This is the first of four posts totaling about 1300 words.
Jo Scott-Coe's article and Ed Appel's responses are both insightful and interesting, but one thing I would like to see more of would be an attempt to follow Burke's practice of situating his thought (e.g., the "purification of war" as an alternative to "fanaticism" at one extreme and "dissipation" at the other [GM 318-19]).
In one of his responses (12/13/04, 2:12 pm, p. 2). Ed refers to my remarks at the panel on Burke and education at NCA, but he misheard me insofar as he leaves out the situational side of what I said. My emphasis was not historical ("Robert Wess raised the question of why there's so much religiosity in the air right now") but situational: how should one respond to this religiosity, now that it's becoming more mainstream? More narrowly, since the panel was addressing the question of how to use Burke in an educational context, I was asking the panelists how they might use Burke to counter this religiosity in the classroom context. But my situational concern is not limited to this context.
I consider religion one of the most dangerous things in the world right now because of the way it's creeping into political decision making. Bill Moyers recently offered a striking example in his remarks upon receiving the "Global Environmental Citizen Award" from Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment. Moyers recalled, Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in the light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." (www.alternet.org/envirohealth/20666/). Regardless of whether this Watt anecdote is true in fact, it's true in principle insofar as it suggests why religious thinking about first and last things, however harmless in itself, is dangerous when it appears in people with political power. Burke's "rotten with perfection" should make us worry about what might happen if someone who thinks this way got his/her hand on the nuclear trigger.
How can Burke help one to address this danger in the present situation?
More in subsequent posts--