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A Statue in College Green

Trinity College has two statues facing into College Green; one of Edmund Burke, the other of Oliver Goldsmith.

Of their characters, Goldsmith was the more attractive, Burke the most nuanced. That Burke could and did work with Richard Brinsley Sheridan on the failed attempt to impeach Warren Hastings is the best guide to his claim to an enduring moral position, for two reasons; that Sheridan joined the team and that Warren Hastings was the target of their opposition. What is less comfortable is the unfavourable comparison to be made between Burke’s prose and that of his contemporary, Thomas Paine.

As we see with Bertie Ahern, if you talk rubbish it has its purpose, and even if the exact purpose cannot be seen, it can be sensed. That means your speech is concealing and not revealing.

With that caveat, here is Burke on the practicalities of Government:

The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state, and the distribution of its powers, a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to its strength and remedies for its distempers. What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics.”

One Comment

  1. Whilst being something of a Bertie Basher myself, I nonetheless find it interesting that you fail to mention that Warren Hastings was acquitted of all charges by the House of Lords after a lengthy 10 years of inquiry and besmirching of his name, and at the end he was left almost financially ruined. Interestingly he was also something of a principled man as he subsequently refused a peerage.