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Burke and “Idiocracy”

December 10, 2010

“The nobility and the clergy, the one by profession, the other by patronage, kept learning in existence, even in the midst of arms and confusions, and whilst governments were rather in their causes than formed. Learning paid back what it received to nobility and to priesthood… Along with its natural protectors and guardians, [eventually] learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.”

-Edmund Burke “Reflections on the Revolution in France”

In this passage of “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke is describing how certain individuals maintained learning and science throughout the feudal dark ages of Europe.  Learning repaid these individuals with wealth, skills, and status of the upper echelon of society.

However, nowadays people in general aren’t paying enough respect to old traditions that have brought mankind to its current development.  Burke believes this trend is more than dangerous, it is corrupting our society as a whole.  Burke believes that this under appreciation for education and tradition will eventually lead to a population comprised of the “swinish multitude”.

This idea of a nation-wide “dumbing down” of our culture has also been explored by others, including some in Hollywood.  The film Idiocracy (2006), directed by Mike Judge, sets star, Luke Wilson, in a future where Americans are much dumber and their moral values have been eroded.  Some characters’ lack of intelligence is taken to tongue-in-cheek extremes in the film, but viewers will recognize definite parallels to modern day society.  For example, the United States government is subsidized by a fast food chain Carl’s Junior, definitely a jab at the growing commercialism of modern day.

Is it possible that Burke predicted this departure from traditionalism?  Many young Americans express distaste for the customs and preferences of their parents.  As years pass, each previous generation seems to look on the next with disdain.  Everything about young culture is always criticized; books, music and movies are described as “inappropriate” and “scandalous”.  Combine this with a perceived lack of emphasis on education, and society could be hurdling towards a future not far from the one depicted in Idiocracy.  Perhaps we should listen to Mr. Burke.

One Comment
  1. arimark91 permalink
    December 10, 2010 8:57 PM

    While I do agree that Burke would be upset that children are breaking away from the traditions of their parents, I do not agree that breaking away from tradition is making people less intelligent. I think that comparing society today to the film Idiocracy is a little bit of an exaggeration. However, Burke definitely would be upset that many of us are no longer learning valuable lessons from our elders.

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