Edmund Burke is getting more shot outs these days than even Slumdog Millionaire, which is pretty good for a guy with a bad 'do and no fashion sense who has been dead for 212 years and never won an Oscar. People ranging from David Brooks, who knows what he's talking about, to Rush Limbaugh, who doesn't have a clue, are citing Burke's opposition to the French Revolution and others writings to argue against Barack Obama's everything and the kitchen sink approach to governing in the teeth of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
As someone whose knowledge and analytical powers fall somewhere in between the New York Times columnist and right-wing Republican talk-radio bloviator, I understand Burke's appeal in these trying times but find it contextually wanting.
Burke argued in his seminal Reflections on the Revolution in France, which like Brooks I read in college and suspect Limbaugh would use as a doorstop, that the revolution would end badly because its supposedly rational foundations ignored the complexities of human nature and society. He slavishly supported the monarchy and had no time for fashionable abstractions such as "liberty" and the "rights of man," instead calling for the codification of specific rights and liberties as a guard against government oppression.
Burke has had great appeal for conservative and neoconservative intellectuals like Leo Strauss and William F. Buckley Jr. who have recast his attacks against the French Revolution as a critique of Communism and socialist revolutionary programs.
But while the revolution that Obama is spawning with a gigantic stimulus package, bank bailout, ambitious health-care reform program and other initiatives that will cost trillions of dollars sets off Brooks' "Burkean alarm bells," it has nothing to do with the French Revolution, let alone Communism or socialism. It is a policy revolution and the times call for nothing less.
And speaking of revolutions, Burke supported the American Revolution. So there.
End of lecture.