Dear faculty,

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    Dear faculty, If you would like to be a fly on the wall in a real current college classroom teaching a course on the constitution and the supreme court please let me know. I have records of the entire semester. You probably have a good idea as to whats being taught. You can tell I couldn’t spend enough time on this site or read my Gutzman and Woods throughly but I put up an effort.

    This second question is for Tom.

    Is there a way an atheist could call himself a Burkieon? Can the points in Burke’s Reflections On The Revolution In France in regards to faith be truly grasped if one does not believe in God? In his view would being an atheist make one inevitably susceptible to Jacobianism?

    Same for Russel Kirk. According to Kirk, does one have to accept God and faith in order to truly understand the conservative position?


    I think one can be an atheist and a Burkean. Hayek was an agnostic and there is at least some Burkean influence in his Law, Legislation, and Liberty trilogy. Kirk is probably more explicit that some vague acknowledgment of the divine is necessary to conservatism.


    Warin, for an introduction to conservatism in the Burkean tradition, I recommend Conservatism: Dream and Reality by conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet. His chapter “Religion and Morality” outlines the conservative position on religion. He thinks that conservatives stress the necessity of religious institutions for a stable society, but are typically suspicious of religious enthusiasm and are often lukewarm believers at best.

    A careful study would undoubtedly reveal that a considerable number of staunch conservatives, disciples to a man of Edmund Burke, had a regard for religion ranging from the indifferent to the outrightly hostile. … Robert Ingersoll, staunch conservative Republican and pillar of bar and bourse, was a militant atheist. H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock … were opponents of Christianity. So was Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, though the latter somewhat unenthusiastically in later years. But all of them would doubtless have agreed with Tocqueville that some bulwark of faith, even if in a body of morality that is falsely credited with divine inspiration, is necessary to human beings and a means of saving them from the worst of the consequences of being among the alienated. (Transaction edition, p. 83)


    That was the ground of the perpetuation of religious establishment in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: a good society required a moral people; average people wouldn’t be moral absent belief in a future state of rewards and punishments; belief in a future state of rewards and punishments came from religion; in order for all to be religious, they must be made to participate; Massachusetts residents weren’t going to be Catholic, Muslim, or Episcopalian; so the Congregationalist Establishment must continue.

    Ben Franklin, not a religious man, famously said that he would not want to live in a non-Christian society because Christians made good neighbors.

    Nowadays we tend to think of Christianity’s moral residue in our culture as somehow neutrally derived. Yet, monogamy, private property, and various other of our conventions are specific to our culture, where (like St. Constantine’s bans on infanticide and crucifixion and institution of the Sunday holiday) they have their origins in Christianity. I think we can see the post-Enlightenment history of the West as a long experiment to see whether decency can survive the decline of its source.

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