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Modern Conservatism and Burke

November 10, 2010

How much would today’s conservatives align themselves with Burke?  Before we discuss this, we must delve further into Burke’s theories and place them into the context of the French Revolution.

An English conservative, Burke strongly favored divinely inherited monarchy.  When Reflections on the Revolution in France was written, the French Revolution had just begun.  The one-year old revolution had just deposed the king and queen, essentially sending France into anarchy.

England was situated very differently.  The monarchs held great power, but that power was kept in check by a strong parliament.  This balance lead to recent English political stability.  Liberalism had swept through France and threatened to spread to England.  This put a great amount of fear into the thoughts of conservatives in England satisfied with the status quo.

Now that we can understand the context behind Burke’s reactions, we can see parallels to today’s political spectrum.

If Burke were to align himself with any political party in the United States, it would be the Republican Party.  However, the similarities are not endless.

On a basic level, today’s conservatives in the United States still full-heartedly support democracy, where as Burke favored a monarchy where the monarchs had great power.  This power was so great, according to Burke, that it was wrong to consider a Queen a mere women, because that allowed for her to be killed (as seen in France).

Continually, Burke argues for democracy to be avoided due to the fact that too much power would be placed in the hands of common people and anarchy could result.  As much as that sounds ridiculous to us, for Burke, democracy represented a change to the status quo.

This is where I see a parallel to modern republicans.  Many republicans today argue against change, especially when it comes to the recent presidential election.  Now-President Obama ran his campaign on a platform of change and new reforms.  His success was largely in part due to the failures of the previous Bush administration.  The same can be said for the French Revolution.  The failures of the previous monarchy (socially/culturally, economically, and diplomatically) led to a call for change.  Obviously, as we now know, the change brought about during the French Revolution was far more severe.

However, in 2012, the republicans ran on a platform of a return to the status quo, arguing against the promised change brought about by Obama.  This found quite a bit of success, thus resonating Burke’s ideas of a return to the status quo, which for him at the time was a powerful monarchy that was essentially above the law.

Also, both modern conservatives and Burke argued that religion united a nation.  According to both, this may be used to consolidate the power of the monarch/regime in power.  Religion, as argued by Burke, promotes the common good.  Many conservatives agree, as seen by some campaigns based off of returning to Christian values.

For me, Burke and his ideas represent what would be an extreme of modern conservatism.  Both argue for a return to the status quo, Burke just takes his ideas of the power of the central government to a greater level, arguing against democracy as a whole.

One Comment
  1. thacarter4 permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:43 PM

    I agree that Burke is on the right of the political spectrum and that the modern republican party is somewhere on the right as well, but I;m not sure how much they really overlap as far as political substance. Burke’s monarchism places him so far on the right that it’s almost impossible to reconcile his views with anything modern. Conservatives advocate traditionalism but only to a certain extent, the 2010 election was about change just as the 2008 one was but just about different changes in forming a smaller government, which Burke really wouldn’t have advocated.

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