The Corner

Brooks and Burke

My view on the Brooks column is that it’s good as far as it goes, but it overlooks some key aspects of the Scottish Enlightenment and its view of top-down or planned institutional structures — and, as a consequence, is too complacent about the growth of government and consequent diminution of civil society.  Burke, after all, was a Whig, and a fan of Adam Smith.  Burke’s cautions about dramatic social change were grounded in his belief in the importance of the spontaneous order that arises from organic social institutions, including those in the marketplace, and his skepticism of the ability of individuals to construct superior institutions through reason.  The institutions Brooks would defend today bear no resemblance to the organic institutions Burke sought to protect.  Indeed, they have crowded out and, in some cases crushed, the little platoons upon which social order depends.  So the meaningful question for a true Burkean is not whether to oppose a Jacobin revolution, but what to do after such a revolution has already taken place.

Jonathan H. Adler — Mr. Adler is an NRO contributing editor and the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. His latest book is Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane.


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