Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Today is Edmund Burke‘s birthday (1729-1797).

Consistent with our postings this week on responsible speech and the broader social compact it manifests, here’s Frye in The Well-Tempered Critic on Edmund Burke, a  conservative who puts to shame jibbering hysterics like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and company:

If we ask what is the natural way to talk, the answer is that it depends on which nature is being appealed to.  Edmund Burke remarked that art is man’s nature, that it is natural to man to be in a state of cultivation, and the remark has behind it the authority of our whole cultural and religious tradition.  What is true of nature is also true of freedom.  The half-baked Rousseauism in which most of us have been brought up has given us a subconsciousness notion that the free act is the untrained act.  But of course freedom has nothing to do with lack of training.  We are not free to move until we have learned to walk; we are not free to express themselves musically until we have learned music; we are not capable free thought unless we can think.  Similarly, free speech cannot have anything to do with the mumbling and the grousing of the ego.  Free speech is cultivated and precise speech: even among university students not all capable of it or would know if they lost it. (CW 21, 334-5)

That’s true also of politicians who have never attempted to process cultivated and precise speech, and whose idea of freedom is accordingly untrammeled licence for the plutocratic elite they represent and diminishing returns for everyone else.

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