Harry Walton writing on the Open Oxford Facebook group (to me, prior to the addition of a rule against external quoting):
Sure, I never said [Burke] didn't use reason. I just said he disliked the enlightenment and disliked liberalism.
But you wrote, "Individual reason was something that [Burke] held disdain for."
I sure don't think you meant Burke liked collectivist reasoning and was anti-individualist! That'd be ridiculous and I didn't see other claims along those lines from you. So, I read it like you said Burke had disdain for (proper) reason.
"Burke tried to explain to people how actual progress and reform work, how to go about that" http://fallibleliving.com/thinkers/burke
I mean, I like Burke so I'm going to agree that he showed how genuine progress and reform ought to go about. Could you give me a description of what you believe he argued for/said?
"A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve ... would be my standard of a statesman.” – this interest in improvement is not conservative"
Firstly, it is important to note that it is the 'disposition to preserve' that is the important part.
No, the point as a whole is the important part, it's about having those two things together. Did you check the original context before making this claim?
A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.
I think that clears it up. But read more context and tell me if you still disagree.
Maybe we could put it like this: you
think the "disposition to preserve" is the important part, so you're a conservative. Burke thinks the "disposition to preserve" and "ability to improve" need to go together, so he's a liberal (and me too). And then, some people care about "ability to improve" without much/any "disposition to preserve", so they are dangerous radicals, revolutionaries, utopians, etc...
It's the basic part of conservative thinking. My favourite essay by Oakeshott is useful to put here. It explains what it means to be conservative. If you have some spare time you should read it. It's probably the best way of describing conservatism I've seen.
replies to this are at the end
"Seeking progress rationally is how liberalism works"
Liberalism is an ideology that has a set goal of 'freedom' as a value that it wants to pursue. Burke has no such value put forward first except for maybe tradition. The goal of liberalism is to maximise freedom. The goal of Burke is just a vague. One of the main reasons Burke likes change is because he believes it is necessary towards preservation of the nation state. I think the only person who you would see as 'conservative' would be Maistre.
This concept of liberalism is mistaken. That helps explain why you don't see the connection between Burke and liberalism. I think a lot of our confusion is because the opponents of liberalism have spread a lot of lies about what it is, and now most people don't have much understanding what liberalism is actually about.
And the claim Burke only wants change for preservation is silly given I just quoted him, and you requoted him, saying he wants *improvement*.
For understanding liberalism, start with:
and read especially
then you could find out what liberalism is – according to actual liberals! – before trying to claim and deny things about it.
Liberal means things like: open to improvement and change, tolerant, favorable to individual rights and freedom, pro-liberty. All of those apply to Burke. Liberalism involves being willing to question and change tradition (which Burke was).
Conservative is a kind of pointless word if you define it such that someone is liberal and conservative, at the same time. It's perfectly possible to do that. The "conservatives" in the US today are pretty liberal (and the "liberals" are largely illiberal).
But if Burke is a "conservative" in addition to a liberal, then what do you call the tories? What word is left? Burke was a whig, the *liberal* party, who opposed and politically fought against the more conservative tories in many things. Burke was one of the reformers standing up to King and traditional authority – calling him a "conservative" is therefore confusing, since he put so much effort into politically battling the conservatives of his time.
Declaring Burke conservative and non-liberal would also get into awkward questions like whether you're going to do it to William Godwin too.
Besides liberals and conservatives (meaning stuff like those tories Burke frequently opposed), another big category to be aware of and complete the picture better is *radicals* – the people who want revolutions, utopias, reimaginings of society. Radicals are the guys who don't respect tradition or piecemeal progress, who want replacement with their latest flakey idea instead of reform. (Objectivism does not use the word "radical" this way, but I do. I'm open to ideas about better word choices.)
So you get:
conservative – keep things the same
liberal – value tradition but seek progress, reform, improvement
radical – sweep away the cobwebs of tradition, replace with something new
or in programming terms:
conservative – the software works well enough, no new versions
liberal – let's refactor a bit and fix some bugs, and occasionally even add new features that we carefully think through
radical – i'm not satisfied with some of the design choices for our software, let's start over from scratch and do a full rewrite
again: if you want to define "conservative" differently, whatever. but then what word should i use to convey ideas like this? (pro-stasis?). can you see the logic to using words this way?
i think a big part of the issue is basically there aren't conservatives anymore. no one in the anglosphere wants *stasis* now. but in the past, lots of people really have wanted stasis, which is something moderns find hard to understand. there's still traces of people wanting stasis today, and problems there, but it's hard to find significant strands of thinking which are very thorough about stasis. and if you go further back in the past, or you look at other worse cultures, you get a lot more pro-stasis stuff. (have you seen David Deutsch's book, the beginning of infinity, and his discussion of the static societies of the past?)
say it IS possible to
elicit explanatory general principles from what is recognized to be conservative conduct
The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They center upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.
Saying this isn't difficult is bad. It insults people who have difficulty with it, and doesn't add value.
Burke often wanted something else, something that "may be" – e.g. a different policy towards America, France, India, Ireland.
What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but Stay with me because I am attached to you.
Where does Burke say we should hold the present in high esteem because we're familiar with it? I don't think he thinks that way.
In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for
Burke does have this. I am not denying that a fair amount of Burke's ideas have some overlap with some conservative ideas. But that doesn't stop him from being thoroughly liberal.
Now, all this is represented in a certain attitude towards change and innovation; change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute.
This idea of thinking you have to *suffer* alterations is just the sort of thing I would consider conservative. But Burke thought some alterations were good, not things to suffer.
The part about innovation has a grammar problem, I'm hoping to figure out what it means later.
Changes are circumstances to which we have to accommodate ourselves
averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation
change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction
Changes, then, have to be suffered
This attitude is like, "stasis would be nice, but we'll have to figure out how to deal with a few deviations from stasis".
The idea of innovation, on the other hand, is improvement. Nevertheless, a man of this temperament will not himself be an ardent innovator. In the first place, he is not inclined to think that nothing is happening unless great changes are afoot and therefore he is not worried by the absence of innovation.
Burke was an ardent reformer, a vigorous seeker of improvement.
Further, he is aware that not all innovation is, in fact, improvement; and he will think that to innovate without improving is either designed or inadvertent folly. Moreover, even when an innovation commends itself as a convincing improvement, he will look twice at its claims before accepting them.
This is true and wise, and is also believed by liberals.
This essay stuff is a mix of stasis, of disliking change, of strong, old conservatism. And then also of liberal-compatible stuff. Whereas Burke is a liberal who had only the liberal-compatible parts of conservatism, but wasn't some kind of stasis-sympathizer.