Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Burke’s Economics

What is the relationship between markets and morals?
Edmund Burke

We often think of Burke merely as the great defender of tradition, but he was also a “keen student of economic matters who offered acute observations on commerce, taxation, and revenue.” Gregory M. Collins explains in National Affairs:

As a proponent of economic liberty, Burke maintained that market exchange was the most effective medium through which to distribute provisions in a steady and equitable manner. He further believed that free trade, particularly with one’s allies, was a powerful instrument for the diffusion of collective affluence.

Yet Burke also offered profound insight into the broader relationship between markets and morals that can serve as an intellectual resource in diagnosing, and possibly remedying, the restless state of American society. In his judgment, commerce and trade were marks of a healthy economy, but they were not sufficient for the conservation of a political community devoted to advancing the general welfare. Instead, more stable sources of order and well-being — including religion, manners, and institutions — served as the anchors of commercial activity and of civilization more generally.

Rather than measuring the prosperity of man simply by pointing to gross domestic product or employment rates, then, Burke suggests we would do well to trace the deeper roots of a flourishing society, taken in both its economic and ethical dimensions.

In other news: Hagia Sophia is now a mosque.

Adam Kirsch reviews the novel Morningside Heights: “In the geography of Jewish New York, Morningside Heights has a definite moral and social identity, no less than the Lower East Side or Crown Heights. This Upper West Side neighborhood, anchored by Columbia University, evokes the high-minded, bourgeois liberalism that flourished among Jewish academics and intellectuals in the 20th century. Today, that worldview can feel a little outmoded and lacking in confidence; humanism with a Jewish inflection has been outflanked on both the left and the right by more aggressive cultural styles. Joshua Henkin’s new novel, Morningside Heights, is a portrait of that milieu, an interrogation of its shortcomings and a eulogy for its passing, all in one.”

Shakespeare’s two Richards—Richard II and Richard III—“offer a contrast between different political pathologies: that of ambitious malignity and that of arrogant entitlement, both with disastrous results, and neither completely unknown in our time,” Theodore Dalrymple writes.

Matt Hanson reviews a new volume of Eliot’s “essential” verse: “In a typically cranky letter to his best friend, the poet Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis had to get something off of his chest: ‘Do you know who I hate? T.S. Eliot. That’s who I hate.’ This may seem like a random grudge on the surface, but there is an aesthetic philosophy backing up the snark. For Amis, the comic novelist and poet who lived to mock pretentiousness and pomposity, Eliot represented everything wrong with modern literature. The Modernists worked to ‘make it new,’ in Ezra Pound’s phrase, by blending ancient characters and narratives with modern life, often using obscure quotations and intricate symbolic patterns to do so. It’s true that people like Eliot, Pound, and Joyce weren’t always concerned with being accessible to the average reader. But that only means that sometimes it takes a little bit of guidance to be able to appreciate the complex vision they offered. Ecco Press has recently released a new collection of Eliot’s poems, The Essential T.S. Eliot, which includes some of his biggest hits but makes the unfortunate mistake of not providing a single footnote or a skeleton key of any kind to help unlock Eliot’s vast echoing labyrinth of allusions, references, and quotations.”

Churchill’s cook: “There​ are more than a thousand books about Winston Churchill, but this is the first about his cook, Georgina Landemare. Since it may well also be the last, it’s fortunate that she has fallen into the sympathetic hands of Annie Gray. Gray is a food historian and she sets Landemare’s long life in the context of changes in diet and eating habits over nearly a century. The story that unfolds against this background takes us from her birth, as Georgina Young, in a Hertfordshire village, through her late Victorian childhood to her appearance beside Churchill on VE day.”

Photos: Tennessee

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