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A Defamation of Burke

12:59 PM, Mar 4, 2009 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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To allow Chas Freeman to claim the mantle of a "Burkean conservative" is a defamation of Burke. Though imbued with a conservative sense of human frailty and a belief that the love of liberty was an especially English trait, he also recognized, in arguing in Parliament for "conciliation with the colonies," that Americans had applied "general arguments" about liberty "to their own case." That England could not "make a monopoly of theorems and corollaries" of "common principles."

Had Burke been around for Tienanmen he might have been shocked to see "common" -- that is, universal -- principles of political liberty taking root in such a different culture. Most likely, he would have counseled a prudent and conservative response to the massacre. Yet he might also have allowed the Chinese to apply "general arguments" to "their own case."

Truly Burkean conservatives would appreciate the practical limits of power. But they would recoil from tyranny and unchecked and violent repression -- as Burke did when it came to Revolutionary France -- or recognize the legitimate claims of liberty -- as Burke did when it came to America. So far from being a Whiggish, Burkean conservative, Chas Freeman appears to have the habits of mind of a Lord North-style Tory. He would have been an excellent adviser and intelligence analyst for King George III.