Burke, the Hope for the American Way of Life


Sir Edmund Burke, what does this name mean to most Americans? Not much. Sir Edmund Burke was an Anglo-Irish orator, philosopher, and writer. He was born in Dublin, Ireland on Jan. 12th, 1729, to a Protestant father and Roman Catholic mother. Burke's father was a fairly prosperous attorney in Dublin and the two shared a very distant and cold relationship. His family life, growing up, could be described as very unhappy and controlled by his authoritarian father.Burke was educated in Trinity College and graduated in 1750. He then traveled to England to study law at Middle Temple. He did this on the wishes of his father, but gave up his legal studies in favor of a writing career and essayist. Burke later served in the House of Commons as a member of the Whig Party.

How does this somewhat obscure person have anything to do with the American way of life or its preservence? Edmund Burke is considered, by most, the "Father of Modern Day Anglo-American Conservatism." From his thoughts on the French and American Revolutions, to his crusades against the East India Company, to the plights of Irish Catholics, Burke forged a reputation as a traditionalist, while fighting for the rights of those who he viewed as incapable of defending themselves against tyranny. He was a dichotomy of philosophies and often times he appears to be contradicting himself. This is not the case at all, Burke may have come to different conclusions about seemingly similar situations, but his core philosophies never changed, nor did his application.

To understand Burke and how his ideas can help present day America, you would have to look at his opinions on the French Revolution and his indictments of those who inspired it, the "philosophers." Burke took on the task of defending the pragmatic and traditional order against what was viewed as a noble, progressive revolution which was wholly moral. One might ask, "Why defend the French monarchy, which was so oblivious to the needs of the population and simply abused their positions for their own gains?" It was not the monarchy he was defending; it was the lack of thought put into the French Revolution and the way it was carried out. He was also very concerned with the way it would affect the order of the British Crown and Church.

Burke considered the situation in France to be childish and wrought with emotion, while the revolution in England mature and patient. He observed that the movement of liberty in England was allowed to develop over time and it was not forced upon the government or the people over night. Its natural progression was cultivated and cared for, therefore eliminating much unnecessary bloodshed and chaos. This is not to say that the English had the perfect formula, or that they learned from their own past, especially, when it came to Ireland, Scotland, or even the United States. But, in their own personal history there was a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the governing authority.

Sound familiar? The United States was developing along the lines that the Constitution laid out for us. At times there have been reasons to fight, march, and protest. One is the Civil Rights Movement, done peacefully for the most part, carried out with Christian principles, and delivered with great wisdom. It opened the door for great cultural change. It did more for the rights of Blacks than ten civil wars could have accomplished. Why? Because it was based on strict adherence to peaceful Christian principles and time honored traditions of liberty and freedom for all. Also, and more importantly to Burke, the government had broken its contract with the Black community. Not much of what was promised in the Constitution was being given to them. There was no liberty and justice for "ALL." There was nothing delivered but oppression and violence. Therefore, they had a right and an obligation to seek out those promises. Burke would have applauded this situation, not only for the way it was carried out, but for being a conserving movement which upheld the traditions of the United States, not changed them.

Today, we are trying to force too much change and "progression" to quickly. Most individuals and groups complain and whine about how they are oppressed and disenfranchised by the powers that be. Rather than taking a mature look at history and see how organic our country truly is, we will gladly cut off our arm just to make our foot happy. Burke, himself, was a practical thinker when it came to the individual rights of mankind, but tempered it with wisdom from the past. He wrote, "By having the right to everything, men want everything." He was correct, look at what we perpetrate as caring, everyone is a minority, worthy of special treatment based on little to nothing. Rather than taking a look at the country as a whole and what would benefit the future for all, we are left with a power struggle between races, political parties, religions, and individuals, not Americans. This is not liberty or selflessness, it is selfishness and greed.

Burke's original publication of "Reflections on the Revolution in France," was met with much opposition and treated quite negatively. But it was not until two years after his death was he proven correct. Burke saw reactionary change as a way for a despot or dictator to rise to power under the guise of liberty and freedom for the oppressed. Well, after the execution of King Louis the XVI, the Reign of Terror in which thousands of the French citizenry were murdered or arrested, and the murder of scientists and intellectuals there was the rise of Napoleon.

Can we expect this sort of thing in America? Probably not, but, what you can expect with the sort of radical change is a greatly weakened nation. Possibly a movement to a 2nd rate power in the world. This shift in America has taken place over the past 30-40 years and is speeding up. If you look at the change in the social climate from 1991-2007 it is a different America. No thought was put into this by our so called enlightened minds, they see their agenda as the only way possible and much like Voltaire and Rousseau did in the French Revolution. By Burke's philosophies, we would hold on to and protect traditional values, such as family, religion, free market, etc. and let the organism that is America change according to its needs. Not forcing some Maoist revolutionary theory down our throats. Hence, why people who truly follow Burke's philosophy are called Conservatives, they are trying to conserve what is right and time tested while looking for wise change.

The United States is at its best when we are allowed to operate with initiative, creativity, and liberty. There is no better environment that can foster this type of success we have known and Burke understood this. But he also understood that a society without laws or too much law is either chaotic or oppressive. Unfortunately, we could be moving towards a culture that is made up of big government and big regulation. A second look at Burke by the Republican leadership might help them remember why they were once Conservatives and what that meant. I think most Americans would love a return to some core Conservative values mixed with a little forward but wise thinking.


P.S. I hope to be writing more about Burke in the future. I am no expert on the man and I do draw many conclusions about him on a personal level. But, I highly recommend absorbing anything you get your hands on about him. Understanding his philosophies about individual freedoms and responsibilities versus the needs of government and authority are key to this nation's success.



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