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Conservative Roots

Edmund Burke (1729–1797), the great conservative thinker of the modern era, makes the case for resistance in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Fondly remembering Marie Antoinette as a "morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy" (p. 75), Burke criticizes the revolutionary overthrow of birthright authority. Horrified by the thought of the hair-dresser who thinks himself the equal of his betters, he rails against the leveling of classes. But what really motivates Burke's fear and loathing of the French Revolution is his belief that these radical and sudden changes fly in the face of time-tested tradition and are an "usurpation on the prerogatives of nature" (p. 49). Undermining the firm foundations of society, this can only lead to chaos. As such, Burke appeals to his English audience to resist such progress in their own country "with their lives and fortunes" (p. 16).

Nearly a century later, Burke's countryman Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) takes up the call of conservative resistance. In Dover Beach (1867) he describes a faithless land that "Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.… Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night." Arnold's mid-nineteenth century England was a world of storm and strife: urbanization, industrialization, and class warfare. The republican ideals of the French Revolution had triumphed over Burke's beloved tradition, and "nature," after Darwin, was harnessed to progress. A new principle of resistance was needed; for Arnold it was culture. As "the best which has been thought and said" (p. 6) as he defines it in Culture and Anarchy (1869), culture offered a means with which to rise above the politics, commerce, and machinery of the day and supply a universal standard upon which to base "a principle of authority, to counteract the tendency to anarchy which seems to be threatening us" (p. 82) Culture was a metaphysical realm where "real thought and real beauty; real sweetness and real light" (p. 69, author's emphasis) could safely flourish, eventually returning to terra firma—if at all—in the form of an ideal State to guide society.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Reason to RetrovirusResistance - Conservative Roots, Anti-colonial Resistance, Totality, Cultural Resistance, Resistance Refuted And Reimagined