August 10: The Martini of Public Policy


Indispensable for martinis. That's the crappy new bottle design on the left, the staid-cool old bottle on the right.


One of the great pleasures of reading the classics is taking in the timeless words of the dead and wrenching them around to make them agree with what you already think. And that's what I'm about today, as we get the beginning of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (working title: "A Million Little Pieces"). Because -- after about 11 paragraphs of throat-clearing, and in the 18th century that was an art -- he says:
But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
And here he is a man after my own heart. I would express it a different way. Think of public policy as a cocktail -- a martini, say, where we cut the fiery, Hogarthian gin of capitalism with the smooth, Frenchified vermouth of socialism. We're just trying to get the proportions right as we make something that will ease our (admittedly frequently unpleasant) journey through life -- my own opinion is that these days, martinis and public policy are too dry, but every mixologist is different.

Burke, for example, then takes the rest of the reading talking about how cuckoo-crazy the French Revolution has made some people, for instance those who claim,
....that we have acquired a right

“To choose our own governors.”
“To cashier them for misconduct.”
“To frame a government for ourselves.”

This new, and hitherto unheard-of, bill of rights, though made in the name of the whole people, belongs to those gentlemen and their faction only. The body of the people of England have no share in it. They utterly disclaim it.
Choosing our own rulers -- we don't need that noise! Burke was prescient about the French Revolution, but it turns out that he also anticipated the attitude of much of the American population that is eligible to vote.

The only other thing to note (well, probably not the only other thing, but it's getting late) is this:
Unquestionably there was at the Revolution [1688 - ed], in the person of King William, a small and a temporary deviation from the strict order of a regular hereditary succession; but it is against all genuine principles of jurisprudence to draw a principle from a law made in a special case, and regarding an individual person.
I guess Burke really was the father of modern conservatism!

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