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Don’t Equate Historical Conservatism With Bush-Cheney Radicalism

January 9, 2009
Bill Hare
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How sad and infuriating it is to read and hear how many times the Bush-Cheney administration as well as members and supporters, are referred to as “conservatives.”

The brilliant and notable personages who created the synergy in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century London that ultimately bore the name conservative would, were they alive today, rhetorically kick and scream at virtually every policy move that the Bush-Cheney neoconservative team sprang on the American people.

The name that above all others is linked to the word conservative and the creative thinking behind it is Edmund Burke. While Burke wrote a great deal, the effort that has received the greatest continuing attention from historians and political scientists is “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

In this seminal work Burke reveals why he supported the American Revolution while opposing that in France. Both revolutions occurred during the final quarter of the eighteenth century. Burke’s position was substantiated by rapidly advancing events. He stood on the fundamental principle that governments need be based on laws advanced by men to protect the liberties of their citizens.

While Burke believed that architects of American separation from England such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison were rooted in basic rights delineated into structures of basic laws, Burke found upsetting the rebellious and totalitarian propensities inherent in the French Revolution.

The fixation on the guillotine as a means of enforcing power and meting punishment ostensibly on behalf of the “citizens” became a defining moment in a march to tyranny and oppression by those seizing control rather than a process leading to a constitutional convention, as occurred in America.

The work that became the most popular in ultimately defining the excesses in France during its revolutionary period was a fiction work by Charles Dickens that dramatically described events, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Burke has been called the father of conservatism. His bedrock foundation of government by law with carefully defined and enforceable rights and protections for the citizenry was advanced by other British conservatives and parliamentarians of the period such as Thomas Babington Macaulay and Lord Acton.

It was Lord Acton who delivered the brief and highly memorable quote so often repeated by those confronted with the face of tyranny, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”

As for Macaulay, he had a memorable quote of his own that is frequently repeated and should be memorized, as should Acton’s, by those who believe in freedom and the rights of the individual.

Macaulay’s words serve as a grave warning. They contain a frighteningly prophetic ring of truth as they related to what Macaulay perceived as the future of America:

“Your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth, with this difference; that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without and your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country, by your own institutions.”

Do these strong words bear current familiarity? If so, should any particular set of individuals or administration spring to mind?

Would these brilliant founding minds of conservatism, Burke, Acton and Macaulay, if alive today and relocated to America, be endorsing the neoconservative policies of Bush and Cheney along with the New World Order, Halliburton and Bechtel?

Would Burke, Acton and Macaulay be embracing waterboarding, rendition, warrantless searches and government by signing statements?

Would these British conservative intellectuals have endorsed the invade Iraq plans and believed Bush, Cheney and Rice on the issue of “weapons of mass destruction” and the “giant mushroom cloud” that could soon envelope America?

Had they voiced opposition would Karl Rove and the Fox noise machine have branded them “phony conservatives”?

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