In order to know where one is headed, it is equally important to know where one has been. History. It does not change. There are some groups out there that do their best to rewrite it. However, as hard as they are working to subvert the minds of tomorrow, there are a silent few who continue to keep history alive.
Also, what it is to be conservative continues to be under attack. And, it may just be because they don’t know and understand. Again, it is funny how many things point us back to history. Time has a way of bringing things full circle.
This election cycle has certainly opened the eyes of many. And, they search for an understanding of things. So, with this commentary series, we’ll be taking a look back in order to look forward.
First up in the series we will take a look at Edmund Burke’s public Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, in which he highlights the character of civil freedom.
“[The] way still before you is intricate, dark, and full of perplexed and treacherous mazes. Those who think they have the clue may lead us out of this labyrinth. We may trust them as amply as we think proper; but as they have most certainly a call for all the reason which their stock can furnish, why should we think it proper to disturb its operation by inflaming their passions?”
Burke’s idea here, as he reflected on the direction of America, says plain and simple that things just aren’t that easy. And, it wasn’t. As it is today, things are extremely complex. Yet, at the same time, simple. We have been cautioned at every turn to question those seeking power and dominion over us. He certainly points to this saying to “trust them as amply as we think proper.” We should never put our entire trust in one person. We should only give enough trust as we see proper given the circumstances.
“The poorest being that crawls on earth, contending to save itself from injustice and oppression, is an object respectable in the eyes of God and Man. But I cannot conceive any existence under Heaven, (which, in the depths of its wisdom, tolerates all sorts of things) that is more truly odious and disgusting, than an impotent helpless creature, without civil wisdom or military skill, without a consciousness of any other qualification for power but his servility to it, bloated with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to fight, contending for a violent dominion which he can never exercise, and satisfied to be himself mean and miserable, in order to render others contemptible and wretched.”
This is a call from Burke to put serious thought into the people we promote to higher office. He cautions us to not blindly trust someone who doesn’t have the experience and ‘civil wisdom or military skill.’ He warns that being ‘bloated with pride and arrogance’ are not a qualification for power. That, when all of these things are combined, it leads to a ‘mean and miserable’ person set solely on ‘[rendering] others contemptible and wretched.’
Burke understood that we exist under the dominion of Heaven, that we are lead by a moral and just God. This understanding is what some claim his entire argument to circle around, and that is, God has granted us certain freedoms of which give us the ability to self-govern. That is the entire argument for America.
“If there be one fact in the world perfectly clear, it is this: “That the disposition of the people of America is wholly averse to any other than a free government”; and this is indication enough to any honest statesman, how he ought to adapt whatever power he finds in his hands to their case. If any ask me what a free government is, I answer that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so; and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.”
Again, understanding that we are entrusted with the ability to self-govern, we are entrusted with the opportunity to choose who we want to be our representatives. And, those selected as our representatives, are a direct definition of what we collectively determine our ‘free government’ to be.
Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s revisit what Burke touched on earlier. The complexity of this entire process, and the reward, which we are entrusted to maintain, freedom.
What we determine to be a ‘free government’ rests upon the shoulders of those we select to represent us. So, if we are choosing to elect someone ill-equipped and ‘bloated with pride and arrogance,’ then we must face the consequence of those choices, and the freedoms which they oppose. One of nature’s laws says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, what you seek to gain in the now you must give up something to gain it. We must always remember how precious it is to operate under a free government.
“There are people, who have split and anatomise the doctrine of free government, as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity; and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling. They have disputed, whether liberty be a positive or a negative idea; whether it does not consist in being governed by laws; without considering what are the laws, or who are the makers; whether man has any rights by nature; and whether all the property he enjoys be not the alms of his government, and his life itself their favour and indulgence. Others corrupting religion, as these have perverted philosophy, contend, that Christians are redeemed into captivity; and the blood of the Saviour of mankind has been shed to make them the slaves of a few proud and insolent sinners. These shocking extremes provoking to extremes of another kind, speculations are let loose as destructive to all authority, as the former are to all freedom; and every government is called tyranny and usurpation which is not formed on their fancies. In this manner the stirrers-up of this contention, not satisfied with distracting our dependencies and filling them with blood and slaughter, are corrupting our understanding: they are endeavouring to tear up, along with practical liberty, all the foundations of human society, all equity and justice, religion and order.”
This is one of the strongest arguments Burke presents in this writing. And that is, we should not hide up our civil freedom. Rather, we should do everything we can to promote it. It is a blessing beyond what many of us can measure.
Again, allow for one second, to revisit what was presented earlier. The maze of complexity. As we are to measure those who seek power and office, we are to measure the consequences that will result from those same individuals. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who seek total control, while those opposite of them, are willing to risk too much liberty. Either of which should be restrained. Which, brings us to the final point of Burke, limited liberty.
“The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere. Because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty too must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint it is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise, publick council, to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist, For liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened.”
Liberty and civil freedom should be the promotion of every free government. Yet the beauty of the complexity can be found in its simplicity.