from Bret Stephens at The New York Times, Why Edmund Burke Still Matters
At the core of Burke’s view of the revolution is a profound understanding of how easily things can be shattered in the name of moral betterment, national purification and radical political transformation. States, societies and personal consciences are not Lego-block constructions to be disassembled and reassembled with ease. They are more like tapestries, passed from one generation to the next, to be carefully mended at one edge, gracefully enlarged on the other and otherwise handled with caution lest a single pulled thread unravel the entire pattern. “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity,” Burke wrote. “And therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature, or to the quality of his affairs.”
Burke’s objection to the French revolutionaries is that they paid so little attention to this complexity: They were men of theory, not experience. Men of experience tend to be cautious about gambling what they have painstakingly gained. Men of theory tend to be reckless with what they’ve inherited but never earned. “They have wrought underground a mine that will blow up, at one grand explosion, all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have ‘the rights of men.’ Against these there can be no prescriptions.”
All of this may sound suspicious to modern readers, especially progressive ones. But consider what Burke might have made of Trump and Trumpism. He would have been bemused by the phrase “drain the swamp”: To take the metaphor seriously, one would end up destroying all the life within the swamp, leaving only mud. He would have been revolted by the Trump family’s self-dealing: Among the great causes of Burke’s life was his role in the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the de facto governor general of India, for corrupt and cruel administration.
The people now pulling down statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and spray-painting “1619” on them may believe they are striking a blow against the racial hypocrisy of the founding fathers. But if Burke were alive now, he would likely note that people who trade ancient liberties — freedom of speech, for instance — for newfangled rights (freedom from speech) could soon wind up with neither. He’d observe that it may not be easy to teach respect for democratic political institutions while inculcating contempt for the founders of those institutions. He’d suggest that if protesters want to make the case for fuller equality for all Americans, better to enlist the memory of the founders in their cause than hand them over to their political opponents to champion. He’d caution that destructiveness toward property tends to lead to violence toward people.
And he’d warn that the damage being done — to civil order, public property and, most of all perhaps, to the values demonstrators claim to champion — may not be easy to undo. “Rage and phrensy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation and foresight can build up in a hundred years.”
Excellent article- read the whole piece.