Thursday, December 11, 2008

Edmund Burke on The Revolutionaries

Burke was a thinker; Reno conveys some of his thoughts and adds a few of his own.

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke helps us see beyond our usual moral sentimentalism. He recognized the way in which abstract principles can become objects of devotion. The great patrons of liberty and equality in revolutionary France loved their ideas of justice, so much so that they would willingly destroy the actual goods of their imperfect society in order to implement an imagined state of perfection. Nothing is so selfish as to attack reality—and to do so on the basis of one’s own ideals.

Burke had an epithet for these selfish idealists. They were “men of theory,” and they so often seem to have the rhetorical advantage. The imagined world is shiny and spotless, unlike the real world and its hopelessly compromised institutions. It’s easy to compliment your moral insights when you juxtapose the ideal with the real.

Think for a moment of "pollution," the most significant assault on the West, now modified to include "climate change." Or think of the 'shiny, spotless' imaginary world without "burdensome" children, or elderly...

“The pretended rights of these theorists are all extreme,” he wrote, “and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.”

...The wickedness comes from a crucial fact about progressive politics: Our social world needs to be destroyed in order for moral and political ideals to be realized, unsullied by the past...We can ascribe specific rights equally. We can say that every adult has a right to vote, or that every citizen has a right to trial by jury. But we can’t say that everyone has a right to be equal—unless we’re prepared to destroy the cultural forms that give people their diverse roles and identities

Gay "marriage," anyone?

“All the pleasing illusions,” Burke wrote, “which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments that beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason.” Thus the pattern was set: For every progressive political agenda, a culture of critique must replace a culture of loyalty.

Unmask, disenchant, critique—these are important, foundational political acts, as our university professors now openly champion. They undermine the sentiments and convictions that make men feel old moral sentiments, even after the old system is swept away...

Some things are familiar to occupants of the blogosphere:

...establishing an empire of desire requires more than political triumph, more than legal protection. Like all progressive ideals, it requires the destruction of the sentiments and pieties that lead people to think otherwise. This ideological project takes on the familiar distortions of all modern propaganda. “Words take on new meanings,” James Kalb writes in The Tyranny of Liberalism, “hatred comes to include opposition to liberal initiatives, while inclusiveness requires non-liberals to abandon their principles and even their identity. Tolerance treats objections to liberalism as attacks on neutrality that are oppressive simply by being made.”

Summarily,

Conservatism wants to protect, nurture, and perfect aspects of the social norms we already have. Drawing its strength from what exists, it has room for dissent. Progressivism pours Agent Orange on the cultural landscape to make space for something new, something it imagines to be better. Seeking what is ideal, it often excludes dissent as a matter of moral principle

Let's see how the Obamatrons navigate the next few years...

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