Torturing Prudence

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The knock on the CIA is that its interrogation program, exposed as ineffective and abusive in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s recent report, was lawless. But the agency’s worst excesses may have resulted from the attempt to be excessively lawful.

Such a paradox can only come about when what Edmund Burke called “the first of all virtues, prudence,” has fled the scene. The Intelligence Committee’s voluminous report (even its summary is 525 pages long) is an in-depth account of that decline.

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A Conversation with Roger Scruton on How to be a Conservative

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This conversation with Roger Scruton engages his defense of the conservative disposition. Scruton’s just-released book, How to be a Conservative, might be said to take on the challenge Friedrich Hayek issued in his famous essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” There, you will recall, Hayek argued that conservatism does not offer a program, or any substantive content that would affirm a free society. It is always in prudential retreat. This conversation explores Scruton’s Burkean-informed notion that tradition and habit aren’t blind guides, but are teachers and modes of social knowledge by which the perennial problem of social coordination is…

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Critiquing Leo Strauss from the Right

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This next episode of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with author and professor Grant Havers on his conservative critique of Leo Strauss. Many conservatives hold Strauss in high regard as a thinker who shaped their intellectual commitments. Havers discusses the question: what's so conservative about Strauss' philosophy? Havers' recent book Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique contends that Strauss was a liberal Cold War warrior who most wanted to defend the foundational principles of British and American democracy. Going to the heart of Strauss' philosophical principles and his grounding of modern constitutional liberty in classical Greek political thought,…

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The Fundamental Left-Right Divide

In her first formal appearance as head of the United States Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen obliquely suggested the Fed might not raise its mighty “federal funds” rate to tighten the economy until months after its Quantitative Easing bond purchasing ended completely, coyly portending cheap money indefinitely. The market shuddered but soon calmed at the soothing voice of its controller.

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Law and Moral Obligation II: A Response to Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin has posted an essay at Volokh that narrows that gap between our views on the source of the moral obligation to obey the law—I certainly agree, for example, that there are exigent circumstances in which one might be not merely entitled but obliged to disobey—but our underlying disagreement persists: whether the calculation itself is an individual or a political one.

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“The god of this lower world”

NPG 655; Edmund Burke studio of Sir Joshua ReynoldsEdmund Burke, mobilizer of theoretical resistance to the French Revolution in the face of all odds, pursuer of Warren Hastings in the face of certain defeat, lived a political life so seemingly incautious that by its end he had to ask to be buried in an anonymous grave lest the Jacobins, on their inevitable march across his beloved island, exhume and violate his bones. Yet he described prudence as “the first of all virtues.”

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This Republic of Federalism

Timothy Sandefur’s The Conscience of the Constitution contributes to the debate over the best way to limit the powers of the United States government in order to secure liberty. Sandefur, a lawyer and legal scholar, believes that Conscience“American constitutional history has always hovered in the mutual resistance of two principles: the right of each individual to be free, and the power of the majority to make rules.” (1) For Sandefur adherence to the natural rights theory of Declaration of Independence manages the tension between the two principles.

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Friday Roundup, January 3rd

The January Liberty Forum seeks to recover perhaps a forgotten connection between the Bill of Rights and the structural limitations on power in the Constitution. Patrick Garry leads off with an essay that answers the question: What should be the focus of the Bill of Rights? Responses to follow from Ed Erler, Michael Ramsey, and Ken Bowling. Our Books section this week features Alex Pollock's review of Greenspan's The Map and the Territory. The current Liberty Law Talk is with 2013 Bradley Prize recipient Yuval Levin on his new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right…

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The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left

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This edition of Liberty Law Talk is with Yuval Levin, author of The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. A 2013 Bradley Prize recipient, Levin connects us with the actual contest between Burke and Paine as they debated the central claims of the French Revolution and much of modern political thought with its focus on rights, individualism, the social contract vs. Burke's more expansive notions of social liberty, the contract among the dead, the living, and those yet to be born, and his belief in prescription or the notion that change should be…

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Edmund Burke’s Perennial Liberty

Books reviewed in this essay:

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, by Corey Robin. Oxford University Press.

The Common Mind: Politics, Society and Christian Humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk, by André Gushurst-Moore. Angelico Press.

The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give It Back, by David Willetts. Atlantic Books.

Amidst the recurring question of whether Edmund Burke is relevant to contemporary politics, we are presented with three volumes that approach this vital issue in different ways, and with varying levels of scholarly and popular perceptiveness. All the books under review attempt to connect the witness and insights of the great statesman to ongoing conflicts in society and politics. Perhaps the disparate assessments of Burke alone could suggest the resiliency of his legacy; however, the importance of Burke the political theorist dictates a closer examination of these critical works.

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