Edmond Burke is best known for the quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He was also the first and, some would say, the best advocate of conservatism. He held that rulers are only “trustees for the people” and, in describing the character of an effective leader he said: “the temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of a Statesman.”
It may be useful to contrast and compare the way conservatism was defined, at the time of our nation’s founding, against what is sold as conservatism today. True conservatives understand the difference between that pride that comes before a fall and the kind exhibited by the person of true integrity, the one that puts the content of their character and the quality of their work above all else. Somewhere in the array of definitions for the term pride is the difference between motivating and incentivizing someone.
Conservatives have long held that there is something to be admired and exhilarating about a forthright demeanor, a job well done. Much that is foundational to true conservatism is embodied in Burke’s portrayal of the “gentleman of fortune:” Burke said: “he did not take the ordinary Method of establishing Horse races and Assemblies, which do but encourage Drinking and Idleness but at a much smaller expense he introduced a Manufacture which, though not very considerable, employed the whole town, and in time made it opulent.”
Burke’s assessment of constitutional legitimacy was predicated, first and foremost, on its ability to resist tyranny. He believed claims of necessity and of new powers were an indication of tyranny. Many of today’s employees, that have to work long swing shifted hours for compensation that fails to keep pace with the cost of living, would likely agree.
The imperative, to resist slavery and tyranny, was underscored in his belief that a nation must guard against the tyranny of the majority. While today that may be defined as three wolves and a sheep deciding on dinner, in Burke’s day it was articulated as follows: “Aristotle observes that a democracy has many striking points of resemblance with a tyranny. Of this I am certain, that in a democracy the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppression upon the minority whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of policy, as they often must . . .”
Burke also warned about excessive reliance on markets with the statement: “Your legislators, in everything new, are the very first who have founded a commonwealth on gaming . . .” Indeed, we have witnessed the folly of some, who have characterized themselves as “Constitutional Conservatives,” as they have prostituted their offices and systematically betrayed just about every aspect of such supposed reverence for constitutional principle.
Such tyrants resist any form of means testing for Social Security as they also try to kill it for future generations. They engage in coercive labeling, calling anyone advocating for any form of public assistance or government service, a “socialist.” They conflate socialism, marxism, and communism as if anyone in this entrepreneurial society is advancing the notion that the government should put the grabs on the means of production. For a nation supposedly dominated by Christian ideals, a pseudo-religious hucksterism has imposed a circumscribed world view that is self-serving, first and foremost.
An array of social programs, often designed to compensate for the absence of good corporate conduct, represents the least we can do in light of our failure to evolve in accordance with the true conservatism exemplified by Burke’s gentlemen of fortune. The faux conservative of today decries class warfare while thrusting it upon the masses. The ideological fault lines of days gone by have been blurred as the counterfeit, contorted conservatism of privilege looks down unsympathetically upon the struggling strata that rolls pennies to buy gas so they can work multiple jobs for poverty wages. The most selfish among us rise to occupy the commanding heights of the economy and object to any social program that might compensate workers for the parasitic behaviors of those employers that tamp down wages and benefits while simultaneously refusing to make any meaningful contribution to the public treasury.
In some European countries, monopolies have become nationalized companies in an effort to protect the population from unbridled monopoly power. In this respect, an emergent monopoly largely immune from anti-trust scrutiny may represent the most sure-footed path to a command economy. In our country, since the 1980s, Anti-Trust regulations are seldom enforced by politicians wholly owned and operated by monopolies.
Against a backdrop of morphing definitions for capitalism, and socialism, even the most casual conversations have become tedious. Other Western nations tend to define socialism not so much in economic terms, but in accordance with a given level of direct democracy operating within the context of what constitutes the greatest good for the general population. In his last ditch effort to dissuade the British Empire from going to war with the colonists, Burke argued: “To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself . . .” In short, Burke was a fervent advocate for the greatest good.