Burke: Finally a Promoter of Natural Reason
Why is it that almost every philosopher asserts that we must use our ability to reason in current times to correct the many mistakes of the past? Why is it that they insist that we can be so much smarter now, or any single person can be smarter, than the general consensus of prior civilizations and people; didn’t they have the same innate capability to think reasonably and intelligently that we possess now? Burke uproots the traditional philosophical trend of declaring a need for a complete upheaval, a need to start over and recreate a society that will be somehow profoundly better than the one we already reside in.
Burke states, ” A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” (503).
In other words, he is essentially defending tradition. He is appealing to many in that he is actually realistic; people of the past did not get everything wrong. There are many codes of conduct and simple ways of the world that have developed and held because they were in fact right. In the above quotation, he does address that change can be beneficial and necessary (by the use of the word generally to provide for exceptions), however, he counters that by saying that nothing that forwards society can be established without maintaining some of the aspects of it that have proven to work. The entire system does not have to be effaced and declared utterly flawed; instead, minor enhancements are totally allowed but we have no right to assume that individually, we have an idea that solves all the problems in a society. In saying this, he takes a shot at many philosophers that came before him, especially Rousseau, invoking the concept that a following of Rousseau’s basic principles, the ideas of one man, led to the gruesome, deadly Revolution in France. Tradition didn’t spout out of thin air, Burke explores, it was agreed upon and lasted most likely because it was deemed reasonable by the general population over a longevity of time.