Friday, February 08, 2008

Read the whole thing

In what was perhaps intended as a tasteful cheese course amid the flesh that Straight Talking MaverickTM John McCain was tossing to the pirahnas at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday, he decided to quote Edmund Burke --

I know in this country our liberty will not be seized in a political revolution or by a totalitarian government. But, rather, as Burke warned, it can be "nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts." I am alert to that risk and will defend against it, and ta ke comfort from the knowledge that I will be encouraged in that defense by my fellow conservatives.

Leave aside that McCain's view of the world seems to be that American freedom could be seized by a few thousand terrorists. Consider instead the following quote --

If we should be expelled from Iraq, the delusion of the partisans of military government might still continue. They might still feed their imaginations with the possible good consequences which might have attended success. Nobody could prove the contrary by facts. But in case the missile should do all that the missile can do, the success of their arms and the defeat of their policy will be one and the same thing. You will never see any revenue from Iraq. Some increase of the means of corruption, without ease of the public burdens, is the very best that can happen. Is it for this that we are at war,—and in such a war?

Who said that? No one. But Edmund Burke said it, with America substituted for Iraq (and missile for sword), in the same essay that forms the source for McCain's quote (Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, 1777).

He was outlining how a pointless war waged against people thousands of miles away on their home turf undermines the liberties of everyone back home. It's brilliant stuff. If you do read it (it begins at page 158 in that pdf download), change his references to "pirates" to "enemy combatant" and see what happens.

UPDATE: One real straight talking maverick did brave the boos and outline a Burkean position on the impact of foreign wars to the CPAC crowd. His name is Ron Paul. We're hoping to find a transcript of his speech but this gives the general idea.

FINAL UPDATE: Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic discusses McCain as a Burkean conservative. He never mentions Burke's negative views of foreign wars.

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