Report: Second Meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club (Australia) Inc. 16 November 2012

The second meeting of EBC took place at the Melbourne Savage Club, Bank Place, Melbourne. It turned out to be a marvellous venue with just the right atmosphere and historical background. Established in 1894 ‘the Club was based upon an appreciation of music, art, drama, science and literature.’ It has had a distinguished membership, including Sir Robert Menzies who was its president 1947-1962. We had a private meeting room with a young Robert Menzies looking down on us from a prominently placed portrait.

After dealing with a few matters of business, the most important of which was setting a special membership fee for students (see website below) the President, Gerard Wilson, gave a talk entitled WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A PEOPLE AND HOW ARE NATIONS FORMED? Members had prepared for the meeting by reading Edmund Burke’s An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs and ‘Conserving Nations’, the first chapter of Roger Scruton’s Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism.

The substance of the President’s talk was an explication of Burke’s concept of political obligation, a concept that is crucial to his defence of a nation’s written and unwritten constitution and opposed to the social contract theories of Hobbes and Rousseau. A vigorous discussion followed. A comparison of Burke’s ideas on political obligation and what it means to be a people with Scruton’s ideas on how a ‘nation’ must be understood was pursued. The important question of Burke’s consistency in his defence of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and his condemnation of the French Revolution of 1789 was raised. Members were divided on this issue some saying that Burke had appeared to undermine his defence of the Glorious Revolution and the President claiming Burke had acquitted himself in An Appeal. The President feels that the question of Burke’s consistency on this point was not resolved and suggests it should be the main subject of discussion at the next meeting when members can undertake a detailed discussion of the relevant passages in the Reflections and An Appeal.

Among other issues that arose during the discussions was the subject of the Mabo Judgement. Once again members were divided over whether the High Court Judgement was conservative in a philosophical sense or a ‘fracture’ in the nation’s identity, as the President put it. The subject of the Mabo Judgement was considered so important that it was decided to postpone debate to a meeting exclusively devoted to it – and after members had had a chance to prepare. The President will endeavour to supply transcripts of the relevant parts of Justice Brennan’s leading judgement and Justice Dawson’s dissent. The Mabo Judgement is a complex legal document. EBC will examine aspects of the judgement from the standpoint of political philosophy.

Fr Tattersall supplied a pleasant intermission by reading some entertaining (and appropriate) passages from Alexander Pope’s Dunciad. The President suggests that each meeting be broken by a short poetry or prose reading of a member’s choice. Remember, examining the literary aspects of Edmund Burke’s writing is an important part of the Club’s mission statement. He awaits volunteers and suggestions. He undertakes to read Keats’s Ode to Autumn at the next meeting.

All members declared the meeting to have been thoroughly enjoyable and they look forward to the next which the President proposes to be around the end of January. More details of the EBC Christmas BBQ in December will follow shortly.

Finally, the President forgot, to his regret, to mention at the meeting that Chris Rath in Sydney has become a member of EBC. Welcome Chris. We hope you have the opportunity sometime to come to Melbourne for one of our meetings.

Gerard Wilson, President

Membership Fees information: http://edmundburkesclub.org.au/join.html