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edmund burke

Edmund Burke

Taking it for granted that I do not write to the disciples of the Parisian philosophy, I may assume that the awful Author of our being is the Author of our place in the order of existence,—and that, having disposed and marshalled us by a divine tactic, not according to our will, but according to His, He has in and by that disposition virtually subjected us to act the part which belongs to the place assigned us. We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact. They arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God, which relations are not matters of choice. — An Appeal from the Old Whigs to the New, 1791

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4 replies to this post
  1. So what is justice? Is it merely to play one's part, or mind one's business? Is there a justice that makes it one's own advantage, and not just another's advantage, to do the right thing?

    And is the city natural? Or is it simply a necessity incompatible with man's highest nature?

  2. Trevor, I'm not sure I follow the second part of your comments. Is the city natural? Which city? Some, of course, are. Others are the creations of governments, etc. As to the first part, Burke, as with all members of the Celtic (sorry, I'm going broader than the Scottish) Enlightenment believed Justice to be the great end of civil society. Justice, as Burke understood it from the ancients and medievals, is the duty to "give each man his due." It's a transcendent truth, but women and men of good will will interpret it differently according to custom, cultural, language, historical circumstance, individual quirkiness, etc. Anyway, please clarify the "city" question. For better or worse, I'm completely lost by this.

  3. Dr. Birzer, I apologize for the delay – this is my first visit back to the IC since my post.

    It seems like Burke discusses "the relation of man to man," which I interpret as a political community of sorts, as entirely a product of duty, piety, or force. If this is so, political communities are not natural in the sense that they actualize man's potentialities and are commensurate with man's potential powers; rather they merely arise out of an obligation, whether to man or God. This would be a demotion of the city from the voluntary fulfillment of our highest nature as human beings (in that they enable us to actualize our virtues) to a necessity (in that we do not choose to participate in them but are marshalled into them by a divine tactic). I am probably reading too much into this quote or misunderstanding it entirely. I should read more Burke.

    As far as justice goes, I'm skeptical of the "give each man his due" formula, mostly because of the problem of determining the criterion of deserving. Each particular group within a political community puts forward its own unique claim to deserving to rule and hence its own claim as to what constitutes just distribution. Aristotle writes in the Politics: "Democrats say it is free birth, oligarchs say that it is wealth or noble birth, and aristocrats say that it is excellence." Furthermore, each group within the regime claims that they are morally deserving to rule on account of their superior capacity to secure the common good; and as a result, each puts forward a principle of "deserving" that resolves the question of justice in its own favor. It's something I need to think through more but my inclination is that the definition is not quite right or complete.

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