Skip to comments.Why I Became a Conservative: A British liberal discovers England's greatest philosopher.
Posted on 02/04/2003 10:13:26 PM PST by JohnHuang2
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She replied with a book: Foucaults Les mots et les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the discourses of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argueby the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Liesthat truth requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class which profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds.
You have to realize that when Burke wrote Reflections that the revolution in France had not yet entered its Terror phase, and that much of what he wrote that appears to us as a sad chronicle was, in fact, a stunning prediction. So accurate it's spooky, so accurate I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't already been published by the time the heads started appearing in the baskets.
I, like "feller" above, read it and its reply by Paine, The Rights of Man, in sequence. The one serves as a corrective to the other, Paine's passionate defense of liberty contrasted against Burke's grim prediction of just how that would be abused, Burke's equally passionate defense of the existing social order punctured by Paine's description of how that had been abused. Both men were foreigners (Burke, Irish, and Paine, English) working in their respective venues (Britain and France), and hence had a view of their subject unclouded by simple parochialism. Both wrote beautifully and convincingly about their points of view.
I find it a bit disturbing that American colleges are lauded as presenting more of a corrective to Marxism than their European counterparts, inasmuch as the former seem the last bastion of true belief in such intellectual manipulators as Michael Foucault. That fellow is mandatory reading for anyone who really wants to get inside the motivations of today's left - to Foucault life is politics and politics is (literally) a struggle for power between groups pursuing dominance over other groups. What seems odd to me is the emotional attachment many of his followers have to this essentially sterile view of society, but they are as passionate about it as Burke and Paine were, without the redeeming element of rational analysis (that being - surprise! - merely a tool of power in Foucault's view, like everything else). Political discourse between left and right has been cheapened and made superficial, and that's one reason.
I will observe, though, that it is noteable to me that you, bb and beckett, who epitomize to me FR Folks who exhibit the most refined and acute of aesthetic senses, also exhibit a most adept and deep sense of and love for Truth. It is more than a pleasure for this Redneck Intellectual to be invited into your company.
Thanks for the cordial words Phaedrus. I live by the dictum of the Book of Ezekiel, where the book named includes not only the Bible, but all of philosophy, the Western canon, and works by the best writers of our own day:
'Mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this book; fill your stomach with it.' And I ate it, and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey." Ez 3:1
Hello KC Burke! On this general question of Anglican vs. Gallican liberty and political order, the British Glorious Revolution of 1688 (with which John Locke was closely associated) and the French Revolution of 1789 are most instructive.
Two revolutions could not be more unlike. Our own American founding was on the first model; the Framers had explicitly rejected all the premises regarding human nature and sociopolitical order that the latter would soon instantiate, in terror and blood. Yet in our present day, professors and acolytes of the spirit of the French Revolution are working overtime to make sure it will yet again dominate the culture, and more importantly, the seats of political Power.
The following passage from Edmund Burkes Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) describes one of the French Revolutions most striking innovations. The subject is the seizure of the Ecclesiastical estates, nominally to pay off the egregious national debts. Arguably, however, this business really had more to do with reducing the religious establishment (and any other politically incorrect establishment or individual for that matter) so vital a part of traditional French national life -- to impecunity and impotence. [I have a facsimile of the 1790 edition that replicates the rather odd (from our modern point of view) orthography of the time. So Ive taken the liberty of a little updating. Burke is addressing an unidentified French correspondent here.]
Few barbarous conquerors have ever made so terrible a revolution in property. None of the heads of the Roman factions in all their auctions of rapine, have ever set up to sale the goods of the conquered citizen to such an enormous amount. It must be allowed in favor of those tyrants of antiquity, that what was done by them could hardly be said to be done in cold blood. Their passions were inflamed, their tempers soured, their understandings confused, with the spirit of revenge, with the innumerable reciprocated and recent afflictions and retaliations of blood and rapine. They were driven beyond all bounds of moderation by the apprehension of the return to power with the return of property to the families of those they had injured beyond all hope of forgiveness.
These Roman conquerors, who were yet only in the elements of tyranny, and were not instructed in the rights of man to exercise all sorts of cruelties on each other without provocation, thought it necessary to spread a sort of color over their injustice. They considered the vanquished party as composed of traitors who had borne arms, or otherwise had acted with hostility against the commonwealth. They regarded them as persons who had forfeited their property by their crimes. With you, in your improved state of the human mind, there was no such formality. You seized upon five millions sterling of annual rent, and turned forty or fifty thousand human creatures out of their houses, because such was your pleasure. The tyrant Henry the Eighth of England, as he was not better enlightened than the Roman Mariuss and Sullas, and had not studied in your new schools, did not know what an effectual instrument of despotism was to be found in that grand magazine of offensive weapons, the rights of men. When he resolved to rob the abbeys, as the club of the Jacobins have robbed all the ecclesiastics, he began by setting on foot a committee to examine into the crimes and abuses which prevailed in those communities. As it might be expected, his commission reported truths, exaggerations, and falsehoods. But truly or falsely it reported abuses and offenses. However, as abuses might be corrected, as every crime of persons does not infer a forfeiture with regard to communities, and as property, in that dark age, was not discovered to be a creature of prejudice, all those abuses (and there were enough of them) were hardly thought sufficient ground to such a confiscation as it was for his purposes to make. He therefore procured the formal surrender of these estates. All these operose proceedings were adopted by one of the most decided tyrants in the rolls of history, as necessary preliminaries, before he could venture, by bribing the members of his two servile houses with a share in the spoil, and holding out to them an eternal immunity from taxation, to demand a confirmation of his iniquitous proceedings by an act of parliament. Had fate reserved him to our times, four technical terms would have done his business, and saved him all this trouble; he needed nothing more than one short form of incantation Philosophy, Light, Liberality, the Rights of Men.
I can say nothing in praise of those acts of tyranny, which no voice has hitherto ever commended under any of their false colors; yet in these false colors an homage was paid by despotism to justice. The power which was above all fear and all remorse was not set above all shame. Whilst shame keeps its watch, Virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will Moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
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Whilst shame keeps its watch, Virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will Moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants. Ah, theres the rub in our age: We humans have become increasingly shameless. It probably has to do with the increasing general contempt for God, the foundation of moral order. And our shamelessness leaves us defenseless against the seductive blandishments of the avatars of tyranny. The rhetoric of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" sounds so good and right and decent, how can it have been such a successful mask for so much Evil in the world, down to the present time?
Thanks so much for writing, KC.
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