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Burke, Edmund

Page history last edited by Robert Goldman 15 years, 1 month ago

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) challenges the Enlightenment notion of reason, arguing that society cannot be organized around abstract reason.  According to him, society is historically evolving and collective reason develops over time, so we must view societies in terms of a past, present, and future.  He believes how societies function is far more important than whether or not they are rational.  This is a prelude to a structural functionalist approach in that structures can exist because they function to hold groups together, regardless of whether they are rational structures.  Thus, he views society as an organism, not a machine, where all parts are necessary for the functioning of the whole and where solidarity is the glue that holds societies together.  The first thinker to push for the concept of community, Burke argues that organic social forms hold us together and that solidarity between individuals is as important as personal freedom.


Burke critiques the French Revolution because it tried to replace old traditions and institutions, focusing only on the present and ignoring the world’s past and future generations and how they would be affected.  Burke believes that when institutions are disrupted, the means of meeting needs are also disrupted and suffering and disorder will follow.  Contrary to Enlightenment thinkers, Burke provides a new perspective of society that respects its historical, developmental and organic structure and change over time.


For Burke, a functional society is more important than a rational one. His thinking contributed to structural functionalism;  that some structures exist because they functionally hold the group together. He viewed society as an organism in which all the parts are necessary for the functioning of the whole and discrete parts cannot be isolated. He believed that we must not simply look at the present; we must also look at society in terms of the past, present and future to fully understand it. 


The Enlightenment was bogus in his mind, because society is rooted in the past and reason is historically evolving. He challenged the notion of reason, saying that it's impossible to organize society around reason because collective reason developed over time.  Contrary to other theorists, he believed that society created the individual.  Because of this, he also believed that society stood morally prior to the individual and that it preceded individual reason. As a result, he felt that humans emerge out of their social condition instead of create it based on individual experiences and assessment.


Burke was big on solidarity and community.  In fact, he was the first thinker to push for the concept of community, believing that organic social forms acted as the glue that held people together. Solidarity that formed between individuals was as important as personal freedom.  In fact, he felt that individual freedoms should be sacrificed for the well-being of the whole. 







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