Political philosophy Archives
June 14, 2015
New number of The Christendom Review
In the latest issue of The Christendom Review I write at some length about Burke's supreme statesmanship, his consistency as a thinker, and his hard gritty work to changes men's minds.
His public utterances and letters are a treasury of the English language, but to understand the full lineaments of his statesmanship, we are obliged to reconstruct what he said and did outside the public record. Consider the Indian reform that concentrated his exertions for nearly a decade. We can say with confidence that the spring for the Warren Hastings Impeachment, long before Burke began the immense public effort of the trial itself, was a work of private persuasion. He had to rally a party around him.
Once he discovered the corruption and despotism prevalent in British India, under Governor General Warren Hastings, he went to work, first privately amongst his party, then publicly before the nation, to expose and reform it. He built an alliance for the ages: That intense Irishman turned the whole Whig coalition, ordinarily quite favorably disposed toward property and commerce, against the East India Company, a chartered establishment of commercial property; and then he took on the British imperial monarchy by the force of this coalition. The Crown had to cajole and buy the House of Lords in order to insure an acquittal for Hastings.
But parliamentary oppositions were here to stay. And that is no small thing.
Dissent organized within the integrity of the state but with contrary political goals and interests to the ruling party — this would be a new establishment in the political affairs of men. One of Burke’s lasting achievements, then, was the principle of patriotic partisanship: private party association rising to the dignity of the Loyal Opposition. The final integration of this Anglo-American principle would have to wait until the American Election of 1800 ended with Jefferson proclaiming “we are all Federalists, we are all Republicans,” but Burke was its earliest great vindicator. He “was the first to argue” — in the shrewd summation of Harvey Mansfield — “that principled behavior in politicians must inevitably be partisan, and that partisanship is not only occasionally necessary in emergencies but useful and respectable in the ordinary working of the constitution.” This was a new thing upon the earth, and the fact that we all take it for granted now is a measure of Burke’s genius.
This new issue also features an excellent essay by Beth Impson and a wide variety of poetry.
[By the way, if you think the sparse layout of the TCR's website (not unlike our own here at What's Wrong with the World), is out-of-step with the times, I can only reply that it's a heck of a lot better than fashionable websites that launch annoying auto-videos or incorrigible pop-up ads for crankish products.]