Introduction Conservatism and the Intergenerational Imagination
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An astute reader of Edmund Burke, William Hazlitt recognized that within Burke’s conservatism lurked an anti-capitalist social ecology: he writes, “To think of reducing all mankind to the same insipid level, seemed to him [Burke] the same absurdity as to destroy the inequalities of surface in a country, for the benefit of agriculture and commerce.” As much as he was opposed to the hierarchical and nationalist aspects of Burke’s work, Hazlitt admires his critique of competitive individualism, particularly the ways in which it reveals how the scramble for privatization, improvement, and profit will irrevocably erode diverse, communal, social ecologies. Like Hazlitt, in my reading of Burkean conservatism, “I do not say that his arguments are conclusive; but they are profound and true, as far as they go” (SW 56). This book argues that Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) is the beginning of a strand of Romantic political conservatism that is committed to environmental conservation. Romantic conservative critiques of modernity — found in texts as diverse as poetry, novels, political philosophy, natural history, and agricultural periodicals — all manifest conservative-conservationist reactions against the progressive ideology of capitalist modernity. Like the Reflections, they locate communal futurity in the past by championing localized, customary communities and practices that have been, in Burke’s words, “formed by habit” (R 315).
KeywordsEnvironmental Ethic Moral Imagination Social Ecology Capitalist Modernity Progressive Ideology
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