The Burkean Outlook

Ian Shapiro, "The Burkean Outlook," Open Yale course, 31 March 2010.


[S]ociety is not subordinate to the individual, which is the most rock-bottom commitment of the workmanship idea. On the contrary, the individual is subordinate to society. Obligations come before rights. We only get rights as a consequence of the social arrangements that give us our duties as well. So whereas the Enlightenment tradition makes the individual agent the sort of moral center of the universe, this god-like individual creating things over which she or he has absolute sovereign control, is replaced by the exact mirror image of the idea of an individual as subordinate to inherited communities, traditions, social arrangements, and political institutions to which he or she is ultimately beholden. If there was a pre-collective condition it’s of no relevance to us now because we can’t go back to it, and any attempt to try, look across the English Channel and see what you’re going to get.