Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Burke updated?

The WSJ is carrying Jeffery Hart's attempt to place Burke in our present context and while I don't agree with everything he suggests, it makes for a worthy read. Here are three of Hart's updated "Burkean" takes that I like:
  • Beauty. Beauty has been clamorously present in the American Conservative Mind through its almost total absence. The tradition of regard for woodland and wildlife was present from the beginnings of the nation and continued through conservative exemplars such as the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who established the National Parks. Embarrassingly for conservatives (at least one hopes it is embarrassing), stewardship of the environment is now left mostly to liberal Democrats. Not all ideas and initiatives by liberals are bad ones. Burke's unbought beauties are part of civilized life, and therefore ought to occupy much of the Conservative Mind. The absence of this consideration remains a mark of yahooism and is prominent in Republicanism today. As if by an intrinsic law, when the free market becomes a kind of utopianism it maximizes ordinary human imperfection--here, greed, short views and the resulting barbarism.
  • Constitutional government. Depending on English tradition and classical theory, the Founders designed a government by the "deliberate sense" of the people. The "sense" originated with the people, but it was made "deliberate" by the delaying institutions built into the constitutional structure. This system aims at government not by majorities alone but by stable consensus, because under the Constitution major changes almost always require a consensus that lasts over a considerable period of time. Though the Supreme Court stands as constitutional arbiter, it is not a legislature. The correct workings of the system depend upon mutual restraint among the branches. And the court, which is the weakest of the three, should behave with due modesty toward the legislature. The legislature is the closest to "We the people," the basis of legitimacy in a free society. Legislation is more easily revised or repealed than a court ruling, and therefore judicial restraint is necessary.
  • Religion. Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms. What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy. The representation of this metaphysics through language and ritual took 10 centuries to perfect. The dome of the sacred, however, has been shattered. The act of reconstruction will require a large effort of intellect, which is never populist and certainly not grounded on emotion, an unreliable guide. Religion not based on a structure of thought always exhibits wild inspired swings and fades in a generation or two.

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