Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Judging Obama with Burke

I was looking at the latest Edmund Burke biography at the Corner Bookstore in Manhattan yesterday.  Well I was attending an author event for my daughter Beatriz Williams' blockbuster new book, A Hundred Summers.  It's about the big 1938 hurricane that hit New England in the fall of 1938.  It's going to be big, very big.

Listening to a flock of liberals at the party, and in particular to one enthusiast that averred that President Obama would go down as a great president, it got me to thinking.

How does Obama stack up against Edmund Burke?

The first great effort of Edmund Burke was his twelve year effort to impeach Warren Hastings, the Governor of Bengal.  I remember learning about the affair in school, but not really getting it.

But in the Obama era, you can get it, completely.  The point of impeaching Warren Hastings was to open a new era in governance.  No longer was it OK for a ruler to plunder his subjects as the mood took him.  The ruler, in this case Britain's proconsul in its new Indian empire, could not simply farm his subjects, he had to obey the law, its letter and its spirit.  He could no longer act like a Spanish conquistador or a pirate and loot and plunder.  He had to be responsible and obey the law.  The Begums of Oudh.  You could look it up.

Compare with Obama and the IRS and Fast and Furious and Obamacare and the bureaucracy run amok and the recess appointments made when Congress isn't in recess.  It is clear that President Obama recognizes no limits to his authority except those of countervailing power.

The second great effort of Edmund Burke was his support for Catholic emancipation, to stop Britain ragging on the Catholics, particularly the Catholics in Ireland.  Nominally, Burke was Protestant, but there is reason to believe that he was a crypto-Catholic; his wife remained Catholic all her life.  Burke lost his seat in Parliament in Bristol over his support for Catholic emancipation and free trade with Ireland.  Thereafter he represented a pocket borough belonging to Lord Rockingham.

Compare with Obama and his use of the IRS to harass his conservative opponents.

Then we come to Burke and his opposition to the French Revolution.  His opposition is generally framed with his denunciation of "sophisters, economists, and calculators." This was an attack on the worship of Reason, then at the height of its prestige before the attacks of Romanticism began in earnest.  Burke argued that society could not be founded on reason, nor yet on the social contract theories of the 18th century.  Society was not an arbitrary or supposed contract between the living, but a much bigger contract.  It was a contract between the generations, between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.

Compare with Obama who is spending the country into bankruptcy.  Not to overdo it, we were already heading there, but President Obama certainly seems to be insistent that we should get there in a hurry.

The problem is, of course, that government is force, politics is division.  Liberals don't recognize this, don't understand it.  They are transfixed by the notion that they are transforming society from bad to good.  They do not get that it matters, profoundly, how society gets transformed.  The fatal flaw in the Obama method is that his vision is a vision of power.  The thing is to get to the progressive millennium, any way you can.

The whole point of Burke's philosophy is that reform or revolution by itself means nothing.  What matter is how you implement change.  Humans are social animals, not mechanical slaves.

We will soon learn to appreciate the sublime wisdom of Edmund Burke better.  Thanks to President Obama, the great.

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