Comment (2017): I now think the best way to understand Edmund Burke is as advocating not Disraeli's "Whig measures and Tory men" but rather "Whig measures in Tory drapery"...
Hoisted from 2007: [Tim] Burke on [Edmund] Burke's Political Philosophy http://www.bradford-delong.com/2007/03/burke_on_burkes.html: I see two strands in Burke relevant to Burke's comment here:
(1) The first is that Burke argues that the means you choose shape the ends--not the ends you aim at but the ends you obtain:
Call on a society's own internal traditions of justice, fairness, solidarity, mutual prosperity, and liberty, and you will attract to your side those who like justice, fairness, solidarity, mutual prosperity, and liberty. Call on your faction's superior ability to use organization, terror, and violence, and you will attract to your side those who like to boss, to frighten, and to kill. The first road produces a system in which your predominant politician is likely to be someone similar to James Madison. The second road produces a system in which your predominant politician is likely to be someone like Napoleon Bonaparte.
This strand in Burke is, I think, very wise.
(2) The second... is, I think, much more problematic....[:]
Start off from Machiavelli's declaration in Il Principe that it is good to be the (hereditary) king. In the particular example he chooses, it is good to be Ercole I d'Este or his son Alfonso I d'Este, hereditary Dukes of Ferrara....
The Duke of Ferrara... could not have withstood the attacks of the Venetians in '84, nor those of Pope Julius in '1, unless he had been long established in his dominions. For the hereditary prince has less cause and less necessity to offend; hence it happens that he will be more loved; and unless extraordinary vices cause him to be hated, it is reasonable to expect that his subjects will be naturally well disposed towards him; and in the antiquity and duration of his rule the memories and motives that make for change are lost, for one change always leaves the toothing for another...
But in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke is not advising Louis XVI Bourbon on how to maintain his hereditary state, he is advising a "young gentleman" patriot of Paris. Now neither Burke nor the Young Gentleman are "conservative": neither of them wishes to preserve France's true political past, the corrupt and over-bureaucratized absolutist monarchy established by Richelieu, Colbert, and Louis XIV.
So what is Burke's advice to the Young Gentleman?
It is to think hard about what a good governmental structure for France would be, think hard about what elements of the French past can be ripped from context, and think hard about a structure as close as possible to the ideal can be sold, sell the result as France's "true" traditional historical institutions, and thus gain as much as possible of the advantages of traditional authority while avoiding as much as possible of its downside--which is, of course, that France's real traditions suck.
This second strand is, I think, best characterized as a form of Marxist political philosophy. Groucho Marxist, that is. As in: "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing... If you can fake that, you've got it made!"...
Ancien Régime France was not a particularly lovely regime, and the court at Versailles not a particularly noble and chivalrous institution. Burke's pretense that it was is... disturbing. The bullshit quotient is very high when Burke writes:
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy.
Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever...
As Tom Paine wrote, Burke "pities the plumage and forgets the slaughtered bird".