Burke And Bloomberg, Sitting In A Tree?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 6 2012 @ 4:00pm

Frum recently invoked the conservative giant's skepticism of human reason in defense of his, er, support for Bloomberg's soda-tax nannyism. Daniel Foster counters:

Burke’s greatest criticism of the French Revolution was that it sought to replace the “wisdom of nations, and of ages” with the vogue of few radical dilettantes. He reserved his greatest scorn for “sophisters, economists, and calculators” who sought to govern — to coerce — according to the latest intellectual fad or table of numbers. In other words, Burke would have hated Mike Bloomberg’s guts.

Yuval Levin steps back to make a broader point:

It is precisely when we make too much of the power of our reason that we also overemphasize man’s animality—coming to see ourselves merely as the only animal that knows it is merely an animal. Burke’s alternative was to emphasize the other not-simply-rational element of human nature, the sentimental intelligence that allows us to be the animal that is not merely an animal.

This kind of intelligence expresses itself not in explicit principles of government but in ways of living that have served human happiness for generations even if what justifies them cannot be fully articulated, and that is why Burke thought we could learn something (though not everything) from the forms and structures of our society’s life that we could not hope to learn from geometrical reasoning about politics alone. This is the “general bank and capital of nations, and of ages,” and it’s hard to see where in that bank we would find support for the notion that people’s access to sugary beverages beyond a certain size should be limited by their city’s mayor. On the contrary, the forms and structures of our society’s life suggest that a significant measure of personal liberty—even when it amounts to the freedom to harm oneself to some extent—is essential to our happiness.