Is everyone Burkean now?

The exchanges Ilya, Orin and I have had about Burkeanism have helped to sharpen where the real disagreements are. There is more common ground than at first it seemed, though after Ilya's latest post I do see more clearly where we may differ.

It turns out that Ilya's view of "coercively imposed traditions" — practices to which little if any respect should be given — is much broader than mine. If I understand him correctly, for Ilya it means any tradition that may be viewed as oppressive (unfair?) to a group of people, even if democratically arrived at and even if subject to critique and revision over time. When I refer to practices imposed by authoritarian societies, which never grew from the common sentiments and culture of the people but are simply imposed by some dictator like Stalin or Hitler, I mean only that. If tradition is accorded no respect except when practically everyone agrees with it, and can be said to have assented to its continuance, then indeed it hasn't much force. Burke did not think that, and neither do I. The respect for tradition in Burkean thought is more robust.

Also, as against my claim that we should doubt our ability to impose beneficial reform, Ilya observes that "we must also doubt our ability to know when the status [quo] is really beneficial, and our ability to properly assess its costs and benefits." Here I think there is a real difference between Burkean and non-Burkean thought. As between doubts about the value of a longstanding practice and doubts about the expected benefits of changing it, the Burkean will resolve doubts in favor of the tradition. I don't think that's the case with many other approaches to policy and law, which seem much more sanguine about the prospects for change. Here, I think a Burkean would regard something called "status quo bias" as a good thing, not a bad one.

On the appropriateness of rapid change where there's gross injustice or great harm, the difference between a Burkean and non-Burkean approach would start with the willingness to see things as so wrong and harmful they must be changed immediately. I use this term to mean things like slavery, and comparably great evils, and not much else.

By contrast, as I tried to suggest in the case of laws against drug use, the very fact of near universal regulation, a longstanding practice of disapproval, and great concerns about unintended consequences, would lead a Burkean to think the case has not been made for an immediate and wholesale end to the war on drugs. It's obvious to a pure libertarian that the war on drugs must end and end now because it violates postulates of individual freedom, arrogates much coercive and intrusive power to the government, and has resulted in identifiable harms, but a Burkean would not analyze the problem the same way. Burkeans are not slow libertarians.

So for a Burkean there is a very broad range of traditions that should be accorded respect and a presumption in their favor and a very narrow range of historical cases where incremental change seems inadequate. Much as I would welcome everyone on board, I think that makes Burkeanism distinct from the methodolgy of many who advocate libertarianism, modern political liberalism, and indeed much right-wing ideology.