How would Modern Conservatives View Burke?
Burke is considered a conservative political theorist, although that term means little without context. How would contemporary conservatives view Burke and his beliefs? Would American conservatives be able to relate to Burke, or would he be an outdated relic that no longer holds relevance in our political landscape? By examining “Reflections on the Revolution in France” and comparing its teachings with the views of modern conservatism, we can see how much the two share.
Much of Burke’s writing is dedicated to tradition and the importance of the past in guiding the present. He states “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer.” It is very possible that modern conservatives would largely agree with this statement, as they also often look to the past for guidance and precedent. Prominent conservative figures and politicians often reference the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution as the epitome of the “American Spirit.” On this issue, it would seem that Burke would find agreement with contemporary conservative minds.
Despite this, there are also many statements that Burke makes that would almost certainly not be well received by the American Conservative of the 21st century. For example, Burke appears to believe that freedom is not a natural right but is instead derived as a legacy from our ancestors. Americans of all political viewpoints value freedom perhaps more than any other trait and view it almost universally as something that is inalienable to all people. I find it unlikely that Burke would find many sympathizers with modern conservatives on this issue.
In addition, Burke argues that innovation and even progress derive from a lack of prudence and reverence for past tradition. “A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views.” Burke’s writings sharply contrast with the traditional American free market system, which stresses innovation and competition among individuals; progress inevitably arises from this capitalist system and ultimately benefits all of society through increased consumer choices and improved efficiency.
There are both similarities and differences between the ideologies of Burke and modern conservatism. Contemporary conservatives might agree with Burke on the importance of tradition and yet vehemently disagree on the value of innovation. By the standards of today, Burke’s degree of social conservatism would be considered extreme and would not find support with any mainstream portion of the American population. In conclusion, Burke would probably be viewed as conservative today on most issues even in relation to the stances of modern conservatives.