December 18, 2019

NEIGHBOR LOVE:

Edmund Burke and the Dignity of the Human Person (Bradley J. Birzer, December 17th, 2019, The Imaginative Conservative)

Contrary to much modern conservative and traditionalist misunderstandings, Burke embraced completely the concept of natural rights, though he feared that any attempt to define such rights as this or that would end in a disaster of abstractions. "I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society," Burke wrote in 1790. "I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction." Properly understood, rights come from the laws of nature, Burke wrote, but they did so not as a direct line, but rather as refracted light. Rights must always and everywhere take into account the complex nature not only of man but, especially, of men. "The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned."

Thus, when he challenged the French Revolutionaries, he shocked the contemporaries of his generation. What made the French so different from the Americans, the Irish, the Indians, or the Africans? The French and their allies--even those in England--"are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgot his nature." They desire a gift without the giving, an advantage without a corresponding duty. "A cheap, bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty, appear flat and vapid to their taste," he charged.

Perhaps, most tellingly, however, the French Revolutionaries and their allies denied not just the complexity but the romance of human nature. Famously, Burke rallied against the supposed gentlemen of France who did not defend the queen. "Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and cavaliers," he wrote. "I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult." Yet, Burke had to admit, such an age of honor had passed, and that of the utilitarians--those who would use man and men to their own advantage and, horrifically, as a means to an end--had arrived.

Not content merely to criticize, Burke also offered solutions to such dreadful actions and inactions by the French. First, one must see the human being not for what he is, or the worst that is within him, but rather, clothed in the "wardrobe of moral imagination," a glimpse of what the person could be and is, by God, meant to be. [...]

Second, Burke argues here and elsewhere that our true affection must begin at the most local and immediate level possible, recognizing what the Roman Catholics call subsidiarity, a manifestation of power at its most personal. We do not love abstractions such as nation, for example, but we do love our fathers, our mothers, our siblings, our uncles and aunts, our cousins, our friends, our mentors, and our neighbors.



Posted by at December 18, 2019 12:00 AM

  

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