Reflections on a Time of Change: Edmund Burke and Beyond

I am reading Jesse Norman’s fine book on the conservative politician and originator of modern conservative thinking Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

I increasingly feel like a Burke-influenced liberal. I greatly fear climate change, economic instability, and growing economic inequality because all three seem to me to be possible major causes of either revolution or societal collapse, and I tend to share Burke’s views on the undesirability of massive rapid change. In this sense I am a conserve-ative and certainly I like the idea of stewardship of the environment, of the economy and of the structure of society. And we live in a civilization that in many ways is under threat.

To think about change or loss, I tend to use a variation of William Bridges work on change in organizations adapted from Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s work on personal loss and mourning. The model I use suggests that there are five main stages to the change or loss process: denial that there is change or loss, anger or rage at the change or loss, acceptance that change or loss has happened, mourning/feeling the sadness about the change or loss, and adaptation/moving on.

I tend to see conservatives in the US spending a lot of time these days in the denial phase for many societal, economic and environmental changes. I can relate to that but being stuck in it is ultimately not healthy and tends towards data denial and delusion if taken too far. Also shooting the liberal messenger who points out the environmental or whatever disaster. And when they are not in denial they are in anger, rage at the changes.

I don’t see many conservatives yet in acceptance which is where many liberals are, though some are also angry and also mourning loss of habitat etc. None of us seem to be very effectively into adaptation, and it is vital that conservatives move through to that stage after working the other stages (it is hard to jump them) because the solutions we need for all our problems require maximum cognitive diversity from across the political and skill set spectrum. Here’s hoping that we can form some different alliances to get more issues addressed.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke

Edmund Burke:

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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2 Responses to Reflections on a Time of Change: Edmund Burke and Beyond

  1. I wonder whether many conservatives have any kind of understanding of the history of that tradition. (This same comment may apply to liberals as well, but in my experience it applies to every vocal conservative.)

    • @Living in Las Cruces. I agree. When you lose sight of the history of ideas you lose a lot, especially conservatives who could gain great depth from seeing how past conservatives have seen things differently and more moderately, perhaps less hysterically. I didn’t know any hysterical conservatives until about 10 years ago.

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