In another in our series of my-former-students-who-are-making-me-proud-by-their-writing, Gracy Olmstead explains why today’s conservatives need to pay attention to Sir Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism.
Burke, in criticizing the French Revolution, showed why social reform must “conserve” what is good in the society. Rather than raze the society to the ground and start over from ground zero. Interestingly, Burke supported the American Revolution, which–compared to what the Jacobins did–was actually conservative in its respect for God, insistence on English common law, and retention of traditional morality.
Some of today’s conservative activists are more like right wing Jacobins, opposing everything that represents the “establishment,” than Burkean conservatives, who, by definition, want to “conserve” something.
But my application isn’t to today’s political controversies. I have been studying the Reformation lately. The Lutherans really were advocating, in C. P. Krauth’s terms, a “conservative Reformation.” The medieval church was in bad need of reform, but the Lutherans “conserved” what was good in it: sacramental spirituality; the liturgy; the creeds; church art; the Christian intellectual tradition. Later Protestants rejected everything that could remotely be considered “Catholic,” trying instead, in a succession of ways, to start the church all over from scratch.
Thus, in Burkean terms, we had both a conservative Reformation and a Jacobin Reformation. [Read more…]