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Burke - The Great Melody

I started reading The Great Melody by Conor Cruise O'Brien. comments and summary of notable bits follow.

Churchill had a very good interpretation of burke! ^_^

man, you hear about Churchill in school of course for his role in WWII, but no one tells you he was a skillful historian and epistemologist. and the commie WWII hater types who bash Churchill certainly are ignorant of it!

so the good interpretation of burke is roughly: Burke is a classical liberal. a very important one who revived that way of thinking. he was consistent in this throughout his entire political career. he hated tyranny and abuse of power. Conor calls this the Whig interpretation, and it was dominant until ~1930.

some very harsh and false attacks were made on Burke by James Mill (John Stuart Mill's father).

a bastard named Namier trashed Burke's reputation and held major sway from 1930-1970 and beyond. he didn't ever refute the good interpretation. he just pretended it had already been refuted and referred to it that way and implied only a simpleton would think otherwise. he also focussed his writing mostly on second and third rate people. seems like something out of Atlas Shrugged. "give the little guy a chance; the important people already got to be important in their own time, just ignore them now to even things up"

one of the bastard's books trashing burke only mentions burke 8 times. he's subtle. one could read the book and not realize burke was the primary target. he acts like burke doesn't matter to history, and is only worth mentioning in passing. he talks about issues where burke was very influential and fails to mention burke's famous speech and sort of takes it for granted that it's too ridiculous to bother examining. in the few passing remarks, and with no evidence to support it, and ignoring that these interpretations were refuted at length in existing books, Namier says Burke is a lackey without special skill who spreads myths. then Namier went back to talking at length about people he admitted weren't very important, but were evidently more important to discuss than Burke. Namier tries to get reader's to accept his statements about Burke on authority; he supplies no evidence for them. it's true that Namier did a lot of research, but he didn't spend that time researching Burke, he instead focussed on the second-raters.

Namier's next book is worse. this stuff is really wicked. but conor is dignified and objective and unemotional. i guess that's more effective. he just points out the facts and lets the reader use his own judgment, without ever suggesting what is the appropriate feeling.

it's pretty frustrating how such a bastard with such anti-truth-seeking and immoral tactics -- which are despicable even by mainstream standards -- can be so influential. Besides the obvious, Conor should never have had to waste his time reading that filth, let alone commenting on it; it'd be nicer if his book was about good things. but i don't disagree with his judgment that including the Namier stuff was for the best. Namier did exist and does need discrediting. sigh.

Elliot Temple on August 12, 2008


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