Sowell on Burke and Obama
Statue of Burke in Bristol, with recently acquired bullet holes.
Image: Bristol Indymedia
The other day I sought a respite from current events by rereading some of the writings of the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke. But it was not nearly as big an escape as I had thought it would be.
When Burke wrote of his apprehension about “new power in new persons,” I could not help thinking of the new powers that have been created by which a new president of the United States — a man with zero experience in business — can fire the head of General Motors and tell banks how to run their businesses.
Not only is Barack Obama new to the presidency, he is new to running any organization. One of Burke’s fears was that “we may place our confidence in the virtue of those who have never been tried.”
. . .The Obama administration’s back-and-forth on the question whether American intelligence agents who forced information out of captured terrorist leaders will be subject to legal jeopardy — even though they were told at the time that what they were doing was not only legal but a service to the nation — came to mind when reading Burke’s warning about the dangers of continuing to change the rules and values by which people lived. Burke asked how we could expect a sense of honor to exist when “no man could know what would be the test of honour in a nation, continually varying the standard of its coin”?
The current drive to take from “the rich” for the benefit of others came to mind when reading Burke’s warning against creating a situation where “any one description of citizens should be brought to regard any of the others as their proper prey.”
He also warned that “those who attempt to level, never equalise.” What they end up doing is concentrating power in their own hands — and Burke saw such new powers as dangerous, even if they were used only sparingly at first. . .
We admire Edmund Burke. We think it's worth applying his words to many different politicians today. No single tradition or party has succeeded in monopolizing him. You'll find our recently expanded file on Burke here.