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No, Burke…We Should Defy Tradition

November 14, 2010

Edmund Burke makes a strong point in his “Reflections of the Revolution in France:” people should not stray from tradition because we gain political knowledge from our forefathers.  This may seem obvious and rational because most people look to their parents and grandparents for views on ideologies.  We even still look for guidance from religious institutions (that have been present for centuries).  Fact is, in our individual lives we look to tradition for guidance.

However, if we look at America as a whole, we may have a different answer.  If our forefathers, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and a whole constitutional convention delegation had followed the tradition that preceded them, we may  not be here today.  Most definitely, our lives would not be the same as they are today.

The American Revolution and the events leading up to the revolution were all acts that defied tradition.  Of course, the original protests such as the Stamp Act Congress and James Otis’s pamphlet that touched on the injustices being brought upon by the British, were not used for independence, they were simply used just to improve the colonies’ liberties.  However, the events that followed were put in place to defy tradition, walk away from old institutions, and create a new nation.

Yes, Edmund Burke did not support the French Revolution, which may indicate that he would not have supported the American Revolution.  But, one must think: were the American colonies better off before or after they left tradition in the dust?  Coming from a citizen that adores her country because it provides her with liberty, a chance to receive a solid education, and a chance to practice my Judaism freely, I would say that leaving tradition back in England was the best possible thing for the people of this country.

What do you say? Should the forefathers have stuck to tradition and kept under British Rule, or was breaking from tradition and an old institution the most advantageous thing for the colonists to do? (Find my poll and answer!)

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  1. spriel permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:25 AM

    I would definitely have to agree with your logic, as I enjoy our countries for the same reason that you mention. I think it is important to recognize and accept the work and actions of the forefathers before us, but we should not always stick with that tradition. The reason for this is that times change, and needs change, and if we did not stray from our forefathers,the USA, the country of the American Dream, would not exist.

  2. crorey permalink
    November 15, 2010 4:22 PM

    Burke’s argument that we should follow tradition is confounded with the idea that we should follow the practices that work. Should American have followed the tradition of slavery and followed the tradition of being ruled by a Monarch? My favorite high school teacher frequently quoted his church minister saying “Don’t follow the old and traditional just because it’s old and traditional. On the other hand, don’t follow dismiss the old and traditional just because it’s old and traditional.” Although Burke brings up a good point that preserving tradition has reliability and can provide good, often times we view situations in a new light and need to make drastic changes to the way we live. It makes a lot more sense to say follow the traditions that work instead of saying follow traditions in general.

  3. adamarcher permalink
    November 15, 2010 4:33 PM

    It goes without saying that rebellion and the founding of a new nation is not ecactly streamlined with “tradition”, however the founding fathers were all well versed political theorists and thinkers, and knew the risks that they were taking. They had studied the results of previous world actions and knew the risks of what they were doing. In this respect they were somwhat Burkian. They were not rash and hopefull, they were carefull and calculated and this is what the essential aspect of conservatism is. After all Burk himself advocates change, when it is needed and when its implementation is studied and planned based on the information that we can garner from the past.

  4. vdeepa permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:13 AM

    In line with the fact that Burke supported the British revolution, I think that Burke also would have supported the American Revolution. As adamarcher points out, ” the founding fathers were all well versed political theorists and thinkers, and knew the risks that they were taking”. Burke frequently implied that the French Revolution was corrupt but never truly identified what made their actions different from the British. In hindsight, he was able to look back and say that, yes, the British Revolution was for the better but, as much as he advocates sticking with tradition, he wouldn’t have known this if the British didn’t take a risk. Sometimes one must try something new in the hope of something better.

    • valeriejuan permalink
      November 17, 2010 11:59 AM

      agreed, I think Burke would be for the American Revolution.

  5. jaclburr permalink
    November 16, 2010 11:50 AM

    I like that you tie this into the American Revolution, which is always something I think of whenever discussing rebellion and such. You raise an excellent point, I am in favor of the breaking of tradition done by our forefathers. I think there is a place for tradition, of course, and there is certainly much merit in seeking the advice of those who have “been there” many times before you. However, we must simply analyze that advice and tradition, and see if it should still apply to us. In some cases, sure, and in some, such as the forefathers found during the American Revolution, it is in the best interest of ourselves for that tradition to be broken.

  6. mikeking0717 permalink
    November 16, 2010 10:24 PM

    The emphasis here obviously leans on the question: When is change good? Only through comparative knowledge can one grasp that something better exists and break tradition. Yet another benefit of diversity!

  7. valeriejuan permalink
    November 17, 2010 12:02 PM

    I have to disagree with your post, I think Burke would have supported the American Revolution because it was mostly inspired by people who were well-educated, rich, and owned property, not by his “swinish multitude.” The Founding Fathers weren’t poor villagers wallowing in poverty, like his descriptions of the French Revolutionaries. The American Founding Fathers built a country based on such moral and political values that could only be explained through an inspiration from the numerous writings and books they undoubtedly studied throughout their extensive educations.
    Jefferson, Madison, Ben Frankin… these were ALL extremely well-respected and educated people, even in early Colonial America. So, I am choosing to say that the American Revolutionaries were actually in line with what Burke said about people knowing their place in society, class-wise. These were the higher-class people, and they were very well-qualified (even by Burke’s standards) to start a change in the government.

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