Wednesday, February 20, 2013

AJ Ayer on Edmund Burke

"For a long time now, it seems to me, theoretical principles have played a very small part in English politics. There have been conflicts of interest, at different times setting country against town, landowners against manufacturers, protectionists against free-traders, employers against labout, Anglicans against Roman Catholics and Dissenters, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh against the English, even men against women, and of course always the rich against the poor, but in the main these battles have not been waged in ideological terms. There is often a coating of theory but the arguments in which it is deployed have been mostly ad hoc; they have not stemmed from different theoretical systems. Conservatives, on solemn occasions, will still appeal to Bruke, but Burke's is a second order theory; its moral is that one should not have any theory of the first order. 'Politics is the art of the possible; to find out what is possible you have to feel your way; if you tamper with ancient institutions, you will open the floodgates to a tide which you may not be able to control; no human institution is perfect, but if one has stood the test of time it is better to leave it alone; what is entrenched is likely for that very reason to be good.'"

(Philosophy and Politics, by AJ Ayer)

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