[The following passage was taken from Arnold Lunn’s book, Come What May, 1941.]
Until I read [Samuel] Butler I had assumed that men might be divided into those who desired and those who opposed reform, but Butler suggested the possibility that reformers might be divided into Conservatives who based their programmes on the foundation of human nature and human experience, and Radicals who ignored the immense power of inherited instincts and traditions. In a passage which I quote from memory Butler describes two methods of getting a hen to cross a road. The first is to throw small pieces of bread, not at the hen but just in front of her, and thus to lure her gradually across the road. The second method is to throw a loaf of bread at the hen. “And this,” says Butler, “is the method of our advanced Liberals. Some of whom mistake stones for bread.”
By chance I happened to read Burke while Butler’s theories were still fresh in mind. Burke’s essays on the French Revolution are well worth re-reading today, for a recurring pattern runs through the great revolutionary movements, and there is nothing which dates in Burke’s attacks on the Jacobins [the Jacobin Club, located in Paris but with thousands of chapters throughout France, went from being a force for reform to a radical supporter of violent revolution]. Mutatis mutandis, Burke’s criticism can be applied to the Russian Bolsheviks and their disciples in Spain. Burke was no die-hard Tory. He defended with passionate sincerity the cause of the American revolutionists, and attacked no less effectively the policy of the French Jacobins. It is interesting to note that Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France was inspired by a prototype of the Dean of Canterbury, a Nonconformist minister, Dr. Price, whose enthusiasm for the French regicides was as uncritical as the Dean of Canterbury’s affection for the Russian Bolshevists. Rousseau, who dumped his children on a foundling school, is described by Burke as “a lover of his kind but a hater of his kindred,” an epigram which applies with even greater force to modern revolutionaries. Burke awakened in me a faint distrust of professional humanitarians. “Benevolence to the whole species, and a want of feeling for every individual with whom the professors come into contact, form the character of the new philosophy.”
Before reading Burke I had been artless enough to believe that the French Revolution was, in essence, a rising of the oppressed poor against a selfish aristocracy; but Burke provoked an uneasy doubt of this popular simplification of a complex problem, a doubt which was subsequently reinforced by reading De Tocqueville’s classic study of the Revolution. Burke contended that the Revolution was provoked by a struggle for power between different groups, of whom the Revolutionists were perhaps the least concerned to redress the just grievances of the poor. The Jacobins were resolved to transfer the government from the landed gentry to the cities, “among tradesmen, bankers, advocates . . . and those cabals of literary men, called academies.” Burke’s list of English partisans reads like an intelligent anticipation of the classes who supported the Republicans in Spain and who condoned the atrocities of the Bolsheviks.
The Jacobins, said Burke, were supported by “the dissenters of the three leading denominations; to these are readily aggregated all who are dissenters in character, temper and disposition . . . Whigs and even Tories; all the Atheists, Deists, and Socinians [a non-Trinitarian Protestant sect that dated back to the early Reformation]; all those who hate the clergy, and envy the nobility; a good many among the monied people; the East Indians almost to a man, who cannot bear to find that their present importance does not bear a proportion to their wealth . . . The monied men, merchants, principal tradesmen, and men of letters (hitherto generally thought the peaceable and even timid part of society), are the chief actors in the French Revolution.” Burke did not convert me to Conservatism, for my Radicalism was too ingrained to yield to the first attack. His action was delayed, but his effect was greater than I knew at the time.
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