"Let Government protect and encourage industry, secure property, repress violence, and discountenance fraud, it is all that they have to do. In other respects, the less they meddle in these affairs the better."
"Of all things, an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous."
"Laws prescribing, or magistrates exercising, a very stiff, and often inapplicable rule, or a blind and rash discretion, never can provide the just proportions between earning and salary on the one hand, and nutriment on the other: whereas interest, habit, and the tacit convention, that arise from a thousand nameless circumstances, produces a tact that regulates without difficulty, what laws and magistrates cannot regulate at all."
"The balance between consumption and production makes price. The market settles, and alone can settle, that price. Market is the meeting and conference of the consumer and producer, when they mutually discover each other's wants. Nobody, I believe, has observed with any reflection what market is, without being astonished at the truth, the correctness, the celerity, the general equity, with which the balance of wants is settled. They who wish the destruction of that balance, and would fain by arbitrary regulation decree, that defective production should not be compensated by encreased price, directly lay their axe to the root of production itself." [Author's Note: So dies "supply-side"economics.]
The last three of these statements are from Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, which he wrote in response to a scheme adopted by the magistrates of Berkshire in 1795 to supplement the earnings of farm laborers with government payments so that they could earn a living wage. The supplement would depend upon a variety of factors: the price of corn, the size of the laborer's family, the cost of bread. Readers of Karl Polanyi will recognize this plan as the Speenhamland system.
Dr. Kirk's bias in favor of an aristocracy of wealth, and against the rule by a large, well-educated, informed, and responsibly active middle-class, blinds him to the possibilities inherent in such a system. But Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy saw the possibilities.
A Natural Aristocracy of the Middle-Class
"There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.... There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class.... The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendency."--Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. [The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; vol. 13, p. 396, 1904.]
In creating the circumstances for a substantial (in every sense of that word) middle class in America from the ashes of the Great Depression and the fires of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt attained, albeit in a different form, the materialistic end of Thomas Jefferson's dream for the nation Jefferson had helped found. It was left to President John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Speech, to challenge this new and still expanding middle class--which was beginning to include African-and Hispanic-Americans, together with other minorities--to become the all-inclusive moral/spiritual aristocracy that would complete Jefferson's dream. (See my friend Professor Thomas Farrell's July 5, 2011 OpEdNews article "Americans Should Study ARISTOTLE'S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS (Book Review)" for a more thorough discussion of this subject.)
The wealthiest Americans, the oligarchs who considered themselves to be the traditional "aristocracy" of the United States of America (which has, for the most part, long forgotten the duties an aristocracy traditionally owes to their nation), heard JFK's challenge to America: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" as a threat to their ascendancy, and knew that if he went any further, they had to end it. JFK managed to avoid or overcome the traps the oligarchs laid for him to undermine his power in the first two years of his Presidency. When, following the stroke suffered by his father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., and the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK began to use his position as President to directly oppose the wishes of the oligarchs, I believe they had him killed.
The descendants--both blood and spiritual--of the men who I believe were ultimately responsible for President Kennedy's murder have come within a hair's-breadth of turning our constitutionally limited, democratically elected, representative republic into a fully-fledged oligarchy, where the rich can hide behind the additional legal protections of their corporate shield and oppress the rest of us with impunity. We cannot permit this to happen. Understanding their thought process is only possible by reading books like Dr. Kirk's.
Conclusion: Read at Your Own Risk
Dr. Kirk's book is definitely a "read at your own risk," for he is extremely persuasive, a master of the subtle invective (calling Thomas Jefferson an "Epicurean," for example). He will also forget to mention important facts to avoid undermining his argument, either rationally or emotionally. (Such an omission, for instance, is this statement by Edmund Burke in his 1756 monograph, A Vindication of Natural Society: "The whole business of the poor is to administer to the idleness of the rich.") Omitting such a self-damaging view may serve to humanize Dr. Kirk, but the conservatism he describes and espouses is not one that spells a bright future for us. It is one where the majority sits back and lets the elite rule. I can think of few things more dangerous for our future.