Saturday, October 26, 2013

From Edmund Burke to the Twitter jerk

Over the past couple of weeks, Public Shaming has featured callous and hypocritical tweets about the loss of public benefits for poor people during the government shutdown: see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

These examples provided the perfect context for reading Corey Robin’s post about conservative icon Edmund Burke:
…Throughout his career, Burke’s financial state had been precarious. Much to his embarrassment, he was periodically forced to rely upon well timed gifts and loans from his wealthier friends and patrons.

So terrified was he of dying in a debtor’s prison that he struggled in his retirement to learn Italian. His hope, claimed one of the many visitors at his estate, was to flee England and “end his days with tollerable Ease in Italy.” (He also floated, apparently, the possibility of fleeing to Portugal or America.) “I cannot quite reconcile my mind to a prison,” he told a friend.

Thanks to the interventions of his well connected friends, Burke secured from Pitt in August 1795 two annuities that would wipe out his debts and a pension that, along with an additional pension and the income from his estate, would enable him and his wife to live in comfort into their old age.

Three months later, when Burke took up his pen against a proposal for the government to subsidize the wages of farm laborers during bad harvest years (so that they could sustain themselves and their families), he wrote, “To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of government.”
Ah, a fine tradition of thought persisting through the centuries. Also, it's funny to imagine Burke tweeting.

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