Over the past several months, tensions have reached a boiling point on the streets of the United States — and, increasingly, in other major cities around the world. After several long winter months which included government enforced lockdowns in response to the Coronavirus, the warm summer months were accompanied by storm-clouds in the form of a video of a Black man, George Floyd, killed by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This disturbing video appeared to be a clear-cut case of police brutality.
Outrage, protests, and anger were soon accompanied by illegitimate acts of violence, mobs, rioting, and looting. News of Floyd’s death spread across the U.S., much like the Coronavirus. Black Lives Matter (BLM), a radical Marxist group, led the charge. Waves of chaos, looting, rioting, and general pandemonium hit streets across cities in the U.S. in ways that have not been seen since the race riots of the 1960s/1970s.
And yet, to the astute student of history, none of this is new. It’s the same story we have heard before. In fact, as some have observed, the current climate bears an uncanny resemblance to both the Chinese Cultural Revolution — and, perhaps more aptly, to the terror that followed the French Revolution.
Between 1795-1797, the Right Honourable Edmund Burke authored his famous Letters on a Regicide Peace. These four letters were written to dissuade the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, William Pitt, from establishing a peaceful détente with the Regicides.
Who were the Regicides? The Jacobins, of course: radicals who sought to uproot the foundations of stability and civil society in France. They were armed not just with physical weapons but with ideological ones as well.
The Jacobins of Burke’s day bear an astonishing resemblance to the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) of today. These SJWs include groups such as Antifa (that is, ‘anti-fascists’ who are anything but), BLM, and many other groups on the radical left. They are today’s Jacobins.
To fully grasp the similarities between Burke’s era and the present, comparisons between the Jacobins and the SJWs are made by contrasting quotations from Burke’s Letters on a Regicide Peace and contemporary news stories. It is a testament to Burke’s brilliance that his words can still sound so relevant today, more than 200 years later.
Burke interpreted the Jacobins as an enemy with “an armed doctrine that we are at war.” For the contemporary SJW, that armed doctrine is Marxism, critical theory, the Frankfurt School, intersectionality, and various academic disciplines that have the word “studies” attached (such as ‘gender studies’, ‘African studies’, and ‘queer studies’).
In these academic disciplines — often referred to as ‘grievance studies’ — students are taught that America is a horribly racist and oppressive place that must be destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up. Essentially, it is, “a perpetual charge on the … Government of fraud, evasion, and habitual perfidy.” These disciplines provide radicals with a weaponized language. As Burke put it: “Before men can transact any affair, they must have a common language to speak, and some common recognized principles on which they can argue.”
Unfortunately, the semantic principles provided by social justice movements and Marxism are flawed, at best. Alan Dershowitz attacked intersectionality as “the phoniest academic doctrine I have encountered in 53 years.” The late Sir Roger Scruton attacked social justice as, “fake scholarship.”
This is where the armed doctrine and the common language necessary to begin ‘the revolution’ come from. The revolution is one that Tucker Carlson has described as “the ancient battle between those who have a stake in society and would like to preserve it and those who don’t and seek to destroy it.” Carlson made this comment as Minneapolis literally burned from rioting and looting. He may as well have been quoting Burke: “It is a war between the partisans of the ancient, civil, moral, and political order of Europe against a sect of fanatical and ambitious … which means to change them all.”
We know the activists want change; and we know their means of achieving this change are violent; but what do they specifically want to change? They say they want to end systemic and institutionalized racism; but in practical terms, what does that mean? Burke asked many of the same questions, remarking: “They make no scruple beforehand to tell you the whole of what they intend; and this is what we call, in the modern style, the acceptance of a proposition for peace.” The policies, demands, and beliefs of the revolutionaries are inconsistent, at best.
Case and point: the staggering hypocrisy of the media and left-wing politicians regarding the BLM protests versus the Coronavirus lockdowns. Protesting is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Opening businesses, attending churches, and peacefully assembling? somehow unacceptable. They pick and choose how and when their morals are applied and enforced. Once again, Burke hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “But in their eye the title of every other power depends wholly on their pleasure.”
The chief advocates of such inconsistency are those in the liberal media. It is the same media that has been blatantly lying about the nature of these protests as well. Yes, there have been many peaceful protests; but there have also been serious acts of violence and rioting. Burke may as well have addressed the liberal media of today directly: “The silence of these writers is dreadfully expressive. They dare not touch the subject: but it is not annihilated by their silence, nor by our indifference.” The media has routinely lied to the public about the riots, anti-White racism, and a host of other developments.
Burke’s lamenting of “our utter and irretrievable ruin” as a country is precipitated by the complete and total disrespect not only for the rule of law, but for law enforcement itself. Our police forces risk their lives every day to protect and serve. Unfortunately, after the death of George Floyd, calls to not only defund the police, but to outright abolish them, have been vociferously made. This may sound astonishing and preposterous to us in the present — but not to Burke. He possessed the intuition to fully grasp the issue and its consequences:
We are probably the only nation who have declined to act against an enemy, when it might have been done in his own country; and who having an armed, a powerful, and a long victorious ally in that country, declined all effectual cooperation, and suffered him to perish for want of support.
Burke was well aware that failing to act when necessary will only cause greater calamities. Violent mobs will rarely just lose their inertia. Undoubtedly, Burke’s warning that, “They who bow to the enemy abroad will not be of power to subdue the conspirator at home” was prescient.
We cannot appease the mob. The only real option is deterrence. Just ask the liberal progressive mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey. When Frey waltzed into a mob of his constituents, they asked if he would defund the police. His response in the negative got him booed and expelled from the crowd.
The protestors and mob are demanding to be judged by what they wish themselves to be, and what they assume conservatives, and any people opposed to their radical ideology are. Burke understood this notion thusly: “The adversary must be judged, not by what we are, or by what we wish him to be, but by what we must know he actually is.”
Burke was wildly opposed to this method of assessment. Essentially, Burke is advocating for judgment based on merit, actions, and individuality. We cannot judge a person by the actions of others, or what we wish or presume an individual to be. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke made a near identical claim:
It is not very just to chastise men for the offences of their natural ancestors; but to take the fiction of ancestry in a corporate succession, as a ground for punishing men who have no relation to guilty acts, except in names and general descriptions, is a sort of refinement in injustice belonging to the philosophy of this enlightened age. The assembly punishes men, many, if not most, of whom abhor the violent conduct of ecclesiastics in former times as much as their present persecutors can do, and who would be as loud and as strong in the expression of that sense, if they were not well aware of the purposes for which all this declamation is employed.
Punishing individuals for the crimes of their ancestors, or others should make no sense. We, as individuals, should be judged only according to our own actions. We should not be held accountable for the actions of others. Unfortunately, Marxism — and a specific tenet of Marxism — is present here. That tenet is the abolition of individuality: “And the abolition of this state of things is called by the bourgeois, abolition of individuality and freedom!”
In The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell explained that
[o]ne of the many contrasts between traditional justice and cosmic justice is that traditional justice involves the rules under which flesh-and-blood human beings interact, while cosmic justice encompasses not only contemporary individuals and groups, but also group abstractions extending over generations, or even centuries.
Thus, social justice is not just about living individuals involved in the current world; it is rather about abstractions, generalizations, and the past. Sowell explained that
cosmic justice must be hand-made by holders of power who impose their own decision on how these flesh-and-blood individuals should be categorized into abstraction, and how these abstractions should then be forcibly configured to fit the vision of the power-holders.
The SJW/Marxist strips the individual of his individuality and then turns the person into an abstraction. If a human being is an individual, then we can be held accountable only for our own actions; we cannot be held accountable for the actions of another person, let alone the actions of a group of people who lived and died long before our time. If we are not individuals, then we can be turned into abstractions. As abstractions, we can then be blamed for the actions of others who are classified as members of these abstractions. Those pushing social justice ideology are the ones dictating the terms of these abstractions.
Burke saw this happening in his day, too. As he put it: “Did they not declare, that no property should be confiscated from the children, for the crime of the parent?” How can one person be punished for the actions of others?
The quintessential example of this is the appalling story of Melissa Rolfe, the stepmother of Atlanta, Georgia, police officer, Garrett Rolfe. Rolfe is the white police officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, after “resisting arrest, attacking two police officers, taking an officer’s Taser and shooting it at a police officer.” Unfortunately for the police officers involved in the shooting, Brooks’ death came on the heels of the George Floyd protests. His death was wrongly lumped together with Floyd’s death as yet another example of police brutality and systemic racism.
Rioting, of course, ensued — which brings us to Melissa Rolfe, Officer Rolfe’s stepmother. She was fired from her job in human resources at a mortgage company for creating an uncomfortable work environment. In other words: She was fired for the actions of her stepson — the actions of another person that were not her own. Burke must be rolling in his unmarked grave.
Sadly, such ideological behavior is learned in K-12 schools and in our institutions of higher education. Our universities and public schools used to be, “[o]ur most salutary and most beautiful institutions.” They have degraded, yielding, “nothing but dust and smut” — what the Marxist and social justice advocates call “diversity education.”
Diversity advocates believe their educational and policy endeavors are improving society. They may feel good about their efforts, but their actions are not actually doing good. Burke knew this type of person in his day: “Above all, good men do not suspect that their destruction is attempted through their virtues.”
So, what does bring people of difference together? Burke knew:
Men are not tied to one another by papers and seas. They are led to associate by resemblances, by conformities, by sympathies. It is with nations as with individuals. Nothing is so strong a tie of amity between nation and nation as correspondence in laws, customs, manners, and habits of life. They have more than the force of treaties themselves.
Burke intuitively understood that similarities, not differences, unite us. Imagine trying to arrange a friendship between small children by saying how different and unalike they are. No one in their right mind would do this. The obvious course of action would be to stress commonalities and similarities. This should seem axiomatic to even those with the most cursory experience in building bridges between neighbors.
Burke observed that continual and repeated interactions between neighbors was integral to the process of bridging. The more we interact with our neighbors, the more that obligations and relationships among and between men form — which is the very essence of building community.
Some may find the similarities between Burke’s time and ours to be an anomaly. But Burke would have responded by saying:
Is it that the people are changed, that the commonwealth cannot be protected by its laws? I hardly think it. On the contrary, I conceive, that these things happen because men are not changed, but remain always what they always were; they remain what the bulk of us must ever be, when abandoned to our vulgar propensities, without guide, leader or control.
To the Burkean conservative, human nature is fixed, constant, and unchanging. We are no different than our eldest ancestors. This is why history seems to repeat itself, and move cyclically.
To most people, recent events in the U.S. may appear as completely unprecedented. To the student of history, however, history is repeating itself — and the social justice warriors of today are nothing less than the spitting image of the Jacobins of Burke’s time. This is why Burke is just as valuable as ever: he is a beacon of light against the ever-consuming darkness in the world.