My colleague Yuval Levin, in his dissertation comparing Edmund Burke and Thomase Paine(“The Great Law of Change”), points out that Burke believed in the complexity of human nature and the limits of human reason. He warned of the dangers of relying simply on speculative theories and mistaking politics for metaphysics. And he insisted on the importance of learning from circumstances, from the concrete and particular in human life. Burke wrote that government is “a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind” – not “to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians.” The danger facing statesmen, he warned, is when they view self-government “as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling.” This created in Burke an “essential moderation,” according to Levin, a modesty in our capacity to understand the patterns of human nature and the actions of human beings. There is no unified field theory that explains everything.
This doesn’t mean Burke didn’t believe enduring principles should guide our politics; it simply means Burke believed the practical application of those principles in human affairs is difficult and often imprecise, that we have to rely on the accumulated wisdom of those who came before us, that even the wisest among us has an imperfect and incomplete understanding of things, and that radicals can become “blind disciples of their own particular presumption.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Nice points here by Peter Wehner: