Where are the Burkeans?
William Stuntz, Harvard Law
Along with Friedrich Hayek, Edmund Burke is among the intellectual fathers of American conservatism. Hayek taught conservatives to love freedom. Burke taught conservatives to respect tradition even when its rationale seems obscure, for tradition often represents the accumulated wisdom of generations past.
Burke gave us another set of ideas that seems to have fallen by the wayside in contemporary American politics, and in contemporary American conservatism: the value of prudence and judgment in public life, and along with those virtues, the merits of republicanism rather than plebiscitary democracy. Written in 1777, Burke's letter to his electors at Bristol remains the classic statement of the elected representative's duty: to exercise his best judgment--to bring all the knowledge and experience he has to bear on the votes he must cast. The negative form of the proposition is just as important: elected representatives must not be mere wet fingers testing the political winds. Such representation amounts to voting by poll numbers and focus groups. If that is representative democracy in action, the adjective has disappeared and the noun is doing all the work. One might as well drop the middleman, and simply vote for legislation by phone-in poll.
Over the course of the last week, House Republicans--allegedly, the keepers of the conservative flame in the federal government--have behaved in a manner that should leave all true Burkeans appalled.
Read it all here.