Friday, April 28, 2006

Inaugural Post

This is the inaugural post at "Burkean Reflections." The blog's title reflects my philosophical and ideological concerns regarding contemporary trends in American politics, culture, and national identity, U.S. foreign policy and international relations, and the state of education (and particularly the nature and patterns of educational attainment across racial, class, and household lines). I may delve, from time to time, into other areas as well -- such as perhaps my ongoing passion for Angel's baseball. (Go Angels!) But for the most part, I'll be writing about those things in the political, cultural, and educational realms that interest me most.

The perspective I've adopted is Burkean conservatism, although it's been just recently that I've gravitated to this outlook. I teach political science, with primary specialities in international relations and comparative politics. It turns out though that the needs of my department meant that I had the opportunity to develop and offer an introductory survey course in Western political thought. I'd studied political theory as an undergrad, both before and after Machiavelli. I was interested in offering the course for a variety of reasons, but one in particularly was attractive: by doing so I'd become that rare breed of political scientist that teaches introductory courses in all the four main classic subfields in the political science discipline -- American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory (AP, CP, IR, and PT ). In short, I might become a renaissance man for the postmodern age.

In teaching political theory, I'm intrigued by the idea in classical Western thought of the ultimate good -- a cosmic principle of eternal truth or justice, which was attainable according to Plato by the acquistion of ultimate knowledge through the exercise of reason. Classical Western thought is marked pretty much by recurring debates between theorists who adopt a timeless conception of an ultimate higher good (natural law) existing in the universe (and this good may be either secular or divine, the latter conception for example found in Thomistic political thought), and those who adopt a more relativistic or conventional conception of justice (the Sophists are the classical example here, while perhaps we could characterize the modern political philosophies of Machiavelli and Hobbes in this vein, although a full elaboration of their thought would be much more complicated than is possible in a brief post).

Edmund Burke, who comes along more than two millennia after Plato, figues in this discussion because of his reverence for that which came before him. Burke's what we might call a classical conservative: He stressed preserving the best attributes of society by guarding against rapid, radical, and destabilzing change. His great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), is the major statement of philosophical conservatism in Western thought . Burke stressed reverence for the "wisdom of the ages." Societies should be very careful in protecting established rights and institutions, because these regimes and orders have evolved as legitimate over time. Burke argued that the French Revolution promoted extremely rapid and radical change, creating a dynamic that went way beyond reform to wipe out, root and branch, the entire edifice of the French ancien regime. The problem was that in doing so the French revolutionaries completed discarded the elemental fiber of the old moral and political order. To establish, in overthrowing the monarchy, the "natural rights" of the French people, the revolutionaries destroyed the entire social system and institutions that gave those rights a basis for existence.

Now, I'm no expert on this (and perhaps this blog will allow me to write-up some long expositions on Burkean philosophy), but my gut feeling is that Burke gets the big picture right, with reference to the accumulated heritage of a nation and a people. Americans should be careful as a society in pushing reform and establishing new rights. We are blessed with the most stable constitutional regime in the world. The U.S. Constitution has been changed only infrequently, but at the same time the political system has responded to the democratic pressures placed on it to expand rights of suffrage and inclusion to wider segments of the population, so much so that today we are, in least in a de jure sense, a nation of universal political rights. However, our system today, tragically, is threatened by some of the darkest forces of tyranny and oppression to emerge since the totalitarian era of the mid-twentieth century. I am talking of course about the 2001 terrorist attacks and the global struggle against the radical Islamist challenge to the West.

I will blog much more about this later, of course. But let me summarize the final purpose of this thread: For me, while the attacks on New York and Washington were surprising, shocking, and deeply saddening, it has been my initial ignorance of, and now my growing edification toward, the radical political left in the U.S. that has influenced this Burkean blog project. No other single topic or object of analysis in my entire career as a political scientist has worried me as has contemporary anti-Americanism. I have learned about the complex nature of the radical left in this country, and its ties to, for example, transnational movements to deligitimize the nation-state and the principle of national sovereignty, the world's anti-globalization forces, and pro-Palestian organizations bent on the destruction of Israel. Some American antiwar activists and organizations have known ties with Islamic terrorists (attorney and terrorist legal defender Lynne Stewart, who was recently convicted in New York of abetting Islamist terrorist organizations, comes to mind). In writing this, I realize either how naive or deluded I must sound, depending on whom might read this post. As I become more skilled at blogging, I'll be adding the relevant links to the sources for my ideas and claims. But make no mistake: I'm not some crackpot, paleoconservative out to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement, send women back to the kitchen, or abolish the right to an abortion. I'm a pragmatist who voted for President Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, and Al Gore in 2000. I backed G.W. Bush in 2004 though, and I often wish we didn't have the 22nd Amendment so that he could serve another term and continue the overseas battle against the Islamo-fascists, thus protecting the American homeland.

Enough for now. My hope is that this blog allows me to share my knowledge, as well as vent my concerns and frustrations, and in so doing I might contribute to positive and pragmatic political stability and moderately progressive change. Should any thoughtful readers happen upon this post, welcome to Burkean Reflections. Informed and constructive comments are (or at least, will be) welcomed.

1 comment:

Steve Landis said...

Donald, I failed to thank you for your constructive feedback to a recent post of mine. I do not agree that I am engaging in "useless diatribes" but will and have taken your feedback into account going forward. As my expectation out of political blogging is to learn a thing or three, you are helping. I have given your blog an initial glance, have considered providing a new section to my links for the 'balanced right' viewpoint and am now in the process of reading everything you have thus-far posted.

I am not a left-wing liberal nut-job. Rather, I am more of a centrist who leans somewhat conservatively in some respects, more liberally in others. I am not a socialist but believe we are failing our public in so many respects and could do worlds better. Although I think the war on terror - in theory - is one we apsoultely should and must fight, the war in Iraq has been a horribly bungled affair from the start and continues to be among the worst executed military events in our nation's history. I do know a thing or two about military matters.

Although I look forward to reading more of your posts and may even provide a link on my blog, I am concerned that your blind support for any effort, which mirrors what the Bush administration has thus-far screwed-up is a sign of the misguided Republican-right; you say would wish Bush could continue his war on terror but to what end? His foreign and war-on-terror policy has been so badly managed; his poorly executed efforts have indirectly led to the destablized status of Iraq today and to the unnecessary deaths of so many inocent citizens of both America and Iraq... Wow. How much worse does this Commander in Chief need to be for you to accept the fact that G.W. Bush may very well have a lasting legacy as the worst president of these United States?