An Irishman who served many years in the British Parliament, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is considered the father of conservatism.
Edmund Burke is considered the father of conservatism. He spoke and wrote during the 18th Century during a time of great political upheaval in Europe and in the Americas. His views, though dated according to his own time, can still shed light on the conservative impulse and lead us to understand what it means to be conservative and to stand for conservative values.
I take this quote from a speech he gave, entitled Reflections on the French Revolution. This appears in the book, The Works of Edmund Burke.
When the people have emptied themselves of all the lust of selfish will, which without religion it is utterly impossible they ever should, when they are conscious that they exercise, and exercise perhaps in a higher link of the order of delegation, the power, which to be legitimate must be according to that eternal, immutable law, in which will and reason are the same, they will be more careful how they place power in base and incapable hands. In their nomination to office they will not appoint to the exercise of authority, as to a pitiful job, but as to a holy function; not according to their sordid, selfish interest, nor to their wanton caprice, nor to their arbitrary will; but they will confer that power (which any man may well tremble to give or to receive) on those only, in whom they may discern that predominant proportion of active virtue and wisdom, taken together and fitted to the charge, such, as in the great and inevitable mixed mass of human imperfections and infirmities, is to be found.
This is a lengthy quote but one well worth reading and understanding. Here's the basic idea: When electing a person into political office and giving him political power, we should only elect someone through our own careful thought and moral wisdom and choose leaders who have active virtue and wisdom.
At the risk of being pedantic, let me break this down step by step. Burke first considers those of us who put people into power. We have a duty and responsibility to rid ourselves "of all the lust of selfish will." Electing someone to power must not be a selfish act, not one based on our own lust for power. We are to act without selfishness, for the good of the whole. In other words, instead of asking "What can this candidate do for me?" we should, instead ask "What can this candidate do for the country?"
Getting rid of lust and selfishness is a tough task, one in which, according to Burke, religion plays a significant role. As he states, "without religion it is utterly impossible they ever should [be rid of lust and selfishness]." Here is a key to conservatism, belief that we should serve a higher purpose than our own base lusts. For "when they are conscious that they exercise,...the power, which to be legitimate must be according to that eternal, immutable law, in which will and reason are the same, they will be more careful how they place power in base and incapable hands."
We are to judge through a higher, immutable law in order to exercise caution in granting power to the lesser. In the US, we not only have the foundation of Christianity from which to build, but also a secular law - the Constitution. We must be extraordinarily careful in whom we grant power. We should not grant power willy-nilly, merely because a candidate pleases our ears or brings a tingle to our leg or gives us false hope or promises long-desired hedonism. We must filter our choice through the Constitution, asking such questions as: "Is this a candidate who will uphold the immutable law of the Constitution?"
If we cannot answer that question affirmatively, then we risk giving power into "incapable hands," merely to satisfy our base desires.
Again, Burke cautions us not to hand over power according to our whims, "not according to their sordid, selfish interest, nor to their wanton caprice, nor to their arbitrary will." Notice Burke's use of terms which apply to human desire: lust, sordid, selfish, wanton, arbitrary. He does not use these terms lightly and, as conservatives, we must recognize how much human feelings can play in today's politics. We elect far too many people into office merely to satisfy our own feelings, most of which are of the basest kind: lustful and selfish.
The danger, of course, is granting power to selfish, lustful, and morally weak individuals who will exercise their power for their own gain and not for the good of the whole. Instead of electing people who have "that predominant proportion of active virtue and wisdom" we find candidates who fall into "a proud and lawless domination."
This, then, is the state we find ourselves in today. Because liberal dogmas have prevailed in the United States, we find ourselves with fewer and fewer choices of candidates whose predominant portion consists of "active virtue and wisdom."
A few broad examples will suffice:
We have a US president who acts in the interests of enemy states, apologizing for America instead of acting in the best interests of his own country. We have a president who thinks we live in a Muslim nation, saying so to appease oil-rich nations. We have a vice president who admitted that no one has any clue what the massive government spending will do to the economy. We have a Speaker of the House who approves of selling our birthright to pork-barrel projects, letting our country's debt be bought up by China. We have state legislatures which are too stupid to recognize marriage when it stares them in the face and so vote to abandon a fundamental social institution to immoral expediency. We have a president and many governors fighting to take away basic civil rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. We have state governments threatening to close schools because they won't cut popular welfare programs.
What is our call to action? A recent Gallup Poll indicates that all is not lost, that the conservative mind still dominates in our country, despite shrinking in the past few years. Now, more than ever, we must find ways to politically unite our conservative ideology into a political force which can take back our country from base and incapable hands. Whether we revitalize the Republican party or create something new, we must stand in common purpose to put our country back on the track of political, social and economic responsibility. Let us have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people once again.