This was a talk I gave on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
Edmund Burke devoted the eighth chapter in his Abridgment of English History, to King John’s reign. He records that it was near the end of John’s reign that the barons forced him to place the royal seal on the provisions and undertakings that form the document called Magna Carta, Latin for Great Charter. The Abridgment of English History is a little known and almost entirely disregarded work of Burke’s. He began it in 1757 as a commission from publisher Robert Dodsley. It was one of the projects taken up when he abandoned the law to devote himself to a literary career. He never completed the planned series of books. Indeed, chapter eight is the final full chapter. The eight chapters plus a fragment of chapter nine, ‘An Essay Towards An History Of The Laws Of England’, appeared after his death.
The reader has to take seriously Burke’s title to his work on English history because a distinct purpose is revealed in the process of abridgment. Through the sometimes sparse historical details, the reader finds a concentration on the effect of the different settled arrangements (like custom and tradition) on the development of the law governing the English people. The contrast, though nowhere near as explicit as in his later writings, is between law as developed out of the concrete circumstances of a people being a people and law as the product of abstract speculation. The fragment of chapter nine confirms this analysis.
Continue reading Edmund Burke and Magna Carta
Mervyn F. Bendle is one of Australia’s foremost conservative intellectuals. He frequently contributes to Quadrant magazine and Quadrant Online, Australia’s foremost organ for the display of conservative thought. Quadrant‘s importance is highlighted by the constant attempts of Australia’s dominant leftist class to shut it down. It is a magazine that belongs in the library of every philosophical conservative. The article below is a survey of the philosophy of the world’s foremost conservative intellectual Roger Scruton. There could hardly be a more readable survey and introduction to Scruton’s thought than this article. Lovers of the writings of Edmund Burke will recognise Burke’s deep influence on Scruton.
Continue reading The Philosophy of Roger Scruton
One of the best-known passages from Edmund Burke’s writing is his lament over the capture of the French royal family and their being force-marched twelve miles from the Palace of Versailles into Paris ‘amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell in the abused shape of the vilest of women.’
Burke’s lament was provoked not so much by this melancholy scene and the barbarism of the revolutionaries. It was rather the Revolution Society’s glorification at the Old Jewry of the bloody revolutionary action that moved him. In particular, the raptures of radical preacher Dr Richard Price proclaiming the victory of reason and the dawn of freedom nerved Burke’s pen to write several pages of soaring prose bemoaning far more the ideological defeat of European Christian culture than the tragic predicament of the Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Continue reading culture through reason, natural feeling and the moral imagination
Discussion of Chapter Six, ‘Reputation, Reason and the Enlightenment Project’, Second Part on ‘Thought’ of Jesse Norman’s book EDMUND BURKE: PHILOSOPHER, POLITICIAN AND PROPHET
Chapter Six, ‘Reputation, Reason and the Enlightenment Project’ begins the Second Part on ‘Thought’ of Jesse Norman’s book Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician And Prophet. Norman surveys the reaction to Burke’s writings and speeches following Burke’s death in 1797. He cites the views of many well-known historical figures in addition to lesser known names in the fields of academia, politics and literature. His conclusion, with which one should readily agree even on a brief reading of the opinions, is that there was much ‘bipartisan esteem’ of Burke’s thought. ‘Amid the ferment of early nineteenth century social, economic and political change,’ he says, ‘many different writers were able over time to find ideas of enduring value within Burke.’ (KL 2320)
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Most leftist activists aligned themselves with different interpretations of Marxism (Trotskyist, Maoism among others). By the 1960s, after the Russians crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, New Left ideas began to modify their Marxist vision. For an explanation of the fundamentals of New Left thinking, so important to the growing hegemony of the left, I will draw on philosopher Roger Scruton’s work. Before doing so, I want to cover the basics of classical Marxism to put the developments into context.
The core of Marxist theory is that any society is made up of an economic base (the forces of production and production relations) and a superstructure of laws, government, conventions, customs, art and so on. The base determines the superstructure of government. The economic base is not static. According to Marx’s key concept of dialectical materialism, a society will experience a clash of classes between those in power and those exploited. The clash will result in a new economic order and a new superstructure determined by that order. This is the working out of the dialectic process. The clash of classes will go onto until classes cease to exist, and people live in a socialist paradise where the alienation of the worker from his essence as a human person will dissolve. Marx claimed we are at this time in the final phase of the clash of classes: capitalists (the exploiters) with the proletariat or workers (the exploited).
Continue reading Roger Scruton on Newspeak and the manipulation of language
Dr Jordan Peterson is the Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. He hit international headlines because of his refusal to use ideologically made-up pronouns that anti-discrimination legislation is forcing on people throughout the Western world. In the following piece he accurately describes the link between Marxism and Postmodernism/Identity Politics.
Communism was not popularized in the West under the direct banner of communism. Instead, it came largely under the banner of postmodernism, and aimed to transform the values and beliefs of our societies through its Marxist idea that knowledge and truth are social constructs.
Under it, a new wave of skepticism and distrust was applied to philosophy, culture, history, and all beliefs and institutions at the foundations of Western society.
The postmodern philosophy “came into vogue” in the 1970s, according to Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, “after classic Marxism, especially of the economic type, had been so thoroughly discredited that no one but an absolute reprobate could support it publicly.”
Peterson said it’s not possible to understand our current society without considering the role postmodernism plays within it, “because postmodernism, in many ways—especially as it’s played out politically—is the new skin that the old Marxism now inhabits.” Read on…
The arguments for free speech in current debates are almost exclusively based on a principal of utility. Simply put, free speech will result in benefits for society. Those acquainted with the academic discourse on free speech are likely to appeal to J.S. Mill’s utilitarian arguments which he summarises in four points. In brief, to suppress all beliefs in favour of one held to be the truth, presupposes infallible judgement. No one and no group is infallible. Thus the clash of many opinions is the way to the truth. That presupposes free speech. If people reason their way to true belief, they will not hold that belief by prejudging – not as a prejudice.
If arguments from pure utility are unconvincing for some, one can also mount a Burkean defence of free speech incorporating an idea of utility, but one drawn from man’s nature rather than resting solely on a principle of utility. There are two crucial passages in Burke that provide the basis. The first is in the Reflections:
Continue reading Burke on natural rights and the right to free speech
When Edmund Burke claimed in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs that the French Revolution ‘was a wild attempt to methodize anarchy; to perpetuate and fix disorder…that it was a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature,’ he was targeting a particular theory of political organization now known as ‘social contract theory’. It is important to understand that for Burke social contract theory not only determines the form of political organization of a particular people but the accompanying social organization as well.
The early theorists of social contract were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Hobbes being considered the first to introduce the idea. Burke was clearly familiar with the writings of these political philosophers. There are recognizable references to Hobbes (Leviathan) and Locke (The Second Treatise of Government) in his speeches and writings, although he does not mention them by name. He was scathing about Rousseau, reducing his entire philosophy (including the Social Contract) to one of vanity, claiming that ‘with this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of madness,’ and that ‘it is plain that the present rebellion [in France] was its legitimate offspring.’  In other words, he attributed the ‘wild attempt to methodize anarchy [and] to perpetuate and fix disorder’ in France to Rousseau as a major influence.
Continue reading Edmund Burke on what it means to be a ‘people’
This piece by Roger Scruton on EPPC (Ethics and Public Policy Center) is a must read for those concerned about what it means to be a people and a nation. It touches on the issues of Brexit, national sovereignty, national borders, globalisation, and uncontrolled migration.
The Case for Nations
There is a respectable opinion among educated people that nations are no longer relevant. Their reasoning runs roughly as follows:
We live in an interconnected world. Globalization and the internet have created new networks of belonging and new forms of social trust, by which borders are erased and old attachments vaporized. Yes, we have seen the growth of nationalism in Europe, the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of the populist Donald Trump, but these are signs of reactionary sentiments that we should all have outgrown. The nation-state was useful while it lasted and gave us a handle on our social and political obligations. But it was dangerous too, when inflamed against real or imaginary enemies.
In any case, the nation-state belongs in the past, to a society in which family, job, religion and way of life stay put in a single place and are insulated against global developments. Our world is no longer like that, and we must change in step with it if we wish to belong.
The argument is a powerful one and was highly influential among those who voted in the U.K. referendum to remain in the European Union. But it overlooks the most important fact, which is that democratic politics requires a demos. Democracy means rule by the people and requires us to know who the people are, what unites them and how they can form a government. Read on…
For those of us who love Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, and Irving Babbitt, the extravagantly convoluted term, “the moral imagination,” rolls readily off the tongue and warms the heart like few other things. Yet, most of our closest allies on the right scratch their collective and individual heads in confusion. “What is this moral imagination,” they ask in some understandable bewilderment. The term comes from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. It only appears once in this seminal writing, but it is the cornerstone of the entire work. And, yet, even for those of us who love the term and the concept… we too easily employ it, more often than not, out of its context, thus rendering this precious Burkean-ism somewhat un-Burkean. Read on…