Tag Archives: Cowper

Ancient Pedigrees, Old Trees and Numinous Rocks

Theodore Rousseau, The Great Oaks of Old Bas Breau
Theodore Rousseau, The Great Oaks of Old Bas Breau

In Edmund Burke’s attack on the “metaphysic rights” (152) of men that inspired the French Revolution, he urged Britons to look to their “breasts” rather than their “inventions” for the source of liberty. Burke deployed the language of sensibility to naturalize a political system organized around the idea of heredity. The argument goes that inheritance binds English citizens to their constitution with the instinctive force of a bond of kinship. But Burke has to admit that the awe-inspiring aspects of the state –its “pedigree and illustrating ancestors” (121)—are just so many “pleasing illusions” that make “power gentle, and obedience liberal” (171). Psychologically, however, Britons need these institutions because they have so thoroughly internalized the principles that they represent that those principles have become second nature. What keeps property and political representation in the hands of the few is what ties Britons to a shared past and future. Burke’s logic would be like Foucault’s if Foucault had wanted to celebrate the panopticon. Continue reading Ancient Pedigrees, Old Trees and Numinous Rocks