Touchstone of Conservative Thought Edmund Burke

The following sample essay on Edmund Burke Alexis De Tocqueville discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.

Edmund Burke has long been a touchstone of conservative thought. His writing of Reflections on the Revolution in France quickly became the manifesto of conservative public opinion. The French revolution was a complete revolution where the French tried to change everything. Burke believed that too much change and abstractness could be damaging and have the consequence of putting things into the state of chaos.

Burke was a firm believer in epistemology: we know because of the past, and by looking at the past, we are able to know.

In his writing it is evident that Burke takes issue with allowing people the right to choose their own rulers, to change rulers who engage in misconduct, and to create a government to their liking. Burke argues that the abstractness of human equality has the potential to be detrimental to a state.

Alexis de Tocqueville is a Frenchmen who came to America and published the writing Democracy in America. This text is a two-volume study of American people and their institutions. Tocqueville is a philosopher who looked to culture and institutions shaped by culture as the keys to understanding political and social worlds.

Edmund Burke Alexis De Tocqueville

His major break through is the distinction between political power and social power. Democracy on America deals with issues like religion, press, money, class structure, role of government.

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These issues that are still as relevant today as they were then. Tocqueville, similarly to Burke, sees destructive aspects to a political regime focused on theoretical equality. What disgusted Burke the most was the metaphysical: the belief that political outcome should be guided by the theoretical doctrine, universal principle, and appeals to abstract rights. Burke rejects the fundamental properties of equality because of its abstractness.

The notion of equality has no conceptual meaning; therefore it is rash to construct a state on this thought. The importance of what works and matters in a political hemisphere is not that of philosophical thought, but rather the texture of a way of life. Burke points out that in the process of orchestrating a civil society; one needs to look at the whole. Since we only know parts of the whole that have been taught to us from the past, abstract thought cannot further us for the future. “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated.

From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer. ” (Burke PG 68) Instead, enforce rights, laws, and policy with the focus on deliberate learned outcomes from the past and making changes in increments. History focuses on the distinguished and one cannot prove that something is equal or unequal; nature in itself is seen to be unequal. Societies should change as organic bodies do, very slowly and with prudence. For Burke, history- the fact that we have done something in a particular way for a very long time is rationality in itself, incomparable and more persuasive than any abstract thought.

As a philosopher and critic of politics, Tocqueville was different from nearly everyone by not probing for the automatic society. The premise for such society was that if humans could simply find the right formula and implement it, a government would no longer be needed- the goal being that society would function on the basis of these right principles. Contrarily, Tocqueville had the impression that the maintenance of democratic republics requires governmental, private, and public associations to work together to constantly rebalance political and social forces. Tocqueville was weary of the dreadful effects equality would have on a society.

He believed equality lead to two things: servitude and anarchy. He was skeptical that genuine equality would lead to tyrannical majority. The mores of having a majority rule is partly based upon the notion that there is more intelligence and wisdom in a number of men amalgamated than a single individual, and also the fact that the relevance of the many are to be superior to those of the minority. The unlimited authority of the majority has the power to urge the minorities into isolation, desperation and atomization. Individuals with different opinions conform to the majority out of fear or pressure executed by the whole country.

Having all be equal would result in a powerful majority that has no checks and balances, and unlimited power has been seen in the past to be a bad and dangerous thing. His point can be seen in this passage “When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere under other laws. “(Tocqueville Book 1, Ch 15, PG 252) The majority has all of the powers in its hands and is able to make and execute the laws resulting in a tyrannical democracy.

Tocqueville believes the way to solve this is through associations. Associations create a barrier between the individual and the government. Associations allow individuals to feel as though they belong and make a difference. Furthermore, associations provide a chance for other ideas and solutions to be present and diminish the authority of the majority. Instead of abstaining from government or withdraw of interest from politics because of the pity of isolation, associations allow independence to be recognized and not punishable.

Tocqueville states this, “The independence of each individual is formally recognized; the tendency of the members of the association points, as it does in the body of the community, towards the same end, but they are not obliged to follow the same track. No one abjures the exercise of his reason and his free will; but every one exerts that reason and that will for the benefit of a common undertaking. ” (Tocqueville Book 1, Ch 12, PG 195) Both political philosophers can agree on equality as a belief and personal passion.

Nonetheless, equality in its truest form can only be seen in a utopian society. Burke and Tocqueville see concerns with the construction of a society on abstract reasoning. Attempting to level never equalizes, nature has never and will never conform to the theoretical notion of equality. People need to have equal rights, but not an equal right to have equal things. Whatever each man can do separately, with out infringing and trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself. A rule of a majority has the possibility for detrimental effects within a society.

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Touchstone of Conservative Thought Edmund Burke
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