Among a People Generally Corrupt, Liberty Cannot Long Exist

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

Murray Rothbard, the Austrian school economist and student of Ludwig von Mises, regarded Edmund Burke in his youthful days as a libertarian and even a philosophical anarchist. Russell Kirk, the renowned man of letters and author of The Conservative Mind, viewed Burke as the progenitor of the modern conservative movement.

Rothbard and Kirk differed on many things, but on this they agreed: Edmund Burke was one of the greatest political thinkers of the last 300 years, a man to whom lovers of liberty owe a considerable intellectual debt.

“The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.” — Edmund Burke

Born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland, Burke gained a reputation as a promising writer and political commentator by his early 30s. After he moved to England in 1750 to study law, he considered himself at least as much English as he was Irish. He began a long career as a Whig member of the House of Commons in 1766 and the first major issue he addressed was the approaching crisis with the American colonies. Historian Jim Powell writes,

Burke wasn’t a great orator — indeed, his speeches, which were sometimes three hours long, emptied the seats in Parliament. But Burke had acquired deep knowledge of history which gave him valuable perspective, and he developed a passionate pen. He urged religious toleration for Irish Catholics. He su…