Edmund Burke’s reflections on the Age of Obama

By Ellis Washington

History consists for the great part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites.

~ Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

Continuing a series of columns on Benjamin Wiker’s “10 Books Every Conservative Must Read,” we come to Chapter 5, “Reflections on the Revolution of France” (1790) by Sir Edmund Burke, whom Wiker calls the first great modern conservative philosopher.

The French Revolution (1789-99) – also called “The Reign of Terror” (1793-94) where 40,000 people were killed that year alone and by some estimates as many as 450,000 killed during the War in the Vendee (1793-96) – mirrored the terrible genocide perpetrated by Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot in the 20th century. The French Revolution remains a point of historical revisionism and idealism and is still widely viewed by liberals as an anomaly of the lofty principles of revolution – as opposed to Burke’s contemporary narrative based in realism as the predictable catastrophe of the French Revolution.

Burke queried: How could such sublime precepts like Liberté, égalité, fraternité devolve so rapidly into the bloodlust autocracy of the Jacobins? Perhaps one cause was the anti-Christian, materialist atheism of the Enlightenment and the propaganda generated by French philosophers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot; that all evil was to be found in the nobility and the church, and its allegation that all virtue and righteousness belonged to the secular rationalists and the common people. It is no mistake, then, that Maximilien de Robespierre, a devotee of Rousseau, and the poor working-class radicals, the sans-culottes, enflamed by propaganda, perpetrated the Reign of Terror, murdering the nobles, the clergy and destroying the Christian church.

Burke, a student of history and traditions, understood that humanity’s love of chaos was viral throughout history, regardless of gender, time period, race, social class or circumstance. The problem is sin. The impact of these vices can be comprehended and their impact upon society lessened, but they cannot be conquered by man without abolishing him, so deep and intractable the curse of sin is. It was this sin problem being ignored by man’s great modern technological advances that prompted the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis to write, “The Abolition of Man” (1943). Against this secular utopianism, the French revolutionaries arrogantly proclaimed that they were establishing a Republic of Virtue, and then engaged in many cruel, maniacal crimes against humanity that live on in infamy to this day.

Wiker argues that the primary basis of Enlightenment Age brutality was the utter hatred of Christianity, for in rejecting Christianity, those following Enlightenment philosophies rejected original sin. In rejecting sin, French revolutionaries tragically and foolishly assumed that the origins of human misery in history could be remedied entirely by human action (humanism), that the origin of the corruption in political life was not in the soul but in defective and unjust social structures, particularly in Christianity – a religion holding that because of original sin human nature and humanity was in a fallen state of nature and must be redeemed.

The diabolical strategy of the French Revolutionaries was to demolish the social institutions, eliminate the social orders, exterminate Christianity, and upon its ashes build by force an entirely new secular order based upon humanism and rationalism, where all problems that have plagued mankind from antiquity would magically vanish.

Yet Burke tells us that the Enlightenment Age summary rejection of sin could not prevent the revolution’s maniacal bent toward chaos and genocide. On this point Wiker wrote of Burke:

For those who reject the sacred, nothing is sacred – not the desecrated churches; not the guillotined priests and nuns; not the massacred women and children; not property, tradition, customs, manners, or laws. Nothing is holy; anything may be destroyed for the sake of the revolutionary utopia. This spirit of profanation filled the populace with a “black and savage atrocity of mind,” which superseded “in them the common failings of nature as well as all sentiments of morality and religion.” This bold spirit of profanation, they believed, would usher in a new, just social order.

Burke’s prescient worldview came from years of cloistered study, scrupulous and often unpopular observations (i.e., his support of the Irish Catholics over British hegemony, freedom for the American colonists, favoring limited monarchy checked by a strong Parliament) and a profound reverence for the lessons of history against the savage beauty of human nature – all this emanates from Burke’s conservatism.

It was Burke’s conservatism that made him understand in the midst of the French Revolution the fatal flaw of the Enlightenment Age – an over-reliance on reason and rationality at the expense of other human traits. It was Hume who famously said that “Reason is merely the slave of the passions” and along with Kant argued that reason is instrumental in bringing about our desires, but is not the fundamental driving force of mankind, let alone the universe at large.

The French Revolution is not some bygone series of unfortunate events. The same depraved spirit that gave humanity Darwinian evolution, the genocide of Marxism and Hitler’s anti-Semitic, anti-Christian pogroms is now being manifested in the Age of Obama through utopian socialism, welfare-state progressivism and liberalism.

Like the atheists and secular humanists of the Age of Enlightenment, Obama arrogantly decreed that America is no longer a Christian nation. He is evidently dismissive of America’s constitutional principles and clearly hates the historical role America has played in the world, which places him at constant odds with American constitutionalism and exceptionalism. Obama hates our Judeo-Christian heritage and detests America’s historical allies.

Thus, during these perilous times of great societal upheaval and despair during the Age of Obama, I repeatedly return to the writings of Burke and find his prophecies as fresh, his analysis as agonizingly accurate as they were 220 years when he originally wrote them. Only the characters and countries have changed.