A brilliant application of Burke to the present

I just came upon this passage, in Derek Turner’s review of Christopher Caldwell’s Burkean entitled Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West:

Caldwell thinks [the Islamization of Europe] matters, or he would not have outstretched his neck by writing on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he feels about the continent of cathedrals, castles and chateaux as Burke famously felt about Marie-Antoinette—“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look which threatened her with insult.” But in modern Europe, even more than in the France of 1790, “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded.”

For anyone who has not read it, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is indispensable reading for any conservative—being, in effect, the first conservative book, if we define conservatism as opposition to the principles of the French Revolution. The whole book may seem like too much to bite off at once, in which case I recommend starting with the extensive selections from it in The Portable Conservative Reader, edited by Russell Kirk.

Certainly, if Heather (“I’m really bent out of shape because Americans believe in God”) Mac Donald had formed her intellect by reading Burke instead of postmodern literary critics, which led her to the snotty declaration that “I am amused by the claim that God provides a ‘fixed’ place for moral or philosophical certainty. The Bible is as open-ended a text as any other”, she never would have made the further foolish argument that conservatism means organizing a society and its moral code according to rational and scientific reason, since such superficial rationality in the place of experience was, of course, the principal, catastrophic error that Burke denounced in the French revolutionaries.

The above does not mean that I simply endorse Burke. As I’ve written before, the Burkean deference to experience and custom can only “work” in a society that still has an intact and functioning tradition. In a radicalized society like our own, Burkeanism means deference to the established radicalism. Remember that, when David Brooks tells you that Obama is a Burkean.

A radical conservative (or reactionary) alternative to Burke, also written in response to the French Revolution, but making the biological and spiritual order of existence its guide rather than the cumulative experience of society, is Louis de Bonald’s On Divorce , which I reviewed in National Review in the early ’90s.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 03, 2009 02:50 PM | Send

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