While there is no historical evidence Edmund Burke played any direct part in British plans to establish a penal colony in New South Wales, his tradition of Whiggism arrived with the First Fleet and arguably shaped the character of colonial Australian liberalism
Accepting the Edmund Burke Award in London in November 2016, John Howard paid homage to the eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish statesman and remarked that “the legacy of Burke is a precious one”. He went on to observe that it had informed his own party in what he described as “a broad church of classical liberals and conservatives”.
Edmund Burke (1730–97) was arguably the most recognisable of the British Whigs from the eighteenth century. With his Whig liberalism intersecting with both the political economy, free-trade liberalism of Adam Smith and the humanitarian, Evangelical liberalism of William Wilberforce, Burke represented something of a fountainhead for modern British liberalism who could count its Victorian standard-bearers, Lord Macaulay and William Gladstone, as his natural successors. Together, these three figures were famously classed by Lord Acton as the greatest British liberals.
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The colonisation and development of modern Australia represents one of the great projects of British liberalism. The Whig tradition of Burke naturally took root in Australian soil, where it thrived. Edmund Burke and his legacy matter profoundly to the making of modern Australia and its conception of freedom and democracy. From the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip, through to the colonial era and the achievement of Federation, followed later in the twentieth century by Robert Menzies and the formation of the modern Liberal Party, the ideals of Burke have exerted an enduring influence on the politics of Australia to the present day.
Born in Dublin in 1730 to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, Edmund Burke pursued a varied career as a barrister, writer and parliamentarian who served as a member of the House of Commons for the Whigs from 1766 to 1794. Appointed in 1765 to the safe “pocket borough” of Wendover by his friend and political ally, Lord Rockingham, Burke represented the Rockingham element of the British Whig Party. The Rockingham Whigs stood for constitutional monarchy but within the settlement of 1688; for the Established Church, but with toleration for Catholics and Nonconformists; for economic reform and restraint on patronage and waste; for just and accountable administration of the colonies; and for personal liberty but not individual licence.
Burke set forth his political outlook in a number of speeches and publications. Two of the most noteworthy were his Speech to the Electors of Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll (1774) and, of course, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Given shortly after his election victory, Burke’s Speech to the Electors outlined his philosophy of representative government, holding that elected officials were not simply delegates for their constituencies but were representatives who acted on the basis of their own judgment and conscience. Penned shortly after the storming of the Bastille in Paris, Burke’s Reflections took the form of a long letter to the French aristocrat Charles-Jean-Francois Depont. Becoming the most celebrated of Burke’s writings, the Reflections delivered a withering critique of the French Revolution, which Burke deplored for its abstract and utopian foundations, its revolutionary approach to change, its rejection of tried-and-tested institutions and its flawed understanding of human nature and society. The Reflections became a defining tract for modern Anglo-American conservatism.
As Jesse Norman has argued, Burke was essentially a child of the Enlightenment despite common perceptions to the contrary based on his remonstrations against the French Revolution. In his public life he championed the Enlightenment ideals of human liberty and progress. He agitated for religious toleration in Ireland and called for the more humane treatment of slaves as a preliminary step to abolition; he had defended the interests of the colonists in North America and pressed for the abuses of British colonial rule in India to be rectified. While embracing Enlightenment principles, however, he stood for the preservation of the traditional values, institutions and customs that had made European civilisation great.
Burke’s influence on Australian liberalism
Although there is no historical evidence that Burke played any direct part in British plans to establish a penal colony in New South Wales, his tradition of Whiggism arrived in Australia on the First Fleet and arguably shaped the character of colonial Australian liberalism. Australia’s founding Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, was a man of Whig sensibilities who shared Burke’s reforming and humane outlook. He brought a philosophy of government to Australia that aimed to treat all interests in the new colony equally and to prevent sectional conflict. Adopting Burke’s enlightened attitude towards the colonies and the treatment of their original inhabitants, Phillip was resolved to execute what he saw as his humane mission to treat the indigenous people with respect and to invite them to be part of the new society. In common with Burke, Phillip appreciated the role of religion, and Christianity especially, as the basis for an ordered and civilised society. Accordingly, he gave support to the early chaplains to foster the religious life of the colony.
One of Australia’s earliest colonial liberals, William Charles Wentworth, was arguably influenced by Burke and shared his faith in a “mixed constitution” that envisioned a continuing place for the aristocracy. From the outset, Burke believed that the social order of society was best served by a mixed constitution binding monarchy, aristocracy and commons together. For Burke, however, an aristocracy did not mean holding wealth and power for its own sake, but rather, the purpose of the oaks was to shade and support the growth of new men and new fortunes, some of which may put down roots of their own. Burke’s aristocracy served the function of nourishing actual virtue and achievement as opposed to that which is merely presumed. Wentworth similarly believed in a meritocratic society, within a mixed constitution.
Like Burke, Wentworth championed Whig causes including representative government, the abolition of convict transportation, freedom of the press and trial by jury. At the same time, however, he defended the place for a meritorious aristocracy, even for a “new world” civilisation such as colonial Australia. In the 1840s he defended the interests of New South Wales landowners and in 1854 his Whig constitution for the colony allowed for a parliament with an elected Legislative Assembly but an unelected Legislative Council, analogous to Britain’s House of Lords. Wentworth defended the status of the colonial landholders, because like Burke he believed that landed families had obligations to be virtuous in their public conduct and independent in their political opinions. In a sense, Wentworth worked to preserve the ethic of noblesse oblige he saw as such a powerful wellspring for benevolent public service.
The colonial governor of New South Wales Richard Bourke closely resembled Burke in both name and philosophy. Born in Dublin, he was actually a cousin of Burke. In his early years, he spent his holidays at Burke’s home and became acquainted with his inner circle as he imbibed his Whig philosophy. Ruling New South Wales from 1831 to 1837, Governor Bourke applied Whig principles as he sought to transform the penal colony into a more humane, free-settler society. As part of liberalising the criminal justice system, he introduced judicial reforms to extend trial by jury and to reduce the severity of corporal punishment for offenders. His most significant reform was the passage of the Church Act in 1836 to disestablish the Church of England in New South Wales and place each religious denomination on an equal footing before the law.
As a supporter of the Established Church, Edmund Burke had stopped short of proposing the same measure for England, yet Bourke’s actions in New South Wales reflected Burkean ideals. Although both men were pious Anglicans, each emerged as an advocate for religious toleration, particularly for Roman Catholics and Nonconformist Protestants. Burke argued that all the major religions were the products of custom, tradition and “long and prescriptive usage”. As such, they warranted not only toleration but the full protection of the civil law. Burke supported Catholic emancipation in Ireland with his support of Sir George Savile to repeal some of the penal laws against Catholics. In colonial New South Wales, Bourke similarly championed the interests of Catholics and other religious minorities. As a devout Anglican, his decision to disestablish the Church of England was not so much based on a secular impulse to diminish the role of religion as it was by a desire to afford justice to the aggrieved Catholic minority and to give equal strength to the various strands of Christianity in public life.
A Burkean federation
The Premier of New South Wales and “Father of Federation”, Sir Henry Parkes, emerged as another leading colonial Australian liberal. Emigrating from England in 1839, Parkes soon immersed himself in colonial politics, where he championed Whig causes such as self-government, free trade, anti-transportation, religious toleration and universal suffrage. Although Parkes’s support for democratic reforms went well beyond those envisaged by Burke in the eighteenth century, his Whig vision for personal liberty flourishing under a constitutional monarchy was essentially Burkean and he brought this to bear in his advocacy for a federated Australia under a new constitution.
According to Gregory Melleuish, Burke also influenced the other pioneers of the Australian Constitution—Samuel Griffith, Henry Higgins, Isaac Isaacs, John Downer, Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin and George Reid—who, for the most part, adhered to a Whig political philosophy of progress and reform guided by tradition and historical precedent. By setting a relatively high threshold for the Constitution to be altered by a popular referendum, the drafters reflected Burke’s caution about inserting new and untested provisions in the instrument that would certify Australia’s nationhood from 1901.
In the early years of Federation, the influence of Burke’s philosophy was evident in both the free-trade and protectionist stands of early twentieth-century Australian liberalism. Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, mirrored Burke’s predilections in his constitutionalism and moderate conservatism. At the same time, George Reid’s agenda for low tariffs and open markets stood in the tradition of Burke and his eighteenth-century advocacy for free trade across Ireland and the British Empire. While diverging sharply from Reid and his free-trade agenda, the protectionist Prime Minister Alfred Deakin nonetheless also imbibed Burke’s spirit in his advocacy for humane social reforms, his belief in society as a community of individuals bound together by reciprocal rights, and his overriding commitment to British constitutional liberty.
Burke, the Liberal Party and Robert Menzies
With the United Australia Party (UAP) of Joe Lyons and Billy Hughes disintegrating after the demoralising resignation of Robert Menzies as Prime Minister in August 1941, the Centre-Right of Australian politics entered a period of ferment, with the Curtin Labor government in office. Born in western Victoria in 1894, Menzies represented the Australian liberal tradition of Deakin as well as the British Whig liberalism of Gladstone, Macaulay and, indeed, Burke. Determined to revive Australian liberalism, Menzies managed to weld the disparate remnants of the UAP into a cohesive political force, the Liberal Party of Australia, birthed at the Albury Conference in December 1944. Affirming class harmony and the co-operation between employer and employee, which contrasted with the socialist creed of class conflict, Menzies’s new Liberal Party reflected Burke’s belief that a country consists of complementary and not conflicting social classes. Burke and Menzies saw the legislator not primarily as a spokesman for the particular interests of a constituency but as a representative of the long-term interests of the nation.
Eschewing the old sectional politics of class warfare and sectarian conflict, Menzies vowed to make his new Liberal Party a movement for all Australians which would serve the interests of the nation as a whole. This approach was thoroughly Burkean, as the Whig statesman had held that all parliamentarians, whatever their constituency and party politics, were elected to represent the interests of the nation:
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests … Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.
Early in his political career, Menzies had affirmed the importance of governing for the whole polity and not simply for one group at the expense of another. In 1932 he told the delegates to a party conference:
I protest, and will continue to protest, against this constant desire which exists in some quarters to sectionalise the community, to divide it up into this group and that group, and then to say, “What group are you barracking for?”
Later, as he rebuilt the Australian Centre-Right, in an effort to appeal to the general good Menzies pitched his wartime “Forgotten People” addresses to the broad strata of middle Australia not affiliated with big business interests or trade unions. As Prime Minister in the post-war years from 1949 to 1966, he presided over a government that went beyond the collectives of class, race, gender, religion and political creed to promote greater opportunities for all individuals.
Holding that the idea of liberty was concrete and not abstract, Burke and Menzies maintained that it was an ideal gradually realised through human trial and error. Liberty and self-government were not something a civilisation could adopt wholesale and instantaneously without having tried and tested them. While Burke did not describe himself as a “democrat” in the modern sense, he held to a Whig teleology of society progressing towards greater personal liberty. Such progress, however, needed to be gradual and evolutionary, not abrupt and revolutionary. The journey towards greater self-government needed to be informed by the wisdom of history and enhanced by the experience of self-correction.
In his own understanding of democracy and its origins, Menzies shared the Burkean perspective and held that it evolved from the “bottom up” not the “top down”. In an address to a civic reception in 1964, Menzies observed that the adoption of democratic rule by the emerging post-colonial nations of Africa and Asia would be much more successful if they had followed the evolutionary British path: “If they had begun by having local councils just as the Parliament of Great Britain did with the hundreds, the moots, under the spreading oak tree and gradually developed into some form of national representation body”, they may have avoided the fate of dictatorship. Accordingly, their democratic experiment needed, like Britain and Australia, to have had “all the benefit of history behind it, [and] the same kind of experience”. This was similar to Burke’s understanding of the British constitution when he remarked in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs that it was “the result of the thoughts of many minds in many ages”.
In his vehement opposition to communism during the Cold War, Menzies’s critique of Marxist ideology owed much to the anti-revolutionary principles espoused by Burke in his 1790 Reflections. While the communists of the Soviet Union were by no means identical to the Jacobins of Revolutionary France, some important parallels could nonetheless be drawn. Burke and Menzies were railing against authoritarian radicals who believed in a centralised republican state and who called for extensive government intervention to transform society from the top down. With their shared belief in the essential harmony of classes and groups within society, the Anglo-Irish Whig and the Australian Liberal abhorred the class divisions stoked by the Jacobins and communists.
In his 1951 broadcast on “The Communists”, it is therefore little accident that Menzies drew on some of the themes alluded to by Burke in his Reflections. Like Burke, who had attacked the French Revolution for its flawed understanding of human nature, Menzies denounced communism for failing to recognise “the infinite variations of human nature and the unlimited potentialities of the individual human being”. Burke decried the atheistic impulses of the French Revolution for “throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilisation amongst us”, and Menzies attacked communism for very similar reasons. Describing it as “anti-Christian”, he reminded his listeners that the ideology of Marx and Engels had scorned religion as the “opium of the people” with its subsequent attempts to “drive many churches out of existence”. For Menzies, religion, and Christianity especially, represented “the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and all comfort”, to borrow Burke’s own words from his Reflections. In other ways too, communism offended Menzies’s Burkean sensibilities with its doctrine of class warfare, rejection of parliament and denial of national affections.
In his public life, Menzies followed the example of Burke by emphasising the importance of manners and moral character to the social capital and civility of a society. Indeed for Burke, manners formed the basis of all laws. He observed that:
the law touches us but here and there … manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify … barbarise or refine us … they give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.
Burke believed that manners were the product not of reason, but of unreflective individual habits and social wisdom imbibed through family and community institutions. Menzies likewise affirmed the importance of manners and was fond of invoking the old school motto, “Manners maketh man”. In a 1960 school address, he told his audience that chivalry and courtesy were the true mark of personal strength. For Menzies, manners were an indispensable facet of moral character together with courage and a healthy self-respect.
Like Burke, Menzies rejected an atomistic view of humans. For Burke, the individual citizen was a member of a society with a common culture and set of traditions, with duties arising from his position therein. While Burke acknowledged the power of the individual will in history and politics, he understood human beings to be innately social creatures in that their emotions, allegiances and identity are intrinsically interconnected and interdependent. In a similar vein, Menzies affirmed consistently that individual men and women in Australian society were their “brother’s keeper” and “members of one another” with reciprocal obligations binding society together. In one of his public addresses from the mid-1930s, Is Democracy Doomed? Menzies said that the good democrat is:
not the man who prates loudly of his rights and thinks of government in terms of individual or class interests, but the man who realises that the social contract which binds any society together is one expressed primarily in terms of duties and of obligations.
In the Aristotelian tradition, therefore, Burke and Menzies held that the human being is a social creature whose nature is to be in society, of which he or she is both a contributor and a beneficiary.
Burke and the Liberal Party from Holt to Fraser
With the departure of Menzies as Prime Minister in January 1966, the Burkean traditions in the Liberal Party did not die out. Menzies’s immediate successor, Harold Holt, evinced less of an attachment to traditional British institutions as a sign of the times, yet still reflected Burke in a number of respects. The Holt government’s gradual and incremental approach to dismantling Australia’s long-standing White Australia policy typified Burke’s approach to reform. Moreover, the Holt government’s opposition to communist aggression in South-East Asia resembled the stance of Burke against the British oppression of North American colonists. In each case, the defence of personal liberty against despotism was the guiding impulse.
John Gorton was the first Australian Prime Minister since Menzies to invoke Burke in public. Serving as Prime Minister from 1968 to 1971, Gorton quoted Burke approvingly in an address to a parliamentary luncheon in 1970, where he reiterated the importance of Burke’s “ordered liberty” to parliamentary democracy.
Following the interregnum of the Whitlam years, Malcolm Fraser won office in 1975 and channelled the spirit of Burke as both a conservative and a reformer in his seven years as Prime Minister. Whatever subsequent views Liberals may hold about the merits of Fraser’s legacy, it was evident he combined a reforming approach to civil rights with a conservative approach to the economy that protected Australia’s major industries from deregulation. Like Menzies, Fraser’s philosophy of government also reflected the Burkean imperative of balancing liberty with order. In a post-prime ministerial speech in 1987, he quoted Burke: “The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order, that not only exists along with order and virtue, but cannot exist without them.” Fraser concluded that while there was a danger of too much government, there was also a role for government to “maintain equity, to create opportunity and to maintain the balance”.
On foreign policy, Fraser’s approach also reflected the outlook of Burke. In the same way that Burke’s stance on the American War of Independence and the French Revolution appeared incongruous, Fraser’s foreign policy positions appeared inconsistent as he sided with the Right in opposing Soviet aggression yet sided with the Left in denouncing apartheid in South Africa. Evidently puzzled by this, the historian Manning Clark described Fraser as a “bundle of contradictions”. While the stances of Burke and Fraser on such issues have confounded many since, it could be argued that both men were acting on the principle of defending the rights and freedoms of the individual against oppression, whether that took the form of the British Crown in pre-revolutionary America, the communists in Soviet Russia or the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Burke and John Howard
After thirteen years of Labor rule under Hawke and Keating, John Howard led the Liberals back to office in March 1996, and served as Prime Minister for almost twelve years. Of all Australian prime ministers, John Howard is the one to have most frequently cited Edmund Burke, at least on the public record. In his exposition of the philosophy undergirding the modern Liberal Party, Howard has often described it as a strand of two cords, “classical liberal” and “conservative”. According to Howard, the classical liberal tradition largely emanated from the philosophy of John Stuart Mill with its emphasis on individual freedom, while the conservative stream flowed from the thought of Edmund Burke with its appeal to tradition and social order. In his references to Burke, Howard has argued that the Liberal Party has typically balanced the necessity for change with the imperative of continuity, invoking Burke’s dictum that “a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation”.
In his bid for the prime ministership, John Howard and his party adopted the motto “For all of us” in the 1996 election campaign. In the tradition of Burke and Menzies, Howard maintained that government was not there to serve particular sectional interests, but rather the long-term interests of the nation. In a headland speech for the 1996 election, Howard enunciated a classically Burkean view on the role and purpose of government:
Mainstream government means making decisions in the interests of the whole community, decisions which have the effect of uniting, not dividing, the nation, drawing upon the numerous community-based organisations which are the natural expression of the sense of neighbourhood which so many Australians have.
For Howard, government would not only seek to serve the nation as a whole, but in so doing, it would draw upon the institutions of society that Burke famously described as the “little platoons” to which individuals belong in society. The little platoons featured prominently in Howard’s approach to government, whether it was his government’s social welfare policies or its strategy of addressing indigenous disadvantage. In helping Australia’s poor, Howard favoured the mobilisation of what he called a “social coalition” of churches, charities, community service organisations and businesses to render support. In empowering indigenous communities, he acknowledged the “little platoons” of families, schools, community elders and voluntary groups as critical to realising indigenous success.
While individual freedom was obviously a key tenet of Howard’s political philosophy, he, like Burke, emphasised the individual’s responsibility to society. A critical element of this was his government’s principle of “mutual obligation” underpinning initiatives such as the Work for the Dole Scheme. Howard explained mutual obligation as a balance of rights and responsibilities, whereby society, on the one hand, had the responsibility to help those in need, while in return, those benefiting had the responsibility to contribute back to the community to which they belonged. This principle of Howard’s was firmly grounded in the philosophy of Burke and Locke, who each held that a healthy and balanced social order affords rights and liberties to individuals at the same time as it imposed duties on them.
In the tradition of Burke and Menzies, Howard stressed the importance of society and culture being guided by the wisdom of history. In a 2005 address, he remarked that what distinguishes the Australian Liberal tradition from its political opponents is its “profound respect for and pride in the history of this country”. His government sought “to ensure that the nation’s history is an essential component of every Australian child’s education, [and] no longer an afterthought or an optional extra”. For Howard, studying history was important for appreciating the nation’s inheritance and cultural heritage as well as learning from its failures and mistakes. Like Burke, he believed that civilisation derived its wisdom and liberty more from the practical lessons of history and less from the propagation of abstract ideas.
Howard brought Burke’s approach to bear on favouring the preservation of traditional institutions which continued to work, particularly the constitutional monarchy and the natural family. In a 2005 speech on the philosophical traditions of the Liberal Party, Howard observed:
We carry the Burkean tradition of conservatism within our ranks. We believe that if institutions have demonstrably failed they ought to be changed or reformed. But we do not believe in getting rid of institutions just for the sake of change.
When Australia debating the question of becoming a republic in the late 1990s, Howard defended the constitutional status quo on the basis of this principle. In a statement in support of the No campaign for the 1999 referendum, Howard declared that he did “not believe in changing a constitutional system which has worked so well and has helped bring such stability to our nation”. Elsewhere, he made the Burkean observation that the conventions of the Crown had “been developed and distilled through hundreds of years of constitutional practice”. Like Burke, he did not believe in change if he was not convinced that such change would make a good constitutional system even better.
In an age of rapidly changing sexual mores, Howard brought a similar attitude to bear on preserving the traditional family. In his 2008 Irving Kristol Lecture in Washington, the former Prime Minister remarked that “despite the repeated attempts of social engineers to suggest that traditional family arrangements are no longer needed”, united and functioning families remained the “best emotional nursery for children” and the most “efficient social welfare system that mankind has ever devised”. While not discriminating against single parents, Howard held that society must “ceaselessly propound the advantages of a child being raised by both a mother and a father”. For Howard, the traditional family was not only an institution that worked, as borne out by the field evidence, but one that existed as a “living tissue” between the individual and the state in the Burkean social order.
Burke and the Abbott and Turnbull governments
The ascent of Tony Abbott to the Liberal leadership in 2009, and to the prime ministership in 2013, arguably reinforced the Burkean tradition in the Liberal Party. A self-described conservative and anglophile, Abbott admired Burke and quoted him approvingly in the 2009 manifesto of his political philosophy, Battlelines. Abbott acknowledged that Burke supported change, providing it was “carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of the people” rather than “in deference to arbitrary and general doctrines”. Quoting Burke, Abbott held that a society needed to have certain conditions such as religion and morality, peace, order, civil and social manners for liberty to be able to thrive.
As Prime Minister, Abbott identified himself closely with many of Howard’s Burkean ideas of “mutual obligation”, volunteerism and a prudent approach to change. As with Howard, Abbott’s philosophy of mutual obligation for social welfare was based on Burke’s conception of individual rights within the context of community, meaning that such rights also carried personal obligations. In helping the poor and unemployed, Abbott maintained that Burke’s “little platoons” of charities, businesses and voluntary community groups were better placed than state bureaucracies. He opposed the Rudd government’s carbon tax on the Burkean principle that a sweeping change was being made without due regard for more modest measures that might have addressed the problem of carbon emissions. Abbott’s conception of nationhood was avowedly Burkean, based not merely on geography but on the age-old building-blocks of collective memory and inherited custom. Speaking at the commemoration service at Lone Pine on Anzac Day 2015, Abbott reflected:
Our nation is not just a place on a map, or a mass of people who happen to live somewhere. Our nation is shaped by our collective memory, by the compact between the dead, the living and the yet-to-be-born.
Burke’s legacy is acknowledged also by the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, even though his own expression of Liberalism frequently is closer to the tradition of Mill than to that of Burke. While Shadow Minister for Communications, Turnbull spoke at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May 2013 and singled out Burke’s 1774 Speech to the Electors as one of the classics of conservative thought. In particular, he admired Burke’s advice for elected officials not to do simply what their constituents demanded but to be guided by their judgment and “enlightened conscience”.
As Prime Minister in 2017, Turnbull addressed a seventy-fifth anniversary dinner for Menzies’s 1942 “Forgotten People” speech where he again invoked Burke. Recognising the indebtedness of Menzies’s own Liberal philosophy to that of Burke, Turnbull remarked that Menzies’s appeal to the “forgotten people” was largely about speaking up “for the foot soldiers in Edmund Burke’s small platoons”. That is, ordinary Australians who were part of churches, sporting clubs, community service organisations and other voluntary associations.
In the present age where the Centre-Right in Australia and overseas is at risk of either acquiescing to the political correctness and identity politics of the Left, or being lured by the fancies of shallow populism on the Right, the need to recover a firm and historically-rooted cornerstone is more urgent than ever. The enduring lessons and principles of Edmund Burke can provide substance, cohesion and direction to contemporary Centre-Right parties from the Liberal Party of Australia, to the UK Conservative Party and the US Republican Party.
Historically, the Australian Centre-Right has been profoundly nourished by the Whig tradition of Edmund Burke. Its genius of being able to combine personal liberty with social order, individual rights with responsibilities, and patriotism with international goodwill has given equipoise to our national life. At the same time, Burke’s constitutionalism, defence of private property, emphasis on community, esteem of religious observance and belief in being guided by tradition and the wisdom of history have gifted our democracy with its form and foundation. The fruits of modern liberalism and democracy have flourished in this antipodean tenement of Burke’s backyard. The task for today’s Australians now is to cherish them in their “partnership with the dead, the living and those to be born”.
David Furse-Roberts is a Research Fellow at the Menzies Research Centre and is the editor of Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches and Howard: The Art of Persuasion, Selected Speeches.