Edmund Burke on rights and order

Edmund Burke on rights and order April 30, 2008

Jonathan Rauch has a good piece in the current issue of The Atlantic on one of my favorite writers, Edmund Burke. His summary of Burke’s political thought is below the fold.

“Burke is the father of modern conservatism, and still its wisest oracle. Tradition-minded but (contrary to stereotype) far from reactionary, he believed in balancing individual rights with social order. The best way to do that, for Burke, was by respecting long-standing customs and institutions while advancing toward liberty and equality. Society’s traditions, after all, embody an evolved collective wisdom that even (or especially) the smartest of individuals cannot hope to understand comprehensively, much less reinvent successfully. The Burkean outlook takes individual rights seriously, and understands that civic order serves no purpose if its result is oppression or misery. It also understands that social stability, far from being endangered by institutional change, positively depends upon it. Burkeans no more believe in a golden past than they do in a perfect future. For them, the question is not whether society should change, but how. Burke himself was an advocate of change; he sympathized with the American revolution (while famously denouncing the much more radical French one), proposed curtailing the slave trade, and fought tirelessly to reform the corrupt and monopolistic British East India Company. But he believed change should take a measured pace and should try to follow well-work social grooves rather than cutting across them. Above all, he abhorred utopian reformers, who, by disdaining real-world constraints and overestimating their own intelligence, invariably worsen what they seek to improve.”

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  • Blackadder

    One of these days I really do have to get around to reading Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. I am assured that there is a lot of insightful material to be found therein.

  • Once you’ve read Burke, read more Maistre and not just my presentation of him. Then Pobedonostsev — who I think forms the third greatest thinker of the right in the 19th century (even if there are others who are more famous).

  • Adam Greenwood

    Do, Blackadder. Its not very systematic but its extremely quotable.