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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

edmund burkeWASHINGTON — Let’s praise a struggling conservative reform movement seeking to disentangle the right’s cause from extremism and to make its ideas more compelling to a younger and broader swath of Americans.

It’s a movement of diverse strands and competing motives. Some conservatives are looking for a much larger dose of reform than others.

The change-as-little-as-possible wing would keep the same old creed but adorn it in new, more attractive clothes. But the Serious Rethinking crowd is trying to engage problems that conservatives usually ignore — notably, rising inequality and declining social mobility. And the 14 Republican senators who helped give the immigration bill a big majority in their chamber last week sent a signal that many on the right understand the need to appeal to an increasingly diverse electorate.

For the GOP’s political consultants, the effort’s real purpose is to win future elections. But other innovators on the right worry about governing. They have grown impatient with a thin doctrine that sees lower taxes, smaller government and deregulation as the solution to every problem we confront.

Whenever conservatives are in this sort of pensive mood, they repair to the thought of the philosopher whom Jesse Norman, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, labels “The First Conservative,” the subtitle of his new book on Edmund Burke.

Norman’s Burke biography ought to be one of the hot books for the right over the next year. Like Burke (1729-1797), Norman is a philosopher as well as a politician. He offers a brisk and engaging introduction to the iconic thinker’s life and thought.

Burke’s conservatism was based on a proper understanding of that word. He believed in preserving the social order and respecting old habits. He persistently warned against the destructive character of radical change. He was wary of ideology and grand ideas, rejecting, as Norman puts it, “universal claims divorced from an actual social context.” Burke saw the well-ordered society as a “partnership of the dead, the living and the yet to be born,” a nice formula for a forward-looking traditionalism — and not a bad slogan for environmentalists.

His critics (Tom Paine was among the fiercest) saw Burke as an apologist for the privileged and an enemy of free individuals. Norman vigorously defends Burke against these charges, emphasizing his fundamental moderation and support for reform as an alternative to revolution. Burke believed not so much in small government but in what Norman labels “slow government,” rooted in modesty and humility about what politics can achieve.

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13 responses to “The Original Conservative Reformer”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Judging by the legislative and judicial successes they are having, I doubt the GOP is interested in changing anything. In fact, a more likely outcome is for them to stay the course. With the exception of marriage equality, which I suspect they concluded it was in their best interest to support as a potential source of votes, they have managed to reject or ignore almost every proposal advanced by President Obama. Why would they want to change their political platform or the ethnic makeup of the party when they are well on their way to achieve their ultimate goal: the dismantling of social programs critical to the middle class and the elderly, privatizing those programs, keeping the populace ignorant that making it as difficult as possible for them to get the education we need to make sound decisions and reach logical conclusions, and making it as difficult as possible for us to vote. The strategy and plans does not include changing course.

  2. RobertCHastings says:

    Burke was one of the chief British opponents of the American Revolution. This article helps explain why. Although he was a conservative, and saw no good in radical revolution, he DID see need for change. Britain was divided between Loyalists and supporters of American independence, and Burke MAY have been a Loyalist, but he was a reformer. Boehner and his crew could learn a lot.

    • Mark Forsyth says:

      How can anyone learn anything when one is willfully ignorant? Barring the slow process of evolution,what’s the option.I would favor giving them a taste of their own medicine but even that is problematic. We are not even able to jail the Wall Street crooks that ruined the economy and destroyed peoples’ lives.Burke may have had some good ideas for his day but they did not prevent the revolution.
      Considering what we are up against,I’m not yet convinced that another revolution is not required again.That does not mean that I’m an advocate for it,but I also know that half measures avail us nothing and that one does not play patty cake with the guys who are trying to kill you.
      Must the olive tree be stripped of branches before the President realizes he will get no cooperation from the other side?

      • RobertCHastings says:

        Obama has had to spend entirely too much of his limited time and energies in restoring what Bush destroyed of our international respect and standing. With things like the NSA surveillance (an outgrowth of Bush’s Patriot Act) taking center stage away from the Wall Street debacle, he does seem to play directly into their hands. However, failing to deal with the leaks will cause enormous problems down the road. At least the IRS scandal is being put to rest with revelations that progressive groups were equally targeted.
        Unfortunately, the Occupy Wall Street Movement seems to have fizzled out. I don’t think they are gone for good, but they seem to be largely forgotten for the moment. The “revolution” they tried to get started was more or less an attempt to wake people up and get them involved. Perhaps their main failing was a lack of central organization, but that leads to a hierarchy that the opposition can identify and deal with. Their bottom-up process was probably best for their aims, but their limited aims may not be what is needed. During the early days of the Revolution, many “patriots” were still uncertain about pursuing open revolution as opposed to working for reconciliation. Most of those came around when they learned of the massive British force preparing to land at New York. I guess many of us just don’t recognize the need for action until the shit actually hits the fan.

        • Mark Forsyth says:

          I totally agree that people wait until the shit hits the fan and they certainly did just that back in the 1700’s.While they pulled off the revolution,a similar delay these days could cause whatever effort is devised to be too little too late.After all we are not the only ones who see the value of striking early.
          The question now would seem to be,just how much crap has to happen before people decide they have had enough to act against it. Seems to me that certain covert activities have been used in the past to stir up resistance.

          • RobertCHastings says:

            If you are serious in pursuing a course toward change, I recommend that you read “The Democracy Project” by David Graeber, someone who is active in the Occupy movement. Aside from being very informative as to how the movement worked, it is a fairly easy and quick read. He is not a revolutionary firebrand, and he brings to his arguments a wealth of scholarship.
            Occupy was a brief flash in the pan in a large city near where I live, and the police pretty much kept things tightly under control. One of the points Graeber makes is that the police cannot control such movements IF there is not an identifiable hierarchy. While this makes it SEEM that lack of organization must necessitate DISorganization, I was surprised to find just the opposite. When a large number of people who are on the same page, with many of the same experiences and training, get together in such a movement, an organized hierarchy is not necessary and a very basic form of genuine democracy takes over. He points out that where a command hierarchy is clearly defined by the movement and plainly know by the authorities, it is entirely too easy for the authorities to subvert the movement itself. Fascinating stuff.

          • Mark Forsyth says:

            Thanks for the reference.I’ll check it out.

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  3. idamag says:

    Our government has been hi-jacked by radical amateurs that are playing at governing and have no clue to what true statesmanship is.

  4. Lovefacts says:

    If today’s Republican Party were in power during our colony days, American would have remained a colony. There wouldn’t be a Parliament in England, because the King or Queen would be all powerful. I hope this irony isn’t lost on anyone. It takes vision, looking to the future, and the willingness to risk everything before you can move forward, solve problems, and gain or maintain freedom and control over your own life.

  5. howa4x says:

    Burke would have despised the tea party since their ideas are radical and lack a social conscience. He saw change around the edges which is the way we were in the 1950’s. Problem is that Burke lived at a time where a homogeneous society was in England and there was a long history of the monarchy, all which create stability. What would he have written about during the social upheaval in the US in the late 60’s? A time where the foundation of our modern culture was built on. There was the end of segregation, the women’s movement, earth day and the birth of the environmental movement. It was also a time when the different ethnic groups merged completely and social justice was the ideal.. Today what we see from the tealiban and the GOP is the continuing battle against these forces that were let loose then. this is why repugs are always accused of trying to turn the clock back. Where they want to go is to the 1950’s where white Christian men ruled America and there was a social order where everyone knew their place. This period is closer to Burke’s ideals and I don’t think anyone that got their freedom wants to go back there.

  6. Mark Forsyth says:

    Some people never change nor have the willingness required without hitting rock bottom.How do we effect a change on those who need it when the change must come from within each individual and is fundamental?
    We need to look to ourselves for the change that’s needed.Reject the negativity from the other side,and have the faith and the strength of our convictions to act in every positive,proactive manner available.
    ” The revolution starts between the ears and begins to take form and move when a basic concept that opposes the status quo is shared by the masses.A patriot is one who is willing to stand up and tell the truth in front of the burdensome lie.”

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