“It was the genius of the English political system to adhere to the facts of English history,” says Gertrude Himmelfarb in this week’s Acton Commentary.
What Lord Acton particularly admired in the later Edmund Burke was his empirical philosophy of politics, his refusal to give way to the metaphysical abstractions, the a priori speculations, that had been insinuated into public life by the rationalists of the French Revolution. Facts, Burke had admonished, are a severe taskmaster. They prohibit the idle vanities of philosophy and the bureaucratic pretensions of a logical, all-embracing political science, a summum bonum of mankind available to the benevolent legislator or administrator. Against the revolutionist who would reform all of society in accord with a preconceived logical plan, they urge the Conservative wisdom of history and tradition, which have evolved institutions that stand the test of time if not of logic. It was the genius of the English political system to adhere to the facts of English history.