Edmund Burke and Constitutional Historicity

Shortly after the French Revolution began, and not far removed from the adoption of the American constitution, there appeared a pamphlet by the title Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edmund Burke’s publication inaugurated the pamphlet wars in Britain. It also established his reputation as the father of “modern conservatism”—though he is certainly not the first conservative, given that he builds from a litany of other sources and writers who predate him. His work was a sobering indictment of the French Revolution, its nihilism, and its a-historical spirit; the French cut themselves off from their ancient lineage and roots and attempted to socially engineer a utopia from the feeble dictates of natural reason which was destined to fail. Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution is, primarily, a condemnation of the human ability to construct the perfect constitution and perfect society from reason alone and the idea that humans can be detached from their historicity.

Burke’s place in the American conservative pantheon is peculiar if not paradoxical. On the one hand he is the embodiment of political caution, moderation, and defender of ancient liberties. On the other hand, he is wholly incompatible with prevailing conservative sentiments toward the American Constitution and the juridico-political ideology of “originalism.” Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man is a criticism of the celestial constitution theory, which the originalist school is guilty of embodying…

My essay explaining Edmund Burk’s notion of constitutional historicity and how it is a preparation for Hegel and Heidegger. I also note the irony of American constitutional conservatives/originalists who revere Burke even though Burke’s constitutional views are antithetical to the ideas of originalism. Read the full essay at the journal Merion West: Why Edmund Burke Would Oppose Originalism(ca. 1700 words). Consider reading other philosophical and political pieces at Merion West, a wonderful journal of the higher journalism.

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