I have just read the only explanation of Burkeanism I have seen that makes any sense to me*:
The greatest political thinker of the late 18C, Edmund Burke, had demonstrated that stabel governments depend not on force but on habit– the ingrained, far from stupid obedience to the laws and ways of the country as they have been and are.
It follows that to replace by fiat one set of forms with another, thought up by some improver, no matter how intelligent, ends in disaster. To expect such a scheme to prosper is unreasonable because habits do not form overnight. Change is inevitable and often desirable, but it serves a good purpose only when gradual…
– Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence
Burke in the hands of those insufferable Burkians (Russel Kirk, for instance) turns politics into something poetically beyond and more wonderful than the rational, as though it participates in a Pascalian transcendence of reason.** In Barzun’s hands, it is nothing of the sort; politics, tradition, forms of government, and conservatism are a means to an end, a liberal end even, rather than ends in themselves.
I’d like to be able to comment on who is interpreting Burke correctly (I suspect it’s Barzun, because people’s followers are always taking them too far)***, but I still haven’t gotten through the first chapter of Reflections on the Revolution in France that Hannah got me last Christmas. (I want to; I’ll keep trying)Old Edmund rambled endlessly. Eighteenth century writing style is no excuse; Madison had an eighteenth century writing style, but he also knew he had to persuade before his reader needed to go out and milk the cows, so he bloody well got to the point.
* Possibly including Burke’s own, but that I haven’t gotten through. See below in text
** Pascal: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” That I agree with.
*** In Burke’s case, the attraction is he allows you to say “ah HA! Your argument is based on lowly reason. You lose!”