Edward Burke and Conservatives in the US Today

December 2, 2011

Political Theory


What do you think of when you hear the word “conservative?” Do you think of George Bush prancing around his Texas Ranch? Does Reagan’s smiling face flash across your mind? What about Fox News? Do you think of pro-life, Jesus freaks driving around in their pick-up trucks? I know as an ill-informed young student, I used to think that way when I heard the word “conservative.” However, as I have become older and have become much more engaged in the political arena and how these parties’ platforms effect my life, my whole view on the concept of conservatism has changed. Several years ago, my political views shifted from the left to more the center-right. However, after spending much of time watching the debates, rallies and interviews of the current GOP presidential candidates, I have realized much the idea of “conservatism” has changed and what a stigma it carries in the US. After analyzing Edward Burke’s conservative position, it makes you realize just how much politics, media and policy platforms have shaped the concept of “conservatism” in America today.

According to Edward Burke, a true conservative desires to preserve tradition, as he believes it is the most reliable source of political knowledge. In modern America, the very movements that claimed to be “restoring tradition” to the government, are in fact, radical positions that call for more change than restoration of traditional practices and values. The Republican Revolution of the 1980’s under Reagan, and currently, the Tea Party movement, are organized groups of Republicans under the leadership of conservative politicans that call for the total overhaul of the government. They believe the government to be ruled by liberal elites, and even in some cases, have accused the Obama administration for being socialist and trying to ruin American democracy. Burke and early conservatives greatly feared radicalism and believed this inhibited any attempt at restoration of tradition that Burke believed was necessary in government.

Today, I feel that some conservative candidates are making a mockery of their constituents, and themselves, and the idea of true conservatism has gotten lost somewhere on the Fox News headlines, or in Herman Cain’s sexual scandals. I would consider my political views to be more on the conservative side, but even I get embarrassed when I watch some of these debates. When Burke envisioned a conservative government, the cultured, well-educated upper class would rule. And while the Republicans and conservatives have gained a reputation for being the party of middle-

upper class, White Americans, which Burke may have approved of, the way conservative candidates conduct themselves today makes me think otherwise. Slogans like “9-9-9,” Rick Perry not being able to name the three government agencies he would get rid of, and Michele Bachmann not knowing where Libya is, are enough reasons to make Burke roll over in his grave. These candidates have lost sight of what true conservatism is; are they really trying to restore traditional values to this country? Or are they just out to get rid of Obama and gain their 15 minutes of fame in the process.

With time brings change, and no one could expect every element of Burke’s idea of conservatism to last throughout the years. After all, America became a democracy, which went against the monarchical way of government that Burke would support. However, I think comparing Burke’s position to that of conservatives today presents several interesting questions. If Burke were alive today, are these the kind of people that Burke would want to represent a “conservative” government? What does the word “conservative” mean to you? How has media coverage and the American political system changed the way “conservatism” is perceived?

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