A conference on the state of conservatism in Australia is urgent

Andrew Bolt has been generous enough to promote our Edmund Burke Conference 2016 ‘Defining Conservatism in Australia’ on his blog. There are the usual responses from those who are incapable of doing more than slinging off at conservatives on the bases of their primitive idea of conservatism. A few support the idea of a conference. Others seem to think conservatism is some sort of economic theory. On the whole, the comments confirm the desirability of a conference on the state of conservatism in Australia.

Conservatism is not an economic theory. Indeed, conservatism as a political philosophy is not a systematic abstract theory in the rationalistic sense of a self-contained theory like socialism or libertarianism. It is rather a framework of thought that is applied to the concrete political situation. Conservatism as developed by Edmund Burke in response to the major political issues of his time (the corrupting power of the throne, Irish oppression, the nature of parliamentary democracy, the American Revolution, British despotism in India, and the French Revolution) has something to say about all those concepts and issues political theory deals with, down to the basic epistemological (knowledge) and metaphysical presuppositions of political discourse.

The 2016 conference of Edmund Burke’s Club (Aust) Inc, ‘Defining Conservatism in Australia’, aims to examine and expound the most important of those concepts in the Australian context from a conservative point of view: freedom, rights, how nations originate and endure, the legitimacy of the state and the obligation to obey, among others. The conference’s program can be found here.

Conference attendees will be invigorated by the presentations and the discussions that follow. Those attending the dinner at the Savage Club will enjoy the fellowship of the evening as well as the well-chosen short readings and comments during the reception and the dinner. Of course, there is the three-course dinner with drinks included (wine, beer and soft drink).

Gerard Wilson
President Edmund Burke’s Club (Aust) Inc.

EBC meeting Friday 4 September

A reminder that the next meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club is on Friday evening 4 September at the Savage Club.

The topic for discussion is ‘Burke and the German Conservative Tradition’. The reference is Chapter 3 ‘The German Conservative Tradition: Romanticism and Power’ in Noel O’Sullivan’s Conservatism. Another handy reference is chapters 12 & 14 on Hegel in Roger Scrution’s A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein.

In following meetings the works of other philosophers considered conservative will come up for discussion. Among those are Michael Oakeshott (especially in his essays in Rationalism in Politics) and Roger Scruton.

In recent weeks the charge that the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) journalists are on the political left (some far left) has been vigorously refuted by the ABC – to the utter bemusement of conservatives. For conservatives to deal adequately with ABC journalists’ preposterous denial they must know what it means to think like a conservative and what it means to think like a leftist (of the different sorts). What does philosophical conservatism entail? What are the key assumptions of a leftist philosophy?

Enjoying the unique surroundings of the Melbourne Savage Club

According to the Melbourne Savage Club’s website, it ‘is one of Australia’s oldest and most atmospheric private members clubs.’ It was established in 1894 and occupies ‘an historic 19th century mansion right in the heart of Melbourne.’ It takes its name from ‘Richard Savage, a free-spirited 17th century English poet.’ Those who have been there will surely come under the spell of surroundings that breathe a rich artistic past.

It is a great privilege granted to Edmund Burke’s Club to be allowed to hold its meetings there and organize such pleasurable occasions as the dinner to commemorate the anniversaries of Magna Carta and the Battle of Waterloo. It is Fr Glen Tattersall’s membership of the Savage that makes all this possible. Gerard Wilson,the President of EBC, would like to convey his warm thanks to Fr Tattersall on behalf of the EBC membership for his generosity.


R.G. Menzies — a very ‘clubbable’ prime minister

It is perhaps not well known that Robert G. Menzies immensely enjoyed the social life of the clubs he was a member of. He had membership in three during his career: the West Brighton, the Savage, and the K.K. They provided a clean relaxing break from his busy life first in the law and then in politics. Sir John Bunting, Menzies’ Cabinet Secretary and Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, devoted several pages to Menzies’ ‘clubbability’ in his book R.G. Menzies: A Portrait. Those pages are reproduced below.

Edmund Burke’s Club is organizing a dinner to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (15th June 1215) and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (18th June 1815) at Melbourne’s Savage Club for the 16th of June 2015. As with the very enjoyable dinner on the eve of our Edmund Burke conference, the dinner will take its lead from R.G. Menzies.

MENZIES was a considerable club man. But that straight away needs an explanation, because the clubs he most used were not of the usually understood variety. There are various dictionary definitions of clubs. For what are now understood as the traditional clubs, the Concise Oxford formula seems to go closest: ‘body of persons combined for social purposes, and having premises for resort, meals, temporary residence etc.’ Clubs of this sort, modelled on British precedent, have always existed in Australia. They are social clubs obviously, but they are also clubs that people join for business and professional reasons. These were not really for Menzies. He visited them often enough, and the equivalent clubs elsewhere, and, as a guest, was perfectly at home and happy. But although he was in them, he was not of them, nor of their style. His main choices, in his home city of Melbourne, fell on three quite other clubs: the Savage, the West Brighton and the K.K. These were clubs for the inner Menzies. (I omit, which would be at my peril if he were to know, the Melbourne Scots, but it does not, I think, come into this narrative.) Continue reading

Report on Edmund Burke conference and May meeting

The meeting of 1 May reviewed the Edmund Burke Conference that took place on 28 February 2015. Members were of the opinion that the conference was well organized. and that on the day all went according to plan. The attendees found the presentations interesting and instructive, as befitted an organization devoted to the study of Edmund Burke’s thought.  The numbers were moderate, but it was noted that our means of attracting interested participants were limited. All agreed that members should work at the promotion of such an occasion well beforehand. There was also the consideration that Edmund Burke’s Club is a little more than two-years-old. The pleasing development was that the limited promotion attracted a number of members from states outside Victoria.

The pre-conference dinner at the Savage Club which included a reception and a number of readings and interventions was considered a resounding success. The Club is looking at the possibility of organizing another dinner along the same lines for later in the year.

After the review of the conference, Gerard Wilson gave a presentation on Burke’s ideas on religion and state and society. When the meeting finished, attendees repaired to the nearby RACV Club bistro for supper. It was a very enjoyable evening. Photos of the meeting and the conference will be posted shortly.

Gerard Wilson’s presentation here: Burke on religion meeting 1 May 2015

Report EBC Annual General Meeting 10 October 2014

There was a smaller number than usual for the 2014 Annual General Meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club (Australia) Inc. Some members for different reasons could not attend. But the meeting was no less enthusiastic and cheerful for the smaller number, as was the supper afterwards at the RACV bistro (see photos under ‘Gallery’ tab).

The President gave an account of the past year’s activities noting with satisfaction that the enthusiasm and commitment of members had not slackened. Overall there was much interest shown for Edmund Burke’s Club via the website and our Facebook page. The president noted the number of Spanish language names ‘liking’ the Facebook page. Our thanks for the interest from Spanish visitors whether from Spanish speaking countries or those in north America with a Spanish heritage. We are also delighted to see the high number of visits to the website from the US. Continue reading

Next meeting EBC 18 July 2014

The next meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club (Aust) Inc will be on Friday 18 July at the Savage Club, Melbourne City. Gerard Wilson will give a talk on ‘Burke’s Philosophy of Rights’. The intention is to draw a line from a general idea of natural law – which was the subject of Fr Tattersall’s talk at the previous meeting – through to Burke’s positive conception of ‘real’ rights and his condemnation of the contract theorists’ ‘abstract natural rights’. The meeting is open to all interested people.