What is a “Conservative”?

Born 12 January 1729 – Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, orator, political theorist, and philosopher. Though the noun “conservative” in American political usage has generally become synonymous with “religious zealot,” “ideological extremist,” and “corporate shill,” Edmund Burke was the genuine article. Throughout his career, he consistently defended traditional social norms but also recognized that creative change is necessary to preserve the political, intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and economic health of both individuals and nations. For example, though steadfastly loyal to British cultural values, Burke supported the cause of American Revolutionaries. I wonder how many self-styled conservatives among the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates have even heard of Edmund Burke, let alone read his work (presuming that all of them can and do read).

As readers ponder the quotations from Edmund Burke posted below, I ask them to consider which ones would delight Tea Party partisans and which ones would appall them – and why. What, then, do these candidates and their respective supporters mean by their frequently stated claim that they, and they alone, are the “true” conservatives?


“All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” 

“A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”

“But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”

“Custom reconciles us to everything.”
“
If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” 

“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.”

“Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.”

“Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement.”

“The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.” 
“Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety.”

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

”It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”

“When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.”

Edmund Burke - Conservative

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