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The Burkean Virtues: Three Cheers for Them, However ‘Boring’ They Are

Edmund Burke by Joshua Reynolds, c. 1769 (Wikimedia)

My Impromptus today offers the usual smorgasbord: political, social, and artistic. Here on the Corner, I’d like to publish a little mail.

In my podcast last week with Kevin (Williamson), I said that I was growing more conservative, in a Burkean sense. In the past, my radical streak was wider. (Probably we all have a radical streak.) And those Burkean virtues — stability, sobriety, common sense, gradualism, stewardship — were a little boring. Or a lot. Zzzzzz.

But the more you learn about the world, the more you appreciate “boring,” because excitement can be a nasty thing.

A reader writes,

I’m not sure whether I would characterize myself as Burkean, but I know what you mean about the shift from a younger radicalism. I think it all has to do with means and ends. Good ends need good means, or else bad means wind up swallowing even the best of ends. People in politics think they don’t fight dirty enough, and before you know it they come to enjoy the dirtiness in and of itself.

So true.

Our reader continues,

I am finding that I’m more of an institutionalist than I ever was. I mean, how can someone call himself a constitutionalist without believing in institutions? What is the layout of our Constitution except interlocking institutions?

In a column last week, I spoke of legacy admissions. (The issue is not cut-and-dried.) A reader writes,

It is a source of no little pride to me that my family is a four-generation University of Michigan family. My grandfather was the first to attend, going to the medical school, and my parents attended in the post-war years, without graduating. (I came along and my dad needed a job!) Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins went to the U of M, and my mother drilled into her seven children, “If your diploma does not say ‘University of Michigan,’ you wasted your time and money!” When I failed to gain admission for undergraduate study in 1968, she did not speak to me for a month!

I redeemed myself by getting an MBA from Michigan in 1981, and my son received a BS in nuclear engineering in 2010. Family participation in a university experience can be very meaningful. Such things should not be cast aside lightly!

In that same column, I tipped my hat to Wayne Gretzky, comparing him, in fact, to Mozart. A reader writes,

Nice to see a mention of The Great One, my all-time favorite athlete, in today’s Impromptus. My son, now 23, was (middle) named after him. When I told my Beer League hockey teammates, one of them said, “You’ll never have to worry about Gretzky being caught up in some scandal that will make you regret using the name.” He was so right.

By the way, I could never convince my mom that my son was named after Gretzky instead of her brother Wayne. But my dad knew and approved for reasons relating to both Waynes.

Loved that.