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déi Konservativ “Learning about Burke & Conservatism – Speech at the European School of Luxembourg”

Introduction

Dear Teacher,

Dear students,

Your invitation to the European School of Luxembourg II here in Mamer, is a pleasure to me and I thank you therefore, for your interest. To introduce me briefly to you, my name is Joe Thein, 26 years old, founder and national president of the political party déi Konservativ (in English we would say “the Conservatives”) as well as a former elected member of the Pétange municipality council and 1st vice-president of the umbrella organization of the conservative youth movements; EYC.

I am active in the political sphere for now about 9 and ½ years, and I must say, that being a politician is not only a wild, instructive and interesting life style, but also, a matter of patriotic duties. It is all about the most important commitment for our country and its citizens, always with love, and essentially, for freedom, liberty and harmony.

But enough about me. I would like to focus my political speech today on the specific topic within the meaning of your invitation and of what you all want to know more about. I want to talk to you, and with you, about conservatism and its main political figure, Edmund Burke. If there is time left at the end, we can also have an open discussion about my party’s aim which stands in tradition to this political idea, or the conservative stance and political situation here in Luxembourg. Furthermore, I brought with me, three books that I highly recommend as an important and interesting lecture on the subject. I’m giving them around, so that you can have a quick look, and maybe notice all information’s you need for a possible order;

1st; Edmund Burke & the Invention of Modern Conservatism 1830-1914 by Emily Jones. It is a work belonging to the Oxford Historical Monographs series, some of the best Oxford University doctoral theses on historical topics, and in the interest of academic readership.

2nd; Edmund Burke – The first Conservative by Jesse Norman, who is an active politician of the the British Conservative Party, Member of Parliament, and Doctor of Philosophy.

3rd; Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Burke himself with editing’s and notes from Connor Cruise O’Brien, a former Irish politician and historian.

Edmund Burke: Burkean Conservatism

Well, let’s have first a look on the man, who is the founding father of the political theory of conservatism. This political figure, was the honest Irishman Edmund Burke, with the titles of a politician, philosopher and author at the same time.

His life began with his birth in Dublin in the year 1730, being the son of Mary Nagle, a Catholic mother, and Richard, a converted Anglican father. The Burke dynasty was a descendant family related to the Anglo-Norman knight de Burgh, who participated in the invasion of Ireland in May 1169 under the rule of Henry II of England. Throughout his entire life, he was a practicing Anglican belonging to the Church of England. He also belonged to the ethical bond of the Freemason’s, with his own Jerusalem Lodge Nr. 44, in support of the basic ideas of society and self-knowledge.

From 1743 to 1750, Burke was studying classical literature and history at the Trinity Colleague in Dublin. He also began unfinished studies of law science. Already in 1747, he set up a debating society, the Edmund Burkes’ Club, which is nowadays, the oldest and undergraduate society in the world. By the end of his student time, he was travelling around Continental Europe.

Burke first appeared in the literary world by publishing two well-known works, called “a Vindication of Natural Society” in 1756, and “On the Origins of the Sublime and Beautiful” in 1757.

Following his writings, Burke had then been married to Jane Mary Nugent in 1757, daughter of a Catholic Physician. In 1758, his son Richard was born, but who later died in infancy. He also raised the son of a maternal cousin, orphaned in 1763.

His really interesting professional and political career, started by working as a private secretary for William Gerard Hamilton, Chief Secretary for Ireland, before being employed for the liberal Whig statesman and his close friend, Charles Marquess of Rockingham, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

At about this same time, by the year 1765, Burke first entered the House of Commons of the British parliament as deputy with a seat for Wendover and the Whig’s. His maiden speech in the parliament, his speeches on the American crisis 1774/1775, as well as his contributions to political issues, including his work “Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents” in 1790, let to a reputation of him, as a respected and great rhetorician, politician and writer, mostly as reformer of political issues, like the slave trade, the position of the Catholics, political economy, ultimate royal power, and corruption, colonialist and imperialist policy by the head of British administration and governance in India.

He was principally defending and advocating ancient Whig principles, like for example, constitutional monarchism, however, he also differed of the party’s line, because of his own political understanding and views of life. He also supported free trade with Ireland, the important role of parliamentarianism and catholic emancipation.

On the one hand, he was a respected politician, on the other hand, who wants to be a great statesman, always has to be unpopular and controversial – and that was he, for sure. For his stand on political principles and his political passion, he was often considered as a dangerous political enemy for the establishment and the political scene. He described himself as a patriotic Englishman without denial

of his Origin, with a belief in the organic nature of society and politics, and a respect for traditions, religion, property and order.

He was essentially based on thoughts on the civil society, where religious affinity, ethics, moral and manners, order and stability, liberty and freedom, and especially, the dependence and defense of the constitution, have been main keys in politics. The imperfect and educational man in a context of rules and principles.

His impassioned critique and political opposition of the French Revolution, a period of far-reaching and radical social and political upheaval in France in the years from 1789 until 1799, and his most famous work “Reflections on the Revolution in France” in 1790, were certainly, the big bang of conservative principles, a view of life, anchored in the political system as one of the most successful political theory and social philosophy . It is the oppositional alternative to other main political ideologies, like liberalism and socialism.

The historical and political process and the time’s situation, made Burke the right man for the right time. His Book of 1790 was a stand against a radical, revolutionary and anarchistic political and social era and a voice against extremism, for example, in disagreement over the introduction of the death penalty by guillotine, as symbol of a loss of humanity.  It is the following quote of Burke himself, which resumes his political life and acts. ‘Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’

At the end, the fight for unpopular causes, led to Burk’s loss of his seat in 1780 and his own political role and influence on political affairs. He died in 1797 – but his political foundation survived, continued and still exists. His invention, and the heritage of the initial conservatism, is still a reference for nowadays modern conservatism.

Conservatism: the conservative pillars

But let’s talk about conservatism itself. It has changed over the time and with it. And there are differences … among understanding and definition, among generations and time periods, among countries and parties and so on…

On a wide range of issues, conservatives may disagree. There is no existence of an absolute and only right scientific definition and no ultimate bible like the Communist Manifesto. There is no single conservative meaning of conservatism, because it depends on what is considered traditional position in a given place and time.

However, it is a basic attitude towards life, and especially in the context of historical, cultural, political and social civilization and development. Central elements include national identity and tradition, patriotism and sovereignty, human imperfection, organic society and ethics, authority, institution and the rule of law, politics for social society, continuity and anti-extremism, pro-life attitude, property rights, classic economic liberalism, democracy and freedom. It as a concept with a political character of defense and preservation, healthy skepticism, evolution, restauration and reformism.

In a political meaning, the term “conservative” first appeared in 1818 during the period of the Bourbon restauration with roll back policies and counterrevolution against the French Revolution. In 1830 then, it was used to describe the British Tory Party.

The main theorist of Conservatism, Edmund Burke, who supported the American Revolution which led to the founding of the United States, but opposed the French revolution to stop radical change, is credited as the main leading figure in history of the conservative phenomena around the globe. 

Dear schoolboys, dear schoolgirls, now I give the floor to you, so that we can have an interesting democratic discussion. And I hope you learned something for a better political understanding of what is meant of being a Conservative.

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