May 20, 2012
"[L]eave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it. They and we, and their and our ancestors, have been happy under that system. Let the memory of all actions in contradiction to that good old mode, on both sides, be extinguished forever. Be content to bind America by laws of trade: you have always done it. Let this be your reason for binding their trade. Do not burden them by taxes: you were not used to do so from the beginning. Let this be your reason for not taxing. These are the arguments of states and kingdoms. Leave the rest to the schools; for there only they may be discussed with safety. But if, intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government, by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question. When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. Nobody will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side call forth all their ability; let the best of them get up and tell me what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them. When they bear the burdens of unlimited monopoly, will you bring them to bear the burdens of unlimited revenue too? The Englishman in America will feel that this is slavery: that it is legal slavery will be no compensation either to his feelings or his understanding."

Edmund Burke, Speech on American Taxation, English Parliament, April 19, 1774.

I like how Burke delivers this speech without a hint of irony, given the fact that he’s surely aware of the fact that actual slavery of African nationals and their descendants was going on in America while he was arguing that a 3 pence duty on tea was tantamount to legal slavery.  I’m sure that every Black slave in America would’ve traded a 3 pence duty for, you know, freedom.

EDIT: I should be fair to Burke: he was arguing that the mercantile restrictions of the Navigation Acts in tandem with commercial duties were tantamount to legal slavery.  Still, the point yet stands, very much so in fact.

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Filed under: politics edmund burke 
December 7, 2011
"Every political question I have ever known has had so much of the pro and con in it that nothing but the success could decide which proposition was to have been adopted[.]"

— Edmund Burke (via Sullivan)

November 18, 2011
"Nothing universal can be rationally affirmed on any moral or any political subject. Pure metaphysical abstraction does not belong to these matters. The lines of morality are not like ideal lines of mathematics. They are broad and deep as well as long. They admit of exceptions; they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic, but by the rule of prudence. Prudence is not only first in rank of the virtues political and moral, but she is the director, the regulator, the standard of them all,"

Edmund Burke.

h/t Sullivan

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Filed under: politics edmund burke 
July 23, 2011
"Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

Edmund Burke (via azspot)

I have always been of two minds regarding the competing views of how representatives should vote; should they simply channel the opinions of their constituents, or vote according to their own personal conscience?  What specifically is it that they owe their constituents?  Can it not be said that their constituents were voting for the conscience and judgment of their representative, insomuch as it matches their own?

As I have gotten older, I have grown to distrust populism, and openly discourage the fetishizing of referenda as the purest means of governance.  The fact of the matter is that the majority of the people can be and often are wrong on big questions.  This can be due to any number of factors, but more importantly, someone who argues that “the will of the people” must be respected will then have to concede being unjustified in their own beliefs when the majority of people happen to be of a different opinion.  And if our Constitutional Democracy does anything, it seeks to balance Individual Liberty with the mutual responsibilities of citizenship.  

To this end, it seems to make more sense to cast one’s vote, in larger part, for the conscience of a representative; and not simply for someone who will serve as a conduit for the collective will of the constituency.  Indeed, given the diversity of opinion in even solidly blue/red districts, it would be impossible for any representative to do this without alienating at least a sizable plurality of their constituents.

In addition to all this, one must also consider the idea that quality should win over quantity when it comes to reasoned beliefs.  When Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967, the majority of people still very much disapproved of inter-racial marriage.  Yet I don’t think anyone today respects the ethical foundation upon which those beliefs rested.  It was a few enlightened, well educated individuals within the legal community who dissected the logic upon which those beliefs rested.  If we had simply let “the will of the people” dictate the laws of the time, then the ignorant and backwards beliefs of the majority of people at the time would have allowed unjust laws to perpetuate.  Against these backdrops, one finds arguments for Populism to be found verily wanting, and Burke would’ve certainly agreed.

(via azspot)

June 6, 2011
"Ill would our ancestors at the Revolution [of 1688] have deserved their fame for wisdom, if they had found no security for their freedom, but in rendering their government feeble in its operations and precarious in its tenure; if they had been able to contrive no better remedy against arbitrary power than civil confusion."

— Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1791 vol.

June 6, 2011
"What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor."

— Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790

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