As a political ideology, “conservatism” has been unpopular in China over the past 100 years. By and large, it has always been on the fringes of political discourse. However, this situation has changed significantly in recent years.
I did a cursory search on HowNet. Before the 21st century, there were very few papers on the topic of “conservatism”. From 1991 to 2000, there were only fifty-six papers, but since then it has gradually increased. From 2011 to 2020, it has reached 280 articles.
From the change in this number, it can be seen that the number of articles has increased by more than five times in the past ten years compared with twenty years ago. To a certain extent, this shows that the intellectual interest in conservatism has changed significantly. The reason must be that some new social and economic conditions have changed people’s attention, and they are looking for a different framework of thought and rethinking how to think about their society. But despite the growing discussion, the concept of conservatism has not become clearer. Conservative and elitist creeds, as well as their opposite populist movements, seem to be relevant in related discussions; the Christian ecumenical mission and narrow localism also reveal a subtle background to conservatism. Recently, when discussing “Why Hayek is not a conservative”, some scholars even talked about “the possibility of conservatism and socialism joining forces”, arguing that Hayek does not agree with conservatism because it has “anti-personality” with socialism. the common ideological basis of “Islamicism”, and therefore it is possible to jointly deal with liberalism. This puzzling claim, nine times out of ten, confuses conservatism with collectivism.
Some well-known scholars, such as the well-known Huntington and Hayek, have many criticisms of conservatism. Huntington summed up the basic characteristics of conservatism in terms of “situation theory”. According to his observation, although different thinkers have tried to list a “category” for conservatism, it does not have a very stable and clear principle, its value The orientation is ultimately determined by the specific political situation. Any serious challenge to the existing social order will invite a reaction from conservatism; when the challenge is gone, conservatism will withdraw from the political arena. What Huntington means is that conservatism is obsessed with order, but has no particular values to uphold. Oddly, he also mocked Russell Kirk, the leading figure in American conservative thought, as “sentimental nostalgia” for his efforts to defend traditional core values.
More typical in this regard is Hayek. It is not difficult for a discerning person to see that the conservative tone of his social philosophy, especially the evolutionary theory of spontaneous order and anti-rationalism, is obvious at a glance, but this does not prevent him from arguing that he is not a conservative, although it is not convincing enough. Hartsky distanced himself from him because, in his opinion, conservatism lacks certainty in political ideas, and it is more than enough to delay the undesired trend, but it is poor at giving alternative directions, so it is also powerless to stop it from continuing to develop. Conservative positions can only be described “depending on the direction of trends at the time”. Hayek has this attitude towards conservatism, at least one reason can be thought of. Although he hates rationalist political construction, he is a person who likes theoretical construction very much, and this is the shortcoming of conservatism.
Adding to this confusion is the media. Newspapers comment on social trends of thought, and they can label a certain establishment or old-fashioned force as conservative without discrimination. In doing so, columnists do not take responsibility for clarifying concepts. To call Khomeini in Iran and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, or Bannon and Ryan, Strauss and Santayana in the United States as conservatism, would completely lose the precise meaning of the word.
However, let’s talk again. Conservatism gives the impression of a theoretically indeterminate place, and goes back to its origins, to blame somewhat on its founder, Edmund Burke. Many people today call Burke a “political thinker,” but unlike Hobbes or Locke, Burke was not a scholar. By today’s standards, he was at best an educated professional politician. He not only created a self-contained political theory from no ambition, but also consciously rejected the pollution of theory to practice. He must have adhered to certain political principles in his heart, but he did not want to follow the theoretician’s rhetoric and “entangle himself in the labyrinth of metaphysical sophistry” to explain these principles in detail. His speeches in parliament and his pamphlets on political discourse, although there are many eloquent ones, are in the end all timely works. To borrow the words of the contemporary people, he is “full of knowledge and only comes out of his throat”.
Burke’s ideological characteristics will naturally drag down the reputation of conservative post-learning. Not long after Burke’s death, he showed. In order to deal with the aggressive Enlightenment thought, the German Romantics turned Burke’s temperate national pride and unrequited love for his homeland into a narrow national consciousness. Delusions are marketed to the vain and credulous masses, and many peoples, when they were prosperous, had similar delusions. In the mid-nineteenth century, the industrial development of the northern United States led to the reaction of southern slave owners. Calhoun, who had brilliantly defended federalism, also borrowed Burke to defend southern slavery, which made conservatism notorious. Similar cases tell us that it is almost an impossible task to make a clear cut between conservatism and some narrow and stubborn forces.
Although conservatism later became an international ideology, Burke had little international influence for most of his life. It is not difficult to imagine that if there was no national revolution, Continental would know almost nothing about him. He has talked about a lot of issues in America and Ireland, and he is even more critical of the mismanagement of the East India Company, but after all, it is the internal affairs of the British Empire, and its nature is still no more than party disputes in parliament. Burke’s role in it, It’s just an endorsement of the interests of the British business empire. Even when he wrote “Reflections on the French Revolution,” Burke still considered himself the “Old Whigs” of the Glorious Revolution. His real audience was those in London who were excited about the French situation, especially those who used “people’s sovereignty” Said” than the Glorious Revolution’s Price and Fox et al. He did spend a lot of space in the book, describing the frivolity, abruptness, and arrogance on the streets of Paris, which immediately aroused widespread concern among people in the old European system. But when the stick hit the French, the original intention was to wake up his compatriots.
With a great reputation, controversy is inevitable. The biggest controversy that Burke caused in later generations was the principle on which he opposed revolution. A common narrative is that the French Revolution transformed Burke from liberal to old-fashioned, a remnant of an old dynasty. This statement began with Burke’s former friend Thomas Paine, and the “two Burkes” – the former liberal and the later reactionary – have been passed down from generation to generation.
Anyone today who can distinguish the similarities and differences of revolutions knows that the political changes in the modern West are not the same. The Glorious Revolution in Britain and the American Revolution, Burke has always been generous with his writing and praised his ability to maintain. From these two revolutions, he did not see enough to be alert or even panic. Their goal is relatively simple, simply the restoration of legitimate dominion, and once the goal is achieved, the revolution ends and society functions as usual. Later Tocqueville made a similar incisive observation of the Cromwellian Revolution, which shook the power structure of the entire country, even beheading the king, but hardly changed customs, conventions and justice, even if the flames were raging, ten The two judges are continuing the biannual circuit court. The top layers of society have been shaken, but the foundations have stayed the same. Tolle’s description applies equally to the Glorious Revolution and American independence. Burke became counter-revolutionary from freedom, not because he had changed, but because the nature of the revolution had changed. Therefore, the “two Burkes” theory does not hold.
This can be confirmed by the famous quote about the social contract in Rethinking the French Revolution, which is quoted by almost everyone as a typical expression of Burke’s conservatism: “The state cannot be regarded as a mere service for something such as pepper or coffee. , cloth or tobacco business, or some other insignificant temporary benefit, a partnership agreement may be dissolved at the whim of the signer. The state should be viewed with a different kind of reverence, which is not based only on obedience Temporary, ephemeral, naked animal existence for the purpose of that kind of partnership. The state is not only a partnership between the living, but also between the living, the dead, and those to be born Partnership.”
In fact, in 1782 Burke said in “Speech on the Reform of the House of Commons Representation”: “A nation is not a concept limited to a local area, nor is it a temporary aggregation of individuals; it is is an idea of a continuum in time, in numbers, and in space. It is not a momentary or partial choice, not a frivolous choice of a mob; it is a deliberate choice of ages and generations; A constitution that is a million times better than elections; it is determined by particular circumstances, occasions, temperaments, tendencies, and the ethics, folklore, and social habits of the people, which only manifest themselves over a long period of time.” This is exactly the same as the famous quote in “Reflections on the French Revolution”, which shows that his “conservatism” is not a stress response to the French Revolution, although the emotions are indeed much more intense.
If there is only one Burke, what is the basis for this Burke’s political principle? If he is conservative in freedom, is he the same as a liberal in Locke’s sense? A hypothesis may explain the problem. Locke was entrusted by his patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury, to design a constitution for the American Carolina Colony. Locke intends to undertake this matter, naturally because, in his view, the constitution can be pre-designed. After the promulgation of this constitution, it was not acclimatized in the Americas, and it died soon. Coincidentally, Jeremy Bentham also offered to design a “perfect constitution” for North America, but Madison flatly rejected it; his disciple James Mill proposed to write a civil law for India. It can be seen that people who are good at theory have a sense of aesthetics in order, and cannot restrain the impulse of system design. If such a thing were to happen to Burke, he would never accept it, because his understanding of the Constitution and freedom was completely different from those of these people.
Burke cherishes personal freedom as much as Locke, but he has his own way of understanding freedom. In “Reflections on the French Revolution”, there is a passage about society, and there is no mention of freedom, but his understanding of freedom is hidden.
Those who govern must deal with citizens. Burke says he does this by examining the various routines that have been followed in their living environment. Habit, as the “second nature” of man, mixes with his natural nature and makes many differences between man and man. Their origin, education, occupation and years of life, residence in town or country, different ways of acquiring and holding property, and the nature of property itself, all these factors make all living beings as varied as the species of animals. This social network of routines qualifies them for their respective social roles, with “their respective distinct and appropriate privileges to ensure that their particular circumstances require them”.
Burke’s remarks are very humble. The freedom in his mind may have an aspect of absolute value, but it is manifested in each person’s life and can only be reflected through the comfort and convenience provided by specific habits and customs, that is, the so-called “proper privilege”, no matter how high or low, The pain and pleasure of life and death, the slaughter of goods and goods, are all tied to this, and there is no exception. Even a “rough old farmer” knows very well how to use his own cattle and horses, give them proper feed and care, without pretending to be outsiders, let alone “empty metaphysicians”. There is no knowledge in the market, but there is common sense. What a politician should do is to provide fair protection for everyone “when various interests that must exist and fight each other in a complex society cause conflicts.” Therefore, Burke is most proud of: “In our council, a lease on a vegetable garden, a year’s profit on a hut, a tavern or bakery, the slightest sign of a violation of ownership. , more solemnly than you (the French) do with the oldest and most valuable estates of the most venerable men, or with the whole business and financial world of your country.” The solid barrier of the rights of the British is that Luckily they never read Voltaire, Rousseau, or Helvetic, their brains were not hollowed out and stuffed with “dirty waste paper on human rights, like a museum stuffed with chaff and rags of bird taxidermy. Same”.
With this conception of rights in mind, it’s not hard to see why Burke hated the metaphysician’s scheme of freedom. This type of person is “a degenerate shortcut to shortcuts and false conveniences”, ignorant of the complex structure of society, and sees the state as a “whiteboard on which you can scribble” (carte blanche, thus using the word “whiteboard” , Burke’s view of Locke can be imagined). Such people boast too much morality, and even worse, they harbor “vulgar and boring desire for honor”. Once they intervene in social governance, arrogance is the inevitable result. With a piece of paper “meeting the requirements of equality”, he can take away his livelihood at any time, “if his intelligence is not enough, he will use ample violence to supplement it.” Over time, despotism is born, whether it manifests itself as a French monarchy or a Parisian republic.
Needless to say, although Burke is famous in the world for being conservative, his excellence is not being conservative. “The willingness to preserve what exists must be added to the ability to improve it”—this is the standard Burke clearly sets out to those in power. To start transforming society, figuring out what to keep is as important as what to transform. Before eradicating the looming scourge, “it is imperative to identify as much as possible the great quantity of good things of unambiguous nature”. For a revolution, the happiness of thousands of compatriots must be paid an immeasurable price, and the ordinary moral order must be ruthlessly trampled on. It is the biggest failure of politicians. The balance between survival and abolition, and the priority of principle and flexibility are the homework that must be done for politicians.
To do this, politicians need to have a “vibrant mind, unwavering focus,” the ability to compare and combine improvements, and a “fruitful understanding of flexibility.” The processing of inanimate clocks still requires careful and prudent wisdom, not to mention that “the main body of demolition and construction is not masonry and wood, but sentient beings-the sudden change of their circumstances, conditions and habits may cause a large number of people To fall into a miserable position – sobriety and prudence become part of the responsibility”. In France, on the other hand, the “popular opinion in Paris” is “a ruthless heart, a stubborn conviction, the only qualification for a perfect legislator”. People who are superstitious in violence can always summon people of inferior character, and this will only make the government worse and worse.
When Burke observed the state of affairs in France, he had already heard a rhetoric that has since become commonplace. The violence of the revolution is the “necessary price” for breaking the old and establishing the new. Burke has always been deeply skeptical about “all policies that sacrifice part for the good ideal of the whole”. To set aside undisputed legitimate interests for the realization of certain ideas that are sure to be debated forever is, in Burke’s view, “not only absurd in theory, but tyrannical and cruel in practice”. What he saw from the chaos in France was not, as some people praised, only a temporary crime. Although the gong was rude to open the way, the true God followed. Burke maintains that present evil, if left unchecked, will only serve as a means to create greater evil in the future—“It is not an undigested, crude and incomplete plan of liberty, which gradually and steadily matures into a orderly social freedom.” It is fundamentally wrong and has no chance of correcting itself over time. Those who supported the French Revolution, like many other superstitious people, had ignorance as a cause for admiration.
Of course, Burke is not resistant to change. He put his heart and mind the most, is “exactly where obedience should end, resistance must begin, this line is delicate and fuzzy, and it is not easy to define.” Specifically, the standard that should be followed to get rid of maladministration. When talking about “removing the power of the East India Company to control Indian affairs”, Burke listed several conditions that he thinks need to be considered, which can be used for reference:
First, abuse of power It must affect a very large and very important object;
secondly, the abuse of power on this important object must reach a very serious level;
thirdly, this abuse must occur frequently, rather than accidentally;
finally, the current system This abuse of power is completely uncorrectable.
If these conditions exist, reform is imperative, even if it deviates from the original principles or conventions, such as the Glorious Revolution involving such a sacred principle of “hereditary order”. But in that extreme case, Burke still did not forget to remind the world that the change is limited to the power of violation, “will not cause the disintegration of the entire civic and political groups”, so that the original part of the society can easily derive new ones civic order.
Presumably no one can deny that these words are typical expressions of Burke’s political thought pattern. If a complete and coherent theory is used as a yardstick, his thought is definitely a very failed theory, that is, as mentioned in the above four items, “important”, “serious” and “regular”, all of which are also lacking in people’s preference today. “Quantitative Standard”. It might be good to say that Burke upholds certain principles and ideas, but to say that these principles or ideas are his unique standards, there are some problems. Completely ignoring Burke’s wisdom of judging the situation and weighing the pros and cons as a theoretically innocuous passing opinion, it becomes nonsense to study his “conservatism”. Whether or not the justification of such rights is logically perfect is not a very valuable outcome for those who guard rights deeply embedded in tradition and convention. It is forced into the philosophical speculation that Burke is afraid to avoid, and freedom as “an ancestral inheritance of the English” is put into the framework of Kant or Rawls’s liberalism to examine, so as to prove Burke’s The “philosophies of liberty” are not as rigorous and sophisticated as theirs, which may please the intellect, but it does nothing to understand why he enshrined prudence as the “first virtue” of politics.
Prudence is only a virtue, not a theory, and it inherently rejects academic transformation, just as convenience ceases to be convenience when it requires philosophical arguments. Contrary to the general impression, Burke is often very principled, but he is not more concerned with the purity of the principle, but its ability to adapt to social changes. Principles, especially political principles, its real value is not reflected in the theory, but depends on the operational ability of the politicians. This requires emotion, a spirit of compromise, communication skills, a sense of proportion, and, at times, a little bit of tact. There is nothing theory can do on these matters. What Burke is most particular about is the balance between various ideas and interests, the flexible use of principles, observations, and experience, and it is most appropriately called “conservative craftsmanship,” or as Oakeshott later put it. It is the “temperament” or “cultivation” of politicians.