Via the Federalist: Yuval Levin discusses his book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth Of Left And Right.
Some of the questions coming at Levin during the interview, I suspect, are meant to challenge Burke as either a Straussian historicist, or a(n) utilitarian. The historicist critique would have Burke holding an epistemological framework which presumes knowledge of an endpoint to human aims and affairs and a lens to observe all of human history accordingly (quite dangerous in the hands of intellectuals, Statesman and policymakers, especially the radical kind willing to break what came before and design, top-down, what will subsequently come on the way to that endpoint).
The normative ethics of the utilitarian arguments, on the other hand, tend to run into the problems of eventually sacrificing individuals on the altar of the greatest good, and also majoritarian politics, or perhaps even ‘tyranny of the majority’ scenarios, where many of the subtle protections of individual and minority (literally defined) liberties in our constitutional framework could potentially be eroded by populist sentiment, moral panics, bad laws, and mob rule.
One of Levin’s main insights is that Burke should be thought of as a Statesman, a politician and a debater, one who nearly always refused notions of top-down, abstract principles and design rather than simply conserving what was already in place.
***Abstract principles, perhaps, of the rationalist kind, the centrally planned, bureaucratic kind, or the progressive activist kind which have been serious influencers on our laws and lives.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
As previously posted:
‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve. The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king. At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their antient edifice; they did not however, dissolve the whole fabric.’
–Edmund Burke, commenting on the French Revolution, in The Evils Of Revolution, What Is Liberty Without Wisdom And Without Virtue It Is The Greatest Of All Possible Evils, New York, NY. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008. Pg 8.
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