OH, SO YOU CALL YOURSELF A CONSERVATIVE?
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
Listen up, kid: we are the counterculture!
The first rule of this select and hated club is… you have to read Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” The second rule is you have to read Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” The third rule is if someone says ‘ackchyually’ or ‘Bernie may have a point’, the fight is over. Fourth rule is you will never feel scared about being the unpopular kid in any crowd. Fifth rule is you do not have to justify your existence. Sixth rule is anytime you open your mouth your words must be well thought rather than repeating what somebody else said. And seventh rule is relax and enjoy the black eye: being part of the counterculture is going to toughen you up by means of getting bashed once and again. It’s ok; if everybody would like you, then you’re doing something wrong.
Now, you got the point, right? Read Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, the birthplace of our weltanschauung (look up the term on www.duckduckgo.com rather than freakin’ Google). Unlike Marxists or their socialist cousins, the fascists, we are not an ideology armed with a little black book containing enumerated rules through which we can structure our minds, lives, and even feelings. So, we have to take individual responsibility; conservatism is an attitude towards human nature and the fabric of reality rather than an organized political school of thought including a “how to” manual. Even when you pick up Burke’s masterpiece don’t take it as Mao’s little red book and go around repeating what it says. Hell, don’t even live your life according to it! First, because there’s the issue of context. Burke was an Irish bloke who over 200 years ago served in the British House of Commons (the rough equivalent of the U.S. Congress) as part of the Whig party, the gang who stood for constitutional monarchism –which is a way of saying: monarchs yes but serving as a head of state, or figurehead of the nation, muzzled by a constitution so the king or queen won’t go crazy while the sovereignty of the people is exercised by an elected parliament or congress. This guy was so ahead of his time that he fiercely supported American Independence and fought against the corruption of the representatives that the Empire had put in charge of colonies, like in India. Notwithstanding such cosmopolitanism, one day he was asked about his thoughts on the Revolution in France and everyone was shocked when, basically, he said that it was a calamity, that the mob was going to get out of control, behave like a goat in a glass shop, and that people cannot handle large amounts of power because they go nuts and the whole thing ends up in bloodshed and then tyranny. Which it did, mind you, as the monarchs of France lost their heads at the guillotine and then Napoleon became the French tyrant.
So, once you’re done carefully reading Burke’s masterpiece, it is time to analyze the reasons behind his opinions. Why did he go against the liberal zeitgeist? How was he able to take a step back and argue the way that he did, precisely when everyone expected him to rah-rah for the French head-choppers based on his support of America’s Founding Fathers? Sir Roger Scruton, the modern patron saint of conservatism, once said: “Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” And that pretty much sums it up. Burke saw in the American Independence something very different than in the French Revolution. On one side he saw a bunch of visionary and pragmatic dudes, much like him, trying to wriggle out the yoke of the British Crown in order to found The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave based on well thought principles that still stand to this day –despite the vicious attacks from progressives. On the other side, he saw a mob, pitchforks and torches and all, chanting pretty slogans that were way too abstract not to be hijacked by some shark. Good things are easily destroyed but not easily created, remember?
As a Whig, Burke did not feel all warm and fuzzy about royals as appointed by God, so he wasn’t precisely opposed to the idea that a people could offload the weight of an oppressive ruler off their shoulders. However, he was a practical man (i.e. a conservative) and knew that change would not occur by burning the whole damn barn while yelling out vague slogans –those easily hijacked by thugs– but, instead, he supported gradual reform through constitutional means. “Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created”, remember? Burke knew that instinctively. Moreover, he believed in tradition, people’s values (whether rational or not), and private property, and thus, intellectually, he stood in the polar opposite to Thomas Hobbes. Tommy Boy viewed politics as reducible to a mathematical system where social problems could be schematized into a formula and then, on a blackboard, any enlightened professor could solve the world with the help of some theorems and axioms. Burke, instead, as a more mature and levelheaded person (i.e. a conservative), thought of Hobbes’ approach to politics as giving some WD40™ and duct tape to a chimpanzee and then ask him to perform an open heart surgery. Sir Edmund knew that human nature and society are extremely complicated, not a colony of ants which can be summarized in a spreadsheet and directed like a robotic system.
Therefore, Burke is very important to conservatism because he was the first to clearly articulate how the utopians (like Marxists and their Nazi cousins) would always end up assembling mobs, stoke the flames of division, destroy everything in the way (both good and bad), and then install themselves as oppressors. He knew that there were bad things happening in France but also saw how the mature approach taken in Great Britain achieved progress without breaking the whole damn shop in the process. Moreover, in the French Revolution slogan of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” he immediately recognized a cute rallying cry but so, so hazy that anyone could twist it in his benefit to gear the irate crowd against the opponents –as it actually happened in the end. Burke preferred specific constitutional measures rather than adorable mottos. As the (future) Americans he supported, for example, it’s nice to say that the republic is founded on “freedom” but just repeating it means absolutely nothing without the first and second amendments, for example.
Conservatism is a tough intellectual path of continuous thinking, one that requires cojones to live in one’s life, so it isn’t a set of rules that you memorize and presto, off you go. When you’re done reading Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” you have just started, barely scratching the surface. Remember: Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.