Two Questions Inspired by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on Whether One Should Recuse Himself

I have noticed, and you may have, too, that there has been some talk in Washington about investigating some possible improprieties in the behavior of some officials in the Trump administration. Inevitably, there has also been talk about who should conduct the investigations, and accompanying this talk there has been the suggestion that some should recuse themselves from any such investigations.

Now, my interest in better understanding ethical, social, and political conservatism has been stimulated by the coming into power of a new administration many, if not most, of the members of whom have been identified as conservatives. A previous post, the “Ayn Rand, Trump and the Conservatives, and Abortion”* of January 3, 2017, marked a first step in my efforts at attaining that better understanding, but I have also taken the more serious step of undertaking, not just a reading, but a systematic and sustained study, of one of the classics in the literature of American conservative thought, Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot (7th edition; Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing Company, 1986 [1953]).

I am not yet ready to offer up any dramatically significant theoretical results, even in my own estimation, of my study of Kirk. But I would like to put forward two questions that I see as having immediate practical importance. They arise from the reading of a passage, quoted by Kirk (The Conservative Mind, p. 53) written by Edmund Burke, whom Kirk describes (Ibid., p. 1) as “the greatest of modern conservative thinkers.” The passage, taken from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, reads:

One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is that no man should be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself, and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his own governor. [The emphasis is, I take it, Burke’s.]

The first question, then, is: Would those in the administration or in government who identify themselves as conservatives accept Burke’s “fundamental rule” that “no man should be judge in his own cause” as a fundamental rule or even just a rule?

The second question is: Would those in the administration who identify themselves as conservatives not just accept Burke’s “fundamental rule” as a rule, but apply it to themselves?

Until next time.



About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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