The Burke reading is very long today. Maybe it just seems long because it's philosophy, and it's meticulous, and meticulousness seems long. I mean, it shouldn't feel like a slog -- not with sex right in the first section:
On the other hand, the generation of mankind is a great purpose, and it is requisite that men should be animated to the pursuit of it by some great incentive. It is therefore attended with a very high pleasure...How hot is that? Completely not hot, is the answer. (So like an Irishman, one is tempted to say.) But in order to get this hot sexy sentence in, we've been parachuted right into the middle of Burke's making the distinction (meticulously!) between the sublime and the beautiful. Fortunately our excerpt also includes the conclusion of said distinctifying, which goes something like this.
In this corner, weighing a terrifying amount, the "Near Death Experience," ladies and gentlemen, The Sublime:
The passions which belong to self-preservation turn on pain and danger; they are simply painful when their causes immediately affect us; they are delightful when we have an idea of pain and danger, without being actually in such circumstances...Whatever excites this delight, I call sublime.Give it up, people! And in this corner, weighing but a trifle, The "Tender Trapper," The Beautiful:
beauty... which is a name I shall apply to all such qualities in things as induce in us a sense of affection and tenderness, or some other passion the most nearly resembling these.In other words, the thrill of feeling like something could kill you, but it didn't, is sublime. (This is why cigarettes are sublime.) The beautiful is everything else, especially (for Burke) women, but also cute animals:
Men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by personal beauty. I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them, (and there are many that do so,) they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons...Now, before you say, "Burke is using 'men' as 'humans' in this quote," well, I thought the same thing, until I got to the conclusion and found out that men are inspired to the beautiful by women, whereas women...well, Burke doesn't even venture a guess as to what goes on inside their women heads. It's really kind of shocking, even for the 1700s. But then Burke is the father of modern conservatism.
Oh, and here's a conservative sentiment that I actually agree with:
...for I should imagine, that the influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed.Anyone who has ever had a crush on someone, and lived in the vain hope that the crushee would just see all the reasons for reciprocating the crush, knows the truth of this. But it also has a political application, since the whole philosophical idea of conservatism is that reason is overrated. Keep your brains off our laws, you could say. (Didn't Mill describe the Conservatives as "the stupid party"?) And their example is the Year Zero, execution-happy shenanigans that went on after the French Revolution.
For their part, liberals often forget the truth of this saying, and often try to solve the problem it presents by hoping that everything will be okay if we only explain ourselves in a more supercilious tone of voice. This doesn't work when you have a crush on someone, and it doesn't work in politics. In fact you might say that the history of liberalism, from the Reform Bill forward, is to wait around for things to get so stupid that people have no choice but to try technocrats -- for the electorate's heart to be so broken, in a way, that they'll settle for the best friend.