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Edmund Burke and Hannah More’s Mistake

March 23, 2011

While I support prudent change, I disagree with the claim that we must preserve our ancestral fabric and solely build upon tradition.  Human progress is the expansion of all ideas and an honest debate on those ideas in order to best promote our growth as humans.  Depending on the style of government, human progress takes a distinct trajectory.  Human progress can take different paths and modes of advancement depending on how government promotes or restricts relevant public ideas. 

I argue that a monarchy supports the ideals of one person and human progress relies on the whim and opinion of this one individual.  As a result, human progress builds not upon the “tradition” of a society, but of a monarch.  A constitutional democracy promotes ideas to preserve and advance human progress because it looks to us for human progress, not the individual to delineate human progress.  This form of government provides a path for human progress that allows this progress to build upon itself quickly, yet correctly.  Thus, we ought to have a government that provides the ideal format, that is, gives the best trajectory, for us to progress. 

Revolution is extreme, yet the decision to revolt can be prudent.  What Edmund Burke and Hannah More incorrectly presume is that revolution, the French revolution specifically, creates an enduring Hobbesian state of nature with no end.  This is incorrect because revolution engages in a course correction, not a permanent state of nature.  Revolution takes a society off of a certain trajectory, by dismantling it, and then installs a new government that provides a different path for human progress.  Whether the revolution is beneficial depends on whether the newly installed government provides a path for human progress that can build upon itself quickly. Hannah More simply argues of the consequences, which are usually brief, of revolution when she describes a Hobbesian state of nature.  She overlooks the previous generations’ inaction, yet those same generations have always thought what makes a better life, and she focuses solely on the action of the current French generation.  She is oblivious to knowing that the revolution was prudent.  The revolution was a response to generations of oppression and to generations of thought on how life can be better and how government can best empower human progress.

 The consequences of the American Revolution attest to a great correction change that promoted human progress.  The American Revolution forever changed the direction of our society and this revolution implemented a framework in which human progress can build upon itself in fast succession.  As evidence of our being on the right path, we have taken substantive steps to benefit our society such as the civil rights movement without the need of revolution.  Our civil rights movement would be ineffective if our human progress was in a path dictated by a monarchy.  Thus, Burke and More overlook the concept that revolution tears down an existing government that provides a certain path for human progress and instills a new government that supplies a new trajectory for human progress. They also simply assume a persistent Hobbesian state of nature after a revolution.

The diagram today in lecture, March 23rd, which depicts Kant’s order for how the sphere of publicity grows through empowerment by the state, is human progress.  Nevertheless, how the sphere of publicity grows depends on the type of state.  Thus, sometimes it is beneficial to revolt so that society can introduce a new state that best empowers the sphere of publicity, and therefore promotes the best path for human progress.


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