Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ten True Facts About Edmund Burke's 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'.

1. I am reading Edmund Burke's great letter, 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'. It really needs to be broken into sections with headings.

2. I have finished the first proper section, which I shall call "On the Glorious Revolution of 1688". In it, Burke establishes the primary principle of conservatism, which is realistic adherence to tradition as the only true basis for genuine social progress and improving change.

3. Burke speaks slightingly of the metaphysicians who can only imagine the abstract application of a political principle, and not the practical adaption to reality. In this respect he agrees with the qualified realism taught by the Thomists, it seems to me: reality is real regardless of our limited understanding of the principles whereby it operates.

4-7. I can see why this letter was so influential: Burke simultaneously refutes, teaches, explains, and exemplifies this basic conservative principle. In 15 pages of simple speaking, Burke refutes the preacher of the principles of the French Revolution, teaches us the true principles of the English Revolution, explains how the English Revolution respects the English character, and exemplifies the conservative distaste for the violence and insult to the French character done through the French Revolution.

8. I must admit, while Burke was refuting Doctor Price's oddball preaching, I could not help but think of the progressivism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Indeed, what could be more telling of the American character than the way Emerson (founder of the American secular religion, according to Professor Bloom at least) was ejected from the churches of his day for preaching a doctrine considered heresy by his contemporaries? Whereas Emerson's English counterparts might work within existing sects and creeds, the American conservative makes of the rupture with the existing social fabric a kind of a new American conservative creed.

9. Is Burke's explanation of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 history, or historiography? It seems a patchwork history; it alludes to events we must be aware of already, such as the bad character of King James, with an uncommon frankness. It is however a good report of the times, from someone with a sound understanding, sharing the same spirit as those whose events he reports (which is Hegel's definition of a true history from his 'Lecture on the Philosophy of History'). So it is a history, although an intermediate one to the basic histories which one must have read to make sense of the story. 

But is it also a historiography, a theory of history-making? I doubt it. First off, Burke is not being theoretical at all, but simply reporting the facts from within the British sphere of comprehension. Burke frankly admits his Englishness, and limits himself to speaking solely from within it. (If only all political commenters had the same prudence and politic zeal to stick to the limits of their sphere of power!) But in the exact same sense, he is advancing a historiography of common-sense practicality: he is expressing the natural division of history into nations and traditions which are indisputable norms for those cultures. So, maybe it is historiography.

10. Lastly, is this hagiography? Is Burke making a saint of the British tradition? Evidently not without qualifications. Burke admits many times the compromising human quality of political deliberations in his description of the Glorious Revolution. What is evident, however, is his passionate love of and desire to protect the English people. The threat of the French Revolution occasions this book, but it is Burke's love of the English revolution that actuates it.

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