Burke's Reflections, Part Two: Is A Servant Leader an Astonishing Innovation?
After reflecting at length on the Golden Revolution, Edmund Burke describes or suggests that the monarch ought to be or profess to be a servant. This is an astonishing claim! Elsewhere he stands against suddenly changing old traditions, and changing the title of the king from lord to servant seems like quite a great change, to say the least!
Why does Burke make this suggestion?
First, for Burke, the entire state is a living being, a spirit and a body. So each part depends and benefits the other. The old story by Livy about the aristocracy as the stomach of the people is for Burke a simple fact of nature. So the role of the king as the head of state is to govern the rest of the body by humbly providing service.
Second, Burke wishes to avoid the fulsome speeches in praise of monarchy and adhere only to a simple classical dignity of service. How realistic this is, and has been, is evident from the existing exotic English royal tradition.
Third, it seems out of character for Burke to suggest this, if he would have the majesty of the monarch preserved. But he is thinking, it seems, only of the protection of the monarch from the predations of the French revolutionaries. It is as if, out of anxiety to avoid a new revolution, Burke makes an unconscious Freudian slip in suggesting a sudden change in the midst of speaking in the strictest conservative terms.
A word on method:
Burke's mode in the Reflections is to circle around historical events, extracting essential insights. And next, he circles far and ancient and unfolds the fascinating reforms of the Magna Carta for us. And that is the subject of our next post.
When I read Burke on historical events I feel a keen desire to read Churchill's History of the English Speaking People, to discover what another great conservative had to say about these events. But these books (historical books) have been by and large put away for another time, and I am loathe to unpack them. During my long study of philosophy they had proven a distraction and been set aside, and now they invisibly draw me from their storage place!