"Burke Was Liberal Because He Was Conservative"
- Edmund Burke was never more eloquent than when denouncing the Penal Laws that circumscribed the liberties of Ireland’s Catholics. That system, he wrote in 1792, was “as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement, in them, of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” This was Burke’s opinion at a time when Catholics were synonymous with subversion—didn’t they owe highest allegiance to the pope? To fearful Englishmen, “papists” were “the apex of all evil” above “all Pagans, all Mussulmen.”
Burke demanded civil liberty—“a liberal and honourable condition”—for them anyway. He was not oblivious to minority dangers, nor indifferent to public orthodoxy. But who can imagine him alongside such Islam-baiters as Herman Cain or Pamela Geller, shouting about Sharia or boasting of plans to exclude an unpopular minority from public office?