What does Burke see as the basis, the foundation, of human society and government? 

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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One thing that Edmund Burke does see is a “regulated liberty” as part of the basis or foundation of human society and government. He believes that government and liberty are both good. However, he believes that there must be boundaries that govern the government as well as liberty – so that each does not have unfettered autonomy to do as each pleases without taking into account what is best for society as a whole.

In essence, Edmund Burke is saying that liberty, as practiced, can be good; it can also be allowed to run wild in the heat of the moment, for example, a successful revolution. Burke believes it is well to let the dust settle after a triumph of liberty to see how the new paradigm will play out. Will the initial, noble goals of those who fought and sought freedom come to fruition? Conversely, will those who attain the liberty they sought become corrupted?

Human society and government must retain their proper ideals and not let events, situations, and special interest groups sway them from a right and proper course, if possible. This is when corruption or unwise policies can creep into government and then affect the society they are trying to govern.

Burke makes a very good point when he states that liberty must meld well with other aspects of life in a country. That is why he reserves his praise for the French Revolution until he sees how liberty works in its society.

The main point that Edmund Burke is trying to make is that liberty must work in association with “government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with the solidity of property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners.” (Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke, 1790).

Therefore, to Edmund Burke, the foundation of human society and government is a common, right goal, with both society and government working together. Along with working together, these two entities must incorporate a new freedom or liberty wisely into all aspects of society and government, taking into account the interlocking systems that abound in a complex society, as mentioned in italics above. It cannot be an impetuous liberty that does not take into account the good institutions and values or traditions already embedded in a nation.

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