Edmund Burke Conference 2016

Edmund Burke’s Club (Australia) Inc is organizing its second annual conference on the political philosophy of Edmund Burke at the Clifton Conference Centre in the Melbourne CBD for Saturday 19th of November 2016. The conference theme will be the state of conservatism in Australia seen through the framework of the thought of Edmund Burke. A dinner will be held at Melbourne’s Savage Club on the evening of the conference.

An examination of the state of conservatism in Australia is a pressing task. For some years, it has become apparent that some self-described conservatives have a deficient idea of what conservatism is as a political philosophy. The aim of the 2016 Edmund Burke conference will be to present a clear understanding of the political and philosophical issues. Edmund Burke’s historical context and the influence of his thought in Australia and on modern conservatives such as Michael Oakeshott and Roger Scruton will be examined.

The Edmund Burke Conference 2016 will be a marvellous opportunity for conservatives and those whose interest in conservatism has been recently sparked to be become engaged. Political events in Australia during the last few years – especially the demise of Tony Abbott and his government – call on conservatives to clarify their philosophical position and discuss action to counter the grip of leftist thought on Australian state and society.

For information about the conference go HERE

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.

The Philosophy Of Roger Scruton

Mervyn F. Bendle is one of Australia’s foremost conservative intellectuals. He frequently contributes to Quadrant magazine and Quadrant Online, Australia’s foremost organ for the display of conservative thought. Quadrant‘s importance is highlighted by the constant attempts of Australia’s dominant leftist class to shut it down. It is a magazine that belongs in the library of every philosophical conservative. The article below is a survey of the philosophy of the world’s foremost conservative intellectual Roger Scruton. There could hardly be a more readable survey and introduction to Scruton’s thought than this article. Lovers of the writings of Edmund Burke will recognise Burke’s deep influence on Scruton.

The Philosophy Of Roger Scruton

Quadrant May 2014

Mervyn F. Bendle

As the conservative philosopher put it, his “unacceptable” views prompted character assassination, three lawsuits, two interrogations, one expulsion, the loss of a university career, contemptuous reviews, Tory suspicion, and the hatred of decent liberals everywhere. And, he swears, it was all worth it

scrutonReality itself had been affronted. Repulsed, it had recoiled and collapsed into countless pieces, never to be reconstituted. Such is the striking image of the May 1968 French student rebellion recalled by Roger Scruton in his autobiography, Gentle Regrets (2005; all quotations are from this source unless otherwise stated). The twenty-four-year-old Scruton had completed a BA in philosophy at Cambridge and was determined to be a writer, taking Jean-Paul Sartre as his role model because the French existentialist’s prose moved effortlessly “from the abstract to the concrete and from the general to the particular [and] wound philosophy and poetry together in a seamless web, which was also a web of seeming”, as Scruton later recalled on his web page. From Sartre he learned that intellectual life need not be confined to the academy but can flourish around the creative arts like literature, art and music, “through which the world strives to become conscious of itself”. But he rebelled against the Frenchman’s conviction that such a life demanded a radical political commitment, and Sartre’s mindless embrace of Maoism in 1968 alienated him completely.

In the decades since, Scruton has established himself as Britain’s leading conservative public intellectual and as an influential philosopher in a large number of fields, publishing some forty books, innumerable articles, several novels and many other works. Nevertheless, on that May Day forty-six years ago, anarchic leftism held sway and appeared momentarily to threaten President Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic.

Transfixed, Scruton watched as a violent battle between students and police unfolded beneath his attic window until abruptly “the plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground”. In this moment, at the centre of an archetypal 1960s event, it appears that Scruton enjoyed an epiphany, a sudden intuitive insight into the advent of the nihilistic postmodern era, characterised by the collapse of representation, and the fragmentation, violence, heresy and unbelief that Scruton later claimed in A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism (2006), provided the context for the conservative philosophical response of which he has proven to be the most articulate British proponent.

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The ordinary conservative

In Chapter 1 of Roger Scruton’s How to be a Conservative, we find the following description of an ordinary conservative in our present society.

Ordinary conservatives – and many, possibly most, people fall into this category – are constantly told that their ideas and sentiments are reactionary, prejudiced, sexist or racist. Just by being the thing they are they offend against the new norms of inclusiveness and non-discrimination. Their honest attempts to live by their lights, raising families, enjoying communities, worshipping their gods, and adopting a settled and affirmative culture – these attempts are scorned and ridiculed by the Guardian class. In intellectual circles conservatives therefore move quietly and discreetly, catching each other’s eyes across the room like the homosexuals in Proust, whom that great writer compared to Homer’s gods, known only to each other as they move in disguise around the world of mortals.

How ironic that Scruton uses the image of the secretive homosexual in Proust’s books to describe how the conservative must behave in intellectual circles today.

Scruton, Roger. How to be a Conservative (Kindle Locations 75-81). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Tony Abbott lecture on Freedom of Speech

Tony Abbott will give the Fr Gregory Jordan, SJ, Memorial Scholarship Lecture in Brisbane on 29 April 2016. The title of the lecture is: FREEDOM OF SPEECH: THE RIGHT AND THE RESPONSIBILITY. Details of the time and place can be found Here.

Fr Gregory Jordan was a much loved and respected theologian and former headmaster of St Ignatius Riverview. Both Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce were at St Ignatius during his headmastership. They attended his funeral in July 2015.

A favourite accusation of Abbott’s army of unappeasable enemies in politics and the media is that he is a religious zealot, eager to force the Australian population to convert – or else. It is one of the most serviceable parts of the Abbott persona they have created, and they keep hammering it.

Those familiar with his background, however, know that Abbott is considered by many orthodox Catholics to be on the liberal side, far from the dogmatic finger-wagging zealot of the manufactured image. Indeed, he fits the image of the modern Jesuit. In his book Battlelines, he gave a short account of his main (religious) influences.

Apart from my parents, the church was the biggest influence on my early life. From 1966 till 1975, I was at St Aloysius and then St Ignatius College, Riverview, in Sydney. The college mottos, ‘born for higher things’ and (roughly translated) ‘do as much as you can’, give a good idea of the Jesuit ethos at that time, which I thoroughly assimilated…

The Jesuits who taught me wanted to bring out the very best in their students but didn’t expect them to be saints. They weren’t dis­loyal to the Pope or subversive of the church but often seemed impa­tient with the ‘scold’ side to religious teaching. ‘Don’t bother giving up chocolates for Lent’, Father Emmet Costello used to advise, ‘but do something positive like going to Mass more often’. ‘We are all the prod­ucts of those who have loved us or failed to love us’, he often observed, quoting, I think, the American Jesuit John Powell. For me, the mes­sage was that God preferred big-hearted people who might sometimes make mistakes rather than robotic rule worshippers.

Tony Abbott’s actions as a politician bear that out. There are numerous ordinary people who give accounts of his generosity and compassion – a sympathetic word, a phone call about a sickness or death. Then there are the public demonstrations – his working with the SES, his yearly stay with the Aboriginal communities in the north, the pollie pedal, and so on. He shows his faith in his works rather than in his words.

The organizers of the Fr Gregory Jordan, SJ, Memorial Lecture have chosen well.


The fall of the West

Paris attacks: fall of Rome should be a warning to the West


I am not going to repeat what you have already read or heard. I am not going to say that what happened in Paris on Friday night was unprecedented horror, for it was not. I am not going to say that the world stands with France, for it is a hollow phrase. Nor am I going to applaud Francois Hollande’s pledge of “pitiless” vengeance, for I do not believe it. I am, instead, going to tell you that this is exactly how civilisations fall.

Here is how Edward Gibbon described the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410AD: “ … In the hour of savage licence, when every ­passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed … a cruel slaughter was made of the ­Romans; and … the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies … Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they ­extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless …”

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Teaching cultural self-loathing

University courses make student teachers hostile towards the West

Scott Morrison is right to describe Muslim school kids walking out on the national anthem as pathetic, but he is wrong to point the finger at teachers. The problem does not begin with schools but in univer­sities where budding educators are encouraged to embrace profound antipathy towards the West.

In universities across the Western world, students training to become teachers are commonly taught critical theory or postcolonialism as a part of arts degrees in education. Both subjects inculcate in students deep hostility to the Western world, its culture, creed and citizens. They were inspired by neo-Marxism, whose forefather Herbert Marcuse was a key figure leading the revolution against Western civilisation in universities and manufacturing the rise of radical minority groups to censor non-leftist thought in public life.

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What did Burke say exactly about good men, bad men and the triumph of evil?

The quotation most frequently attributed to Edmund Burke is not something Burke said though it sounds like Burke. The correct quotation from the Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, and found on the home page of this website, is different. Professor David Bromwich of Yale University explains why the difference is important:

‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’ This great sentence is the germ of the most famous quotation wrongly ascribed to Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ The sentiment extractable from the corrupt version is pompous, canting, and demonstrably false, for evil is not a disembodied thing; it has its origin in acts by specifiable agents. Nor is it true that ‘the only thing necessary’ for the triumph of evil is the inaction of good men. There must also be an extended occasion of public fears for bad men to play upon, and there must be a catalysing event. The bad men themselves must be unusually excited, active, conscious of each other’s presence, aware of the inlets for increasing power, and unimpeded by the indifferent mass of people. Burke’s sentence is careful to say flatly what the triumph-of-evil apothegm leaves mysterious. Bad men do combine but, as the word combine suggests, their alliance may be impersonal and almost mechanical, a reflex of ambition and appetite, or the product of a theory. By contrast, association, through constant intercourse with other persons, leaves room for correction and improvement in the corps and a concern for the public good. Yet it matters that the defence of principle, when its cost is high, should achieve a public notability, so that interim defeats may prepare for an eventual triumph. The sacrifice of a party is important because it is so visible, compared to the obscure sacrifice of an unconnected person. Consistency of opinion, which is both a cause and a consequence of regular association, makes all the difference between a contemptible and worthy struggle.

The intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence, David Bromwich, pp. 175-176

Furor Abbottus – a reality sapping mental and emotional disorder

Furor poeticus is Latin for ‘poetic frenzy’. The term goes back to the Ancient Greeks and refers to a poet’s being transported to a state in which he would channel the gods’ thoughts and feelings. During his Trinity College days, with some humour, Edmund Burke borrowed the term to describe his youthful fixation on poetry and history. He called those phases his furor poeticus and furor historicus.

The idea of a frenzied psychological state came to mind when I read a report on msn.com with the headline: Bureaucrats refuse to reveal Abbott’s alcohol preferences despite FOI request. It seems that all this year Labor Senator Penny Wong has been after an account of the brands and types of alcohol Tony Abbott drank while prime minister. After the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was forced by a Freedom of Information request to come up with a pile of receipts, Wong’s desired information was blacked out. She ‘likened this lack of transparency to an episode of ABC comedy Utopia.’ Continue reading

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?