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

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

Magna Carta and Waterloo dinner

The dinner at the Savage Club to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta on the 15th of June 1215 and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815 was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. There was a full program of toasts, readings, and discussions which resulted in the evening passing too quickly.

Edmund Burke’s Club president, Gerard Wilson, welcomed the guests in the lounge. He explained that the connection between the Battle of Waterloo and Edmund Burke was Burke’s stunning prophecy in 1790 that a military leader in France would take control of the army and become master of revolutionary France. Napoleon mounted a successful coup in 1799.  He read the passage from Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France where Burke was discussing the rising indiscipline among the army ranks.

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full off action until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master — the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.

That master was of course Napoleon. Gerard Wilson spoke briefly about Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, leader of the forces that faced and overcame Napoleon in that critical battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo. He highlighted Wellington’s prime ministership in 1828-30 and in 1834 and his lasting fame as a military commander. Significant is that Prime Minister Wellington oversaw the passage of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 which was to have an influence on Governor Richard Bourke’s administration in the Australian colony. Indeed, the Catholic leadership in the colony regarded the passing of the Church Act in 1836 as the ‘Magna Carta of their religious liberty’.

Gerard Wilson remarked that most boys in the 1950s counted the Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson (Battle of Trafalgar) among their heroes, making no distinction between them and their Australian-bred heroes. This, he said, was a demonstration of the unbroken lines of cultural continuity at that time. He then proposed a toast to the Duke of Wellington and his victory over Napoleon, pointing out that the Waterloo battle resulted not only in a military victory. More importantly, it was a victory for Britain’s social and political system of which the British Commonwealth would be the beneficiary.

The attendees then removed to the private dining room upstairs for dinner which included ‘Beef Wellington’ as the main course. The first reading took place after the entrée. Passages were read from Burke’s account of the events leading up to the sealing of Magna Carta followed by a toast to Simon Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the real behind-the-scenes organizer of the document. The second reading during dessert was from the Reflections on the place of Magna Carta in the British Constitution. To end the formalities, Fr Glen Tattersall declaimed Lord Byron’s poem the ‘Eve of Waterloo’ (below). Attendees returned to the lounge for after-dinner drinks which put a seal on the pleasantest of evenings.

Special thanks are due to Fr Glen Tattersall for making the Savage Club available to Edmund Burke’s Club for their meetings and occasions such as the Magna Carta/Waterloo dinner. It is Fr Tattersall’s membership of the Savage Club that allows EBC to enjoy such unique surroundings.

by: Lord Byron (1788-1824)

HERE was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gathered then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

Did ye not hear it? — No; ’twas but the wind,
Or the car rattling o’er the stony street;
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when youth and pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
But hark! — that heavy sound breaks in once more,
As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before;
Arm! arm! it is — it is — the cannon’s opening roar!

Within a windowed niche of that high hall
Sate Brunswick’s fated chieftain; he did hear
That sound the first amidst the festival,
And caught its tone with death’s prophetic ear;
And when they smiled because he deemed it near,
His heart more truly knew that peal too well
Which stretched his father on a bloody bier,
And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell;
He rushed into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,
And cheeks all pale, which, but an hour ago,
Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness.
And there were sudden partings, such as press
The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
Which ne’er might be repeated; who would guess
If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

And there was mounting in hot haste; the steed,
The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;
And the deep thunder, peal on peal afar;
And near, the beat of the alarming drum
Roused up the soldier ere the morning star;
While thronged the citizens with terror dumb,
Or whispering, with white lips — “The foe! they come! they come!”

Text of the two readings will follow in separate blogs. Photos of the evening are in the Gallery.

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

Conference on Edmund Burke

Conference on Edmund Burke, Melbourne, 28th February 2015

Edmund Burke’s Club (Aust) Inc is organizing a conference on the life and thought of Edmund Burke for Saturday 28th February 2015. The theme of the conference will be Edmund Burke’s concept of political reason. The sessions will cover Burke’s political career from the time he left Dublin to enter the political world in London through to his last days when he maintained his rage against revolutionary France and rightly warned that their slogan Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité would end in subjecting France to a rigid military dictatorship. And so it happened.

The mode of Burke’s reasoning will be followed through the major issues he dealt with: the fight for Irish relief; the misuse and abuse of power, especially by the British throne; the conflict with the American colonies; the impeachment of Warren Hastings and the abuse of British rule in India; and the attack on the natural rights theory of Revolutionary France. The influence of some of the philosophers of the British Enlightenment on Burke’s thinking will also be considered.

The conference will be of keen interest to those who want to deepen their understanding of the man who is claimed to be the father of modern conservative thought. The keynote speaker will be Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon, The John Morton Beaty Professor of Political and Social Sciences, University of Virginia College at Wise. More details about the conference will be announced in the coming weeks. Any enquiries can be addressed to Gerard Wilson on 0419 002 163 or edmundburkesclub@bigpond.com

See update on conference HERE

Burke vs Paine – Then and Now

Jesse Norman, author of one of the most recent biographies of Edmund Burke – and one of the best – reviews The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right, by Yuval Levin, (Basic Books) HERE. Norman’s book is Edmund Burke: Prophet, Politician and Philosopher, parts of which have been discussed on this website. Norman’s review of Levin’s book is highly recommended.

Report: Meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club (Australia) Inc. 7 February 2014


A Commentary on Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet

The meeting of Edmund Burke’s Club at the Savage Club, Melbourne, on 7 February was largely taken up by Gerard Wilson’s commentary on Part One of Jesse Norman’s  recent book, Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet. The commentary was twice as long as the normal presentation which, the President said, could not be avoided because of the material to be covered. Despite the length of the presentation most people found a full coverage Burke’s life and political career interesting and said they were looking forward to the text being posted on the EBC website. The text is now posted: A REVIEW Edmund Burke Philosopher, Politician, Prophet