Why conservatives need Edmund Burke 

Edmund_Burke_by_James_NorthcoteIn 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…]

Marshall McLuhan, conservative Catholic

5571845609_c077117223_oMarshall McLuhan, who basically invented the study of media, became an icon of the 1960’s with his praise of the new information technology and his predictions of the new tribalism that it would make possible.  McLuhan arguably predicted the effects of the internet before the internet was invented.

And yet, as Jefferson Pooley reminds us, McLuhan got his start as a conservative cultural critic who, influenced by G. K. Chesterton, became a traditionalist Catholic who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

I would argue that his criticism of the printing press and the thought-forms it made possible is connected to his opposition to the Reformation, which he called “the greatest cultural disaster in the history of civilization.”  And that his “global village” that he thought the new electronic media would usher in represents his yearning for Medieval Catholicism, with its visual images and its corporate unity.

Read Pooley’s piece on McLuhan, started after the jump. [Read more…]

Gift idea:  Christianity Today’s 2017 book awards

Christianity Today has announced its 2017 book awards.  The list of winners in all of the different categories might give you some good ideas for Christmas presents.

I like book editor Matt Reynolds’ introduction to the list.   He surveys how, thanks to the new printing press, Luther’s Reformation in 1517 was tied to the reading of books.  Reading popularized the Reformation, and the Reformation popularized reading.
[Read more…]

All Saints’ Day, the Reformation, and the shadow of Death

As he mourns a death in his family, Mathew Block brings together the Reformation and All Saints’ Day.  [Read more…]

A comedy-thriller about the Reformation

You have GOT to read The Relic Master, a novel by Christopher Buckley (son of conservative icon William F. Buckley).  It’s about a dealer in sacred relics (bones of the saints, artifacts from Bible stories, etc.) that, when venerated, were thought to provide time-off from purgatory.  The story takes place in the time of Martin Luther.  The cast of characters is a who’s-who of Reformation history.  Buckley, a noted satirist, has written a novel that is funny, exciting, and true to history.  His scathing portrait of the religious corruption and decadence of the time leaves no doubt that Luther, in his effort to reform the Church and recover authentic Christianity, is the good guy.

Dismas is the relic supplier for both Frederick the Wise of Saxony and Archbishop Albert of Mainz.  Some theses posted on a church door by a friar who teaches in Frederic’s university start to make waves, with Frederic protecting him and Albert trying to burn him at the stake.  Dismas, caught in the middle with his livelihood threatened, sees Luther’s point, but gets caught up in a relic forgery scam, aided by his side-kick, the great artist Albrecht Dürer.  The plot thickens, and their plot thickens, leading to a mad-cap scheme to steal the Shroud of Turin. [Read more…]

Luther and Religious freedom

The Wall Street Journal has published an excellent account by Joe Loconte on Luther, the Reformation, and its precursors.  He ends up crediting Luther, who insisted that faith is not something that can be coerced, for the Western concept of religious freedom.  He then wonders if Islam can ever have such a reform.  Read it all, but I’ll quote some of his final paragraphs after the jump. [Read more…]