Theater of Cruelty

Many Norwegian conservatives will nod appreciatively to Burke

The Prophet of Conservatism. Edmund Burke
A DOUBLE BIOGRAPHY / Since the 1950s, Burke's ideas have undergone a renaissance. Opposition to rationalism and atheism is strong among the 40-50 million evangelical Christian Americans.


We live in a time of upheaval. In 2017, the British author and journalist David Goodhart broke through internationally with a book with the term pair "·emheres "and" anywheres ". With that, he tries to explain today's wave of populism. "Somewheres" are people who appreciate security and traditions. They feel threatened by rapid social change. They are conservative in value, unlike the more liberal "anywheres".

Maybe this line of conflict is older than we realize? In 1789, the world witnessed the French Revolution. Human rights were proclaimed a universal value and something that belongs to everyone, regardless of status. This resonated all over the world.

Something had been in the air for some years before the revolution, more specifically 1776 and the American Revolution, and then the introduction of the American Constitution in 1787. In 1776, the English corset maker wrote Thomas Paine (1737–1809) also the pamphlet Common Sense. It sold in circulation of several hundred thousand, in a community of 13 colonies of approx. 2,5 million people. Relatively speaking, this is supposedly to this day the biggest sales success in American history.

Politics that sell

Paine advocated a free and independent country and government. Then the French Revolution exploded in 1789, and the English politician and author Edmund Burke (1729–1797) was so shocked by what was happening that he wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Burke condemns the revolution, which he believes is contrary to all healthy forces in society. Here he also predicts that it will all end in a bloodbath. And he was right.

Burke's lyrics have been read out on American conservative radio stations and
at the Tea Party movement.

The Pope, the English king and French refugee communities in London were very enthusiastic about the book. Paine, on the other hand, answers Bruke directly when he brings the book from Paris in 1791–92 The Rights of Man, volumes 1 and 2. Between 1792 and 1809 one and a half million copies are sold. Paine speaks for the cause of the French Revolution and promotes one liberally political democracy according to American and French model. The world stood at the entrance to mass politics and the time of propaganda.

All this and much more we get to know in the recent Burke biography Edmund Burke. The Prophet of Conservatism by the Danish history professor Claus Bryld. This is the first biography in Norwegian about the "prophet of conservatism". The book provides a great reading experience and is important for our time. It is also a fine introduction to Thomas Paine and his writings. It is almost as if without Paine there would hardly have been a living Burke today. Cinema Bryld also says in his introduction that this is almost a double biography to count.

Bryld goes into detail about Burke's multifaceted life. For me, it is first and foremost the contrast-filled relationship of these two mentioned fighting cocks and their diametrically opposed perspective on contemporary events that make this a very dynamic biography.

Claus Bryld says early on that his own political position is certainly not close to Burkes. Here Bryld follows what he himself refers to as HG Wells' dictum: "A man's biography should be written by a conscientious enemy."

Religion as a basis

Burke had a complex political career, a rich writing career and an oratory. He thundered against democracy and rationalism, while advocating for religious tolerance. With the gaze of the present he was conservative until the reactionary, but he was also concerned minorities, not least Irish, Americans and Indians. He was the friend of the aristocrats in the ongoing power struggle against the king and was for a strong state power, but against excessive violence.

Bryld presents Burke in the light of his own contradictory contemporary, and it provides insight. I understand more of the turning point Burke lived in after reading the approx. 250 pages, with its many beautiful pictures, including fun contemporary caricatures.

40-50 million evangelical Christian Americans want the doctrine of evolution there
at least the pepper grows away from the school system, replaced by prayer.

But does Burke have relevance today? Since the 1950s, Burke's ideas have had a renaissance, and Bryld's analysis is therefore drawn all the way up to our time. And it is perhaps first and foremost in the United States that Burke's ideas live best, with Ronald Reagan as the ideological blood brother. Much of the radical right-wing milieu there believes they see a common thread from the French Revolution to Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s and all the way up to today's Liberal Democrats.

Conservative Republicans are watching Religion as the basis of morality and thus of politics, just like Burke. The French Revolution struck a blow atheism and less power for religion. Bryld writes that long excerpts from Burke's texts have been read out on American conservative radio stations and at the Tea Party movement. Opposition to rationalism and atheism is strong among the 40-50 million evangelical Christian Americans who overwhelmingly vote Republican. They want the theory of evolution where the pepper grows – at least away from the school system, replaced by prayer.

"Change to preserve"

Many Norwegian conservatives will still nod appreciatively to Burke and the slogan that is often equated with him – "change to preserve". Burke primarily defended the legacy of the English Revolution of 1688. He also supported the American Revolution of 1775-1783. He justified this by saying that both were revolts on behalf of established rights and inherited values.

But at its core, Burke was a spokesman for a limited democracy – which cemented the ruling alliance between the British citizenshipa and aristocratsone in the 1800th century. According to Bryld, Burke's struggle was therefore actually directed at the French bourgeoisie – since they were clearly anti-aristocratic. One reason for this was that there were far greater conflicts of interest related to real estate in France. In England, both the nobility and the bourgeoisie had succeeded in enforcing so-called fencing laws, where open common areas were taken over by the upper class. This contributed to a growing working class during the increasing industrialization. It served the existing British upper class, of which Burke was an important part.

Minister of the Environment Helgesen

Former Minister of the Environment Vidar Helgesen used in Morgenbladet 15.05.2020 Burke as a witness to the truth to bring about a more dynamic policy on environment and the nature area. Helgesen demanded that the Conservative Party's program committee should provide more of a "precautionary" perspective, instead of growth per se. He writes about Burke's view of society as a fine-meshed system that has evolved over time and asks:

«What does this have to do with the environment? Yes: The planet is a natural system that has evolved over millions of years. It is a fine-meshed web of intricate and sometimes invisible interactions of forces. If you tear up the structures and connections in such a tissue, it can let the dogs of hell loose. "

The historical power of ideology is astounding. Edmund Burke was a product of his time and his stand. He was most of all a "somewhere". He still remains relevant to our time, because we interpret him where we want. Claus Bryld's contribution to understanding man, time, society and relevance today is exemplary.

The book is recommended!

Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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