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, BURKE AND THE TOTALITARIAN SYSTEM P. L. CARVER THE despondent generation which once accepted appeasement as a policy and Mr Neville Chamberlain as a statesman has undergone a salutary chastening. We nnd ourselves living in an age of great events, great actions, and even great speeches. It'is as if the march of 'time had taken a 'turn backward to the age of Austerlitz and Trafalgar. We have seen a more diabolical Napoleon arise in Europe, and a more heroic Pitt in this country. We have seen guns frowning and blazing a t each other across the Straits of Dover, and have heard rumours of Rat-bottomed barges collected at Boulogne. We have even realized an earlier nightmare, which the age of Pitt would have thought fantastic: Some=: airy devil hovers in the sky, And pours down mischief.1 Though our Waterloo may still be far distant we have already witnessed the discomfiture of the airy devil in one of the decisive battles of the world; for there can be little doubt that the future historian will accord that dignity to the victory of the Royal Air Force in the autumn of 1940. In this congenial atmosphere it is possible to read the greater pronouncements of Burke with a certain sympathy-to use the word in its literal sense-hardly to be attained in more tranquil times. Both Buckle' and Lord Morley' think it inexcusable that Burke should have quarrelled with Fox because of a disagreement about the French Revolution. It has always been an unwritten law of party warfare-the only kind of warfare which these historians knew by experience-that political differences shall never be allowed to interfere with personal friendships, and a Cabinet Minister usually had as many friends among the Opposition as on his own side of the House; but that law, like some more formal enactments, is suspended at times of real crisis, and we should certainly be scandalized if we knew of a member of ;he present government who was on intimate terms with an admirer of the Nazi system. lKing John, Act III, Sc. 2. 2Hj.r/ory oj CivilizaJion in England. laSS. I. 426. ~Burkt (English Men of Lc=[ters), 1888, 263-5. 32 BURKE AND THE TOTALITARIAN SYSTEM JJ That is one example of several accusations which answer themselves when they are examined in the light of more recent events. Another is that Burke's careful' literary craftsmanship is incompatible with perfect spontaneity, and therefore, it is darkly hinted, with perfect sincerity. Lord Morley records with wonder that "Burke revised, erased, moderated, strengthened, emphasized, wrote and re-wrote with indefatigable industry"; that "he lingered busily, pen in hand, over paragraphs and phrases, antitheses and apothegms"; that he was "unwearied in this insatiable correction and alteration." We should not think that remarkable today. In Lord Morley's time it was generally agreed that the only genuine inspiration is the inspiration of the moment, and the highest praise that could be bestowed upon an orator was that he had spoken fluently for some incredible number of hours without a note. "The secret of eloquence," as Lord Lytton was fond of saying, "is to be in earnest." The present generation is more likely to approve of Burke's habit of filing and polishing. Mr Winston Churchill has never made any secret of the fact that his mOTe important speeches are prepared to the last hesitation, and we have frequently heard it-announced from America t, hat President Roosevelt was putting the finishing touches to a projected address to the nation. If the spoken word may be so elaborated in ad'nnce there can be still less objection to the revision of a manuscript intended for the printer. These, it is true, are triBing matters. A more serious accu'Sation, which cannot be answered in a few words, is that Burke's hatred of the Frerlch Revolution led him to repudiate all the political wisdom which he had acquired in thirty years. Lord Morley, while admitting some excuses, joins in the charge 'of inconsistency with rhetorical gusto. What has become of the doctrine that all great public collections of men . .. "possess a marked love of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 32-47
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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