The Great Melody by Conor Cruise O'Brien page 42 quoting Burke on why more Catholics didn't convert to Protestantism due to the Irish Penal Laws:
Now as to the other point, that the objects of these Laws suffer voluntarily ... it supposes, what is false in fact, that it is in a man's moral power to change his religion whenever his convenience requires it. If he be beforehand satisfied that your opinion is better than his, he will voluntarily come over to you, and without compulsion; and then your Law would be unnecessary; but if he is not so convinced, he must know that it is his duty in this point to sacrifice his interest here to his opinion of his eternal happiness, else he could have in reality no religion at all. In the former case, therefore, as your Law would be unnecessary; in the latter, it would be persecuting; that is, it would put your penalty and his ideas of duty in the opposite scales; which is, or I know not what is, the precise idea of persecution.
Reminds me of Godwin. It has the same concept of persuasion. Either I, in my own judgment, come to see your idea as best, and so compulsion is unnecessary, or I don't, in which case you can't reasonably expect me to change my mind. Godwin would say in the second case you should rethink whether you are correct if you can't be persuasive; Burke here says in the second case you can't say people are volunteering to suffer, because they'd suffer either way they chose.

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Popper on Burke

Popper does a great job of presenting opposing views fairly, with ample quoting, and generous interpretations. Popper writes very clearly, and he makes sure to explain the opposing views as clearly as possible. That often means writing them more clearly than their proponents ever did. Popper frequently uses more words to explain an opposing view than he does to criticize it. I can't think of anyone else who is comparable; this is one of of the wonderful things about reading Popper.

That's why I was very surprised to find one case where Popper provided a single, hard-to-read quote, and gave an ungenerous and unreasonable interpretation. Unfortunately, Popper does this to one of my favorite authors: Burke.

Quotes are from The Open Society and Its Enemies p112-113. Popper starts by lumping Burke together with Aristotle even though their statements are quite different. Here's Aristotle:
To take care of virtue is the business of a state
And here is what Burke said[1]:
[the state is] to be looked upon with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature
Note that it says "other reverence" not just "reverence". This is because Popper left out important context. Popper goes on to paint Burke as a worshipper of the State. But Burke was actually saying the State deserves more reverence than a temporary agreement for trading coffee or calico. That's where the word "other" comes from.

Now, the main thing Popper says is that Burke and Aristotle are demanding that the State be worshipped, and be in charge of morality. Aristotle says very clearly that virtue is in the domain of the State, but Burke does not. Burke says the State is more important than "things subservient...". What things is he talking about? Trade of coffee for one. Burke goes on to explain that the State is a longterm partnership to achieve longterm ends. The main theme is to get liberty and prevent chaos. Those are exactly the things Popper thinks it proper that a State do. But Popper takes Burke to mean something else:
In other words, the state is said to be something higher or nobler than an association with rational ends; it is an object of worship.
That is not what Burke said, at all. His ends are rational and he did not ask for worship. My guess is that Popper is being harsh because Burke used one religious word ("reverence") despite the fact that Burke was only demanding more reverence than trade contracts. Popper goes on to accuse Burke of wanting to legislate morality:
it is a demand that the realm of legality ... should be increased at the expense of the realm of morality proper ... [at the expense of] our own moral decisions ... [at the expense of] our conscience.
That is what Aristotle demanded, but it's not even close to what Burke said. Nor is it consistent with Burke's record, e.g. his asking the State to be more lenient with Catholics. Popper then expands on his favored view (he calls it "protectionist"), which he is opposing to the Burke/Aristotle view:
from the protectionist point of view, the existing democratic states, though far from perfect, represent a very considerable achievement in social engineering of the right kind. Many forms of crime, of attack on the rights of human individuals by other individuals, have been practically suppressed or very considerably reduced, and courts of law administer justice fairly successfully in difficult conflicts of interest.
I can't imagine Burke disagreeing with this!



[1] Popper gave no citation, but I found it, here's the full paragraph:

http://www.constitution.org/eb/rev_fran.htm
SOCIETY is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure "” but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. 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 living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, 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. This law is not subject to the will of those who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of that universal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and on their speculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to separate and tear asunder the bands of their subordinate community and to dissolve it into an unsocial, uncivil, unconnected chaos of elementary principles. It is the first and supreme necessity only, a necessity that is not chosen but chooses, a necessity paramount to deliberation, that admits no discussion and demands no evidence, which alone can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception to the rule, because this necessity itself is a part, too, of that moral and physical disposition of things to which man must be obedient by consent or force; but if that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.

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Hayek on Burke

http://www.fahayek.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=46
So unproductive has conservatism been in producing a general conception of how a social order is maintained that its modern votaries, in trying to construct a theoretical foundation, invariably find themselves appealing almost exclusively to authors who regarded themselves as liberal. Macaulay, Tocqueville, Lord Acton, and Lecky certainly considered themselves liberals, and with justice; and even Edmund Burke remained an Old Whig to the end and would have shuddered at the thought of being regarded as a Tory.
Also from the same essay:
to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits.
Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it "“ or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called "mechanistic" explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.

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Burke Quotes

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke

It says "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." is the most famous Burke quote, but is a misattribution!

Also on the page is this wonderful comment.
It has always been with me, a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man.
William Hazlitt
Hazlitt also had good things to say about Godwin.

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Adam Smith on Burke

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke
The economist Adam Smith remarked that Burke was "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us".[76]
The cite says: E. G. West, Adam Smith (New York: Arlington House, 1969), p. 201.

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Godwin on Burke

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/godwin/pj8/pj8_10.html
Whilst this sheet is in the press for the third impression, I receive the intelligence of the death of Burke, who was principally in the author's mind, while he penned the preceding sentences. In all that is most exalted in talents, I regard him as the inferior of no man that ever adorned the face of earth; and, in the long record of human genius, I can find for him very few equals. In sublety of discrimination, in magnitude of conception, in sagacity and profoundness of judgement, he was never surpassed. But his characteristic exceilencies were vividness and justness of painting, and that boundless wealth of imagination that adorned the most ungrateful subjects, and heightened the most interesting. Of this wealth he was too lavish; and, though it is impossible for the man of taste not to derive gratification from almost every one of his images and metaphors while it passes before him, yet their exuberance subtracts, in no considerable degree, from that irresistibleness and rapidity of general effect, which is the highest excellence of composition. No impartial man can recall Burke to his mind, without confessing the granduer and integrity of his feelings of morality, and being convinced that he was eminently both the patriot and the philanthropist. His excellencies however were somewhat tinctured with a vein of dark and saturnine temper; so that the same man strangely united a degree of the rude character of his native island, with an urbanity and a susceptibility of the kinder affections, that have rarely been paralleled. But his principal defect consisted in this; that the false estimate as to the things entitled to our deference and admiration, which could alone tender aristocracy with whom he lived, unjust to his worth, in some degree infected his own mind. He therefore sought wealth and plunged in expense, instead of cultivating the simplicity of independence; and he entangled himself with a petty combination of political men, instead of reserving his illustrious talents unwarped, for the advancement of intellect, and the service of mankind. He unfortunately has left us a memorable example, of the power of a corrupt system of government, to undermine and divert from their genuine purposes, the noblest faculties that have yet been exhibited to the observation of the world.
My favorite part is
In all that is most exalted in talents, I regard [Edmund Burke] as the inferior of no man that ever adorned the face of earth; and, in the long record of human genius, I can find for him very few equals. In sublety of discrimination, in magnitude of conception, in sagacity and profoundness of judgement, he was never surpassed.
I think Godwin's criticism of Burke is incorrect. Burke, like Godwin, knew that there is knowledge in the status quo (in traditions), and that it should only be changed gradually/piecemeal to avoid both violence and destruction of knowledge. For this reason, both of them considered the French Revolution a bad idea. To my mind, they were basically in agreement. But somehow they did not see it.

Godwin would of course also have approved of Burke's take on America, India, and Irish Catholics. (Perhaps Godwin might think Burke was too timid in his advocacy for Catholics, but I don't think that).

The comments about political entanglements do make sense. Burke had those. But for good reason. He wanted to work within and with the system to reform the system. By taking on flawed allies (which are the only kind available), Burke was able to make important, good things happen like peace with America and recognizing American independence. That changed history for the better. Godwin held himself aloof, which I respect, but I don't think Godwin's way is a moral imperative, and I don't think Burke should be criticized for having some practicality. (Note: There were significant limits to Burke's practicality. For example, his impeachment of Warren Hastings became sufficiently politically impractical that Fox wanted him to stop, but he wouldn't. And he had his party turn down running the Government over some ideals.)

Burke turned down a seat in the house of lords. Someone commented that taking it would honor the house more than Burke. If he was corrupted by the Government and aristocracy, and adopted their values, it must only have been in quite a limited way, or he would have taken that seat. Burke could also have had a well paid and powerful position working for the King, if he'd wanted. I think Burke did hard work for his entire political career, and made sacrifices for the cause, and he did it because he cared about reform, and he wasn't very interested in any rewards. He was not corrupt.

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Bias About Burke

A Genius Reconsidered by Russell Kirk, p 151
[Edmund Burke] was not a man of the enlightenment
The idea here (clearer with context) is that the violent, radical, utopian French Revolution, and associated thought, is the True Enlightenment, and all the other attempts at progress don't get to count as part of The Enlightenment.

So, if you're an avid reformer, a man of reason and thought, but also a man of non-violence who wants to move forward with sufficient error correction rather than without it -- as Burke was -- then you're a stodgy old unEnlightened conservative.

According to Amazon reviews, the book is biased to the right wing and gives a very favorable treatment of Burke. Those Amazon reviews must have double the left-wing bias that Kirk has. Equal bias would make them see it as fair, and then they need to go left again to see it as being slanted right.

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Thomas Paine Confused

he and some of his friends visited burke several years before french rev. separately i think.

when the revolution started, he and a few others wrote to burke.

they thought burke would be on their side!

that's how little they understood any philosophy. they didn't even know he wouldn't agree with them.

the french revolution is reputed to have been all about philosophy and abstract ideas.

but how can that be? those men didn't know anything about ideas. they were incapable of understanding burke's philosophy even enough to see which side he'd be on.

paine's book replying to burke on the french revolution confirms my point. it showed that even after burke explained his position in detail that paine *still* couldn't understand even the main points of it. paine was no thinker.

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Atrocious Burke Scholarship

The Portable Edmund Burke edited by Isaac Kramnick states on page xxviii of the introduction that:
Beginning in 1929 and 1930, Burke's reputation was subjected to the most serious assault on it since the radical crew of Wollstonecraft, Priestly, Paine, William Godwin, and others had finished with it one hundred and thirty-five years earlier.
This is false. Godwin did not assault Burke's reputation. Here is a well known quote by Godwin about Burke:

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/godwin/pj8/pj8_10.html
Whilst this sheet is in the press for the third impression, I receive the intelligence of the death of Burke, who was principally in the author's mind, while he penned the preceding sentences. In all that is most exalted in talents, I regard him as the inferior of no man that ever adorned the face of earth; and, in the long record of human genius, I can find for him very few equals. In sublety of discrimination, in magnitude of conception, in sagacity and profoundness of judgement, he was never surpassed.
This was followed with a bit of criticism; Godwin considered Burke to be one of the best men ever, but flawed. There is no way to take it as an assault on Burke's reputation. Godwin also praised Burke on several other occasions.

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Popper on Burke and Tradition

_Conjectures and Refutations_ p 162
[Edmund Burke] fought, as you know, against the ideas of the French Revolution, and his most effective weapon was his analysis of that irrational power which we call 'tradition'. I mention Burke because I think he has never been properly answered by rationalists. Instead rationalists tended to ignore his criticism and to persevere in their anti-traditionalists attitude without taking up the challenge. Undoubtedly there is a traditional hostility between rationalism and traditionalism. Rationalists are inclined to adopt the attitude: 'I am not interested in tradition. I want to judge everything on its merits and demerits, and I want to do this quite independently of any tradition. I want to judge it with my own brain, and not with the brains of other people who lived long ago.'

That the matter is not quite so simple as this attitude assumes emerges from the fact that the rationalist who says such things is himself very much bound by a rationalist tradition which traditionally says them. This shows the weakness of certain traditional attitudes towawrds the problem of tradition.
I see confusion here. The right attitude is to judge ideas on their merits and demerits, but to do so with the aid of both reason and traditional knowledge. This is perhaps clearer to see if one renames "traditional knowledge" to "existing knowledge". Existing knowledge is good, and shouldn't be disregarded even by people with a very high opinion of reason and individual judgment.

Existing knowledge should be used whenever doing so seems unproblematic, and improved when it seems problematic. It should be respected as something valuable, but not something beyond criticism. I think this attitude harnesses the good points of both the rationalists and traditionalists and also demonstrates they are not fundamentally in conflict.

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Burke on Economics

quotes from Thoughts and Details on Scarcity by Burke:

http://www.econlib.org/cgi-bin/printarticle.pl
The balance between consumption and production makes price. The market settles, and alone can settle, that price. Market is the meeting and conference of the consumer and producer, when they mutually discover each other's wants. Nobody, I believe, has observed with any reflection what market is, without being astonished at the truth, the correctness, the celerity, the general equity, with which the balance of wants is settled. They who wish the destruction of that balance, and would fain by arbitrary regulation decree, that defective production should not be compensated by encreased price, directly lay their axe to the root of production itself.
We, the people, ought to be made sensible, that it is not in breaking the laws of commerce, which are the laws of nature, and consequently the laws of God, that we are to place our hope of softening the Divine displeasure to remove any calamity under which we suffer, or which hangs over us.
the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity. In it's preventive police it ought to be sparing of its efforts, and to employ means, rather few, unfrequent, and strong, than many, and frequent, and, of course, as they multiply their puny politic race, and dwindle, small and feeble.

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Edmund Burke was a Liberal

Harry Walton writing on the Open Oxford Facebook group (to me, prior to the addition of a rule against external quoting):
Sure, I never said [Burke] didn't use reason. I just said he disliked the enlightenment and disliked liberalism.
But you wrote, "Individual reason was something that [Burke] held disdain for."

I sure don't think you meant Burke liked collectivist reasoning and was anti-individualist! That'd be ridiculous and I didn't see other claims along those lines from you. So, I read it like you said Burke had disdain for (proper) reason.
"Burke tried to explain to people how actual progress and reform work, how to go about that"

I mean, I like Burke so I'm going to agree that he showed how genuine progress and reform ought to go about. Could you give me a description of what you believe he argued for/said?
http://fallibleliving.com/thinkers/burke
"A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve ... would be my standard of a statesman.” – this interest in improvement is not conservative"

Firstly, it is important to note that it is the 'disposition to preserve' that is the important part.
No, the point as a whole is the important part, it's about having those two things together. Did you check the original context before making this claim?

http://www.constitution.org/eb/rev_fran.htm
A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.
I think that clears it up. But read more context and tell me if you still disagree.

Maybe we could put it like this: you think the "disposition to preserve" is the important part, so you're a conservative. Burke thinks the "disposition to preserve" and "ability to improve" need to go together, so he's a liberal (and me too). And then, some people care about "ability to improve" without much/any "disposition to preserve", so they are dangerous radicals, revolutionaries, utopians, etc...
It's the basic part of conservative thinking. My favourite essay by Oakeshott is useful to put here. It explains what it means to be conservative. If you have some spare time you should read it. It's probably the best way of describing conservatism I've seen.

http://faculty.rcc.edu/sellick/On%20Being%20Conservative.pdf
replies to this are at the end
"Seeking progress rationally is how liberalism works"

Liberalism is an ideology that has a set goal of 'freedom' as a value that it wants to pursue. Burke has no such value put forward first except for maybe tradition. The goal of liberalism is to maximise freedom. The goal of Burke is just a vague. One of the main reasons Burke likes change is because he believes it is necessary towards preservation of the nation state. I think the only person who you would see as 'conservative' would be Maistre.
This concept of liberalism is mistaken. That helps explain why you don't see the connection between Burke and liberalism. I think a lot of our confusion is because the opponents of liberalism have spread a lot of lies about what it is, and now most people don't have much understanding what liberalism is actually about.

And the claim Burke only wants change for preservation is silly given I just quoted him, and you requoted him, saying he wants *improvement*.

For understanding liberalism, start with:

http://fallibleliving.com/essays/rational-politics/100-liberalism

and read especially

http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1463

then you could find out what liberalism is – according to actual liberals! – before trying to claim and deny things about it.

Liberal means things like: open to improvement and change, tolerant, favorable to individual rights and freedom, pro-liberty. All of those apply to Burke. Liberalism involves being willing to question and change tradition (which Burke was).

Conservative is a kind of pointless word if you define it such that someone is liberal and conservative, at the same time. It's perfectly possible to do that. The "conservatives" in the US today are pretty liberal (and the "liberals" are largely illiberal).

But if Burke is a "conservative" in addition to a liberal, then what do you call the tories? What word is left? Burke was a whig, the *liberal* party, who opposed and politically fought against the more conservative tories in many things. Burke was one of the reformers standing up to King and traditional authority – calling him a "conservative" is therefore confusing, since he put so much effort into politically battling the conservatives of his time.

Declaring Burke conservative and non-liberal would also get into awkward questions like whether you're going to do it to William Godwin too.

Besides liberals and conservatives (meaning stuff like those tories Burke frequently opposed), another big category to be aware of and complete the picture better is *radicals* – the people who want revolutions, utopias, reimaginings of society. Radicals are the guys who don't respect tradition or piecemeal progress, who want replacement with their latest flakey idea instead of reform. (Objectivism does not use the word "radical" this way, but I do. I'm open to ideas about better word choices.)

So you get:

conservative – keep things the same
liberal – value tradition but seek progress, reform, improvement
radical – sweep away the cobwebs of tradition, replace with something new

or in programming terms:

conservative – the software works well enough, no new versions

liberal – let's refactor a bit and fix some bugs, and occasionally even add new features that we carefully think through

radical – i'm not satisfied with some of the design choices for our software, let's start over from scratch and do a full rewrite

again: if you want to define "conservative" differently, whatever. but then what word should i use to convey ideas like this? (pro-stasis?). can you see the logic to using words this way?

i think a big part of the issue is basically there aren't conservatives anymore. no one in the anglosphere wants *stasis* now. but in the past, lots of people really have wanted stasis, which is something moderns find hard to understand. there's still traces of people wanting stasis today, and problems there, but it's hard to find significant strands of thinking which are very thorough about stasis. and if you go further back in the past, or you look at other worse cultures, you get a lot more pro-stasis stuff. (have you seen David Deutsch's book, the beginning of infinity, and his discussion of the static societies of the past?)


http://faculty.rcc.edu/sellick/On%20Being%20Conservative.pdf

say it IS possible to
elicit explanatory general principles from what is recognized to be conservative conduct
good.
The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They center upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.
Saying this isn't difficult is bad. It insults people who have difficulty with it, and doesn't add value.

Burke often wanted something else, something that "may be" – e.g. a different policy towards America, France, India, Ireland.
What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but Stay with me because I am attached to you.
Where does Burke say we should hold the present in high esteem because we're familiar with it? I don't think he thinks that way.
In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for
Burke does have this. I am not denying that a fair amount of Burke's ideas have some overlap with some conservative ideas. But that doesn't stop him from being thoroughly liberal.
Now, all this is represented in a certain attitude towards change and innovation; change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute.
This idea of thinking you have to *suffer* alterations is just the sort of thing I would consider conservative. But Burke thought some alterations were good, not things to suffer.

The part about innovation has a grammar problem, I'm hoping to figure out what it means later.
Changes are circumstances to which we have to accommodate ourselves
averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation
change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction
Changes, then, have to be suffered
This attitude is like, "stasis would be nice, but we'll have to figure out how to deal with a few deviations from stasis".
The idea of innovation, on the other hand, is improvement. Nevertheless, a man of this temperament will not himself be an ardent innovator. In the first place, he is not inclined to think that nothing is happening unless great changes are afoot and therefore he is not worried by the absence of innovation.
Burke was an ardent reformer, a vigorous seeker of improvement.
Further, he is aware that not all innovation is, in fact, improvement; and he will think that to innovate without improving is either designed or inadvertent folly. Moreover, even when an innovation commends itself as a convincing improvement, he will look twice at its claims before accepting them.
This is true and wise, and is also believed by liberals.

This essay stuff is a mix of stasis, of disliking change, of strong, old conservatism. And then also of liberal-compatible stuff. Whereas Burke is a liberal who had only the liberal-compatible parts of conservatism, but wasn't some kind of stasis-sympathizer.

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Fake Burke Quote Attacking Godwin

I found a quote of Edmund Burke trashing William Godwin:

'Pure defecated Atheism', said Burke [of Godwin], 'the brood of that putrid carcase the French Revolution.'

I was especially interested because I'd been unable to find any other direct quote of Burke saying negative things about Godwin. People claim Burke disliked Godwin, but I have my doubts and have searched for the evidence that those people never provide.

So I tracked down the citations, and ultimately the quote is unsourced. While doing that, I found another quote of Burke trashing Godwin which also turned out to be unsourced.

I also contacted an academic expert who agreed the quote is fake.

Here's what I looked up:

The defecated atheism quote is from Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin by D. H. Monro.

I originally found it in a different Godwin paper which didn't even try to source it.

Monro says it's quoted from Ford K. Brown, Life of William Godwin (London, 1926), p 155

So I got that book. It has the quote along with a footnote. The footnote states:

Edmund Burke, who is also said to have called Godwin "one of the ablest architects of ruin." (Gilfillan's Literary Portraits (First Series, Edinb. 1845), p.16.)

I found the Literary Portraits book. On page 16 it has the architect of ruin quote, unsourced. It doesn't have the defecated atheism quote at all.

It's no good to source a quote to a secondary source without following the citations back to an adequate source. That spreads myths.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)