Burkean Populism


Greg Weiner wrote an important contribution to the conservative reckoning at hand. He proposes republicanism as a philosophy well suited to cut through the clamor of elites and the condescension of populists.

He contrasts Edmund Burke’s famous passage, about how representatives don’t owe their constituents their vote but their best judgment, with James Madison’s view that the job of representative and republican institutions is “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

That’s an important point. Though I have, in practice, seen something like that sentiment used to justify a dismissive, even self-interested kind of paternalism.

A friend recently passed me another Burke quotation that speaks to the heart of our dilemma. From “Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents,” he writes:

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I am not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. They have been so, frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But I do say that in all disputes between them and their rulers the presumption is at least upon a par in favour of the people.

So, yes, even an Anglo-Irish high Tory can recognize that when the people are intent upon making controversy with their rules, we ought to take them seriously.

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