Edmund Burke and the Argument from Circumstance

Richard Weaver, "Edmund Burke and the Argument from Circumstance" in The Ethics of RhetoricĀ (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1953).


Burke is widely respected as a conservative who was intelligent enough to provide solid philosophical foundations for his conservatism. It is perfectly true that many of his observations upon society have a conservative basis; but if one studies the kind of argument which Burke regularly employed when at grips with concrete policies, one discovers a strong addiction to the argument from circumstance. Now for reasons which will be set forth in detail later, the argument from circumstance is the argument philosophically appropriate to the liberal. Indeed, one can go much further and say that it is the argument fatal to conservatism. However much Burke eulogized tradition and fulminated against the French Revolution, he was, when judged by what we are calling aspect of argument, very far from being a conservative; and we suggest here that a man’s method of argument is a truer index in his beliefs than his explicit profession of principles. Here is a means whereby he is revealed in his work. Burke’s voluminous controversies give us ample opportunity to test him by this rule.


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