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Campbell – Introduction for William Murchison

Introduction for William Murchison
Dr. William F. Campbell

The Philadelphia Society

San Antonio Regional Meeting

October 4, 1997

I am Bill Campbell, Secretary of The Philadelphia Society and I am here to introduce William
Murchison.

When Don Quixote delivered his rhapsodic discourse on the golden age inspired by the rough
acorns which the uncomprehending goatherds offered to him, Cervantes observes that he "devoted
more time to talking than to finishing his supper." If The Philadelphia Society had to err, it would be
on the side of Don Quixote; fortunately, we have been able to have our acorns, and even more than
our acorns, and eat them too.

We have also been able to disprove the old cynic, Bernard Mandeville, who concluded his
doggerel poem, "The Fable of the Bees," with the following: "those who desire virtue, should be as
free for acorns as for honesty." Even though our fare today is more than acorns, we strive for
honesty as you can see from the vigor of the morning sessions.

In the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries, the models of a simple society, close to nature,
were the Indians. The Philadelphia Society is such a simple society. We probably have too many
chiefs and not enough Indians. In fact, we have three chiefs and no Indians. Stan Evans, our
President, is a chief; I occasionally act as a chief; but I want to make sure that the chief of chiefs,
our Secretary, Julie Flick is properly recognized.

As you already know we are most unfortunate to not have Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn with
us for this luncheon. But I surmised that it was a mild heart attack when I received a fax signed by
him on the day he had the attack, telling me that he still hoped to make a November speaking date
in Baton Rouge.

But we have also suffered another blow which you might not know because it was not on the
program. Peter Stanlis, the world’s authority on Burke, and a long time member, was going to
grace us with a little talk celebrating the 200th anniversary of Burke’s death. For reasons of health
he was not able to be with us.

Peter had noticed that very little had been done in this country to celebrate Burke’s death. One of
our tried and true members, Morton Blackwell, had Peter give a major address on Burke on July
9, 1997 at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, and Ken Cribb, former President of The
Philadelphia Society and now president of I.S.I. published a book on Burke with a chapter by
Peter Stanlis included.

So, in addition to my job of introducing Bill Murchison, I promised Peter I would weave some
Burkean reflections into my introduction today. The direct connection between Burke and San
Antonio is slender, but the missing link is to be found in the thought of an important 18th century
Presbyterian clergyman and historian, William Robertson to whom we shall return later.

William Robertson

Now what do the two American Bills (Campbell and Murchison) and and the Irishman, Edmund
Burke have in common? We are all Anglicans. In preparing my remarks, I was somewhat taken
aback when I read Elliott Barkan’s description of Burke’s religion: "Burke was reared in his
father’s religion, Anglicanism, but his mother, a Roman Catholic, nevertheless helped to instill in him
a deep belief in the existence of God." (emphasis added) Now this ‘nevertheless’ may have special
meaning to Bill Murchison since he, a member of the Episcopal Synod of America, just returned
from the Episcopal National Convention in Philadelphia of all places, and has lived to tell the story.
But I think we can take some solace from Peter Stanlis’s characterization of Burke: "Essentially a
Thomist in his political philosophy,…[he] is the embodiment of all that is best in the Anglican
tradition." (p. 249) If you think I am getting too ecumenical here, with Anglicans, Catholics, and
Presbyterians, let me remind you that Bill Murchison is on the Ecumenical Advisory Board of
Thomas More Institute.

To put some meat on the bones, Peter Stanlis provides a masterful summary of Burke’s importance
in a way which allows us to tie together not only the themes of this meeting, but also the themes of
the last several meetings going back to the Chicago Meeting in April of 1996 on the rule of law:
"Burke is a restorative of the Christian-humanist wisdom of Europe, based on the Natural
Law….Throughout Western history, the Natural Law has played a vital role in the dramatic
struggle to preserve and extend the traditions of civil and religious liberty, and men who wish to gain
fresh insights into the applied principles will have their faith in liberty renewed by turning to the
political writings of Edmund Burke."

The roots of limited government in the United States Founding was the theme of the Williamsburg
Meeting in November 1996. The religious roots of liberty, both Catholic and Protestant, were the
subject of the April, 1997 National Meeting in Philadelphia.

The natural link to this meeting was the paper by Alejandro Chafuen which placed Scholastic
economics within the natural law tradition transmitted from Thomas Aquinas to the Spanish
Scholastics. Leonard Liggio will be dealing with other aspects of this linkage later this afternoon.
These Spanish roots of liberty were in turn handed on to Grotius and Burke. Burke’s indebtedness
to the Natural Law tradition can be seen in his tribute to Commodore Keppel. Keppel was a great
British Commodore who had descended from the Dutch aristocracy. In his Letter to a Noble Lord,
Burke pointed out that Keppel "was no great clerk," (no great intellectual) but that "he could not
have heard with patience, that the country of Grotius, the cradle of the Law of Nations, and one of
the richest repositories of all Law, should be taught a new code by the ignorant flippancy of
Thomas Paine, the presumptuous foppery of La Fayette, with his stolen rights of man in his hand,
the wild profligate intrigue and turbulency of Marat, and the impious sophistry of Condorcet, in his
insolent addresses to the Batavian Republick."

A person with even a nodding acquaintance with Burke knows that you would be overwhelmed
with material on Burke and the American colonies. But what about Burke and Latin America? Was
there something more appropriate to this San Antonio ambiance? I scoured his political writings
and books about him, but there was no mention of Latin America.

Then just by serendipity I came across Burke’s letter to another Bill, William Robertson, the
Edinburgh clergyman, and writer of two books which are important to our deliberations here, The
History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V
(1769) and The History of America, (1777).
The second book came out of the first book because he realized he could not do justice to Charles
V’s policies in the New World in one volume. Also the second volume mainly concentrates on the
Spanish in Latin America (eight out of ten chapters), because he promised another book on North
America which he did not deliver.

In his letter to Robertson thanking him for the copy of America, Burke says that Robertson has
"thrown quite a new light on the present State of the Spanish provinces, and furnished both
materials and hints for rational Theory of what may be expected from them in future." This rational
theory of what may be expected from them in the future is exactly what we have already received in
the keynote address from Manuel Ayau and the morning sessions which concentrated on
economics and politics.

If I may be permitted a Stan Evan’s kind of synthesis which again links together the Williamsburg
and Philadelphia meetings, Burke suggests that the British Parliament’s search for sovereignty has
led to their downfall. Burke says that if "our Statesmen had read the book of human nature instead
of the Journals of the house of commons, and history instead of Acts of Parliament," then we could
be writing about "the humble Scenes of of political oeconomy" instead of the more dramatic violent
actions, the "great Events of a civil war," i.e. the American Revolution.

At the end of this letter Burke links up with the morning’s discussion of economics and free trade.
Listen to his gorgeous economics which is worthy of a Ludwig von Mises or a Milton Friedman.
He is thanking Robertson for his solid books; in exchange Burke is sending him his "triffling
temporary production" of the Letters to the Sheriffs of Bristol. He then goes on to say, "But our
Exchange resembles the politicks of the times; you send out solid wealth, the accumulation of Ages,
and in return you are to get a few flying leaves of poor American papers. However you have the
mercantile comfort of finding the Balance of Trade infinitely in your favour; and I console myself
with the smugg consideration of uninformed natural acuteness, that I have my Warehouse full of
Goods at anothers Expence." In short, if you can run a deficit in your balance of trade—import
more than you can export—and people accept cheap dollar bills in exchange, then go for it.
Robertson himself was also a great believer in free trade and extended commerce which would
have pleased the side of Bill Murchison who contributes to The Wall Street Journal and The Free
Market
. After Adam Smith had published The Wealth of Nations, Robertson wrote him a letter:
"I am happy to find my own ideas concerning the absurdity of the limitations upon the Colony trade
established much better than I could have done myself."

He also intriguingly attacks the earlier bellicose Whigs; he tells Adam Smith that, "You have formed
into a regular and consistent system one of the most intricate and important parts of political
science, and if the English be capable of extending their ideas beyond the narrow and illiberal
arrangements introduced by the mercantile supporters of Revolution principles, and countenanced
by Locke and some of their favourite writers, I should think your Book will occasion a total change
in several important articles both in police and finance."

There is in fact a great deal of discussion about what Robertson borrowed from Smith’s earlier
lectures which Robertson attended. We need to take a careful look at Smith’s understanding of
Progress in both the lectures on Jurisprudence and his extended development of economic history
in Book III of the Wealth of Nations.

In Robertson’s treatment of commerce, he argues, "Commerce tends to wear off those prejudices
which maintain distinction and animosity between nations. It softens and polishes the manners of
men. It unites them, by one of the strongest of all ties, the desire of supplying their mutual wants. It
disposes them to peace, by establishing in every state an order of citizens bound by their interest to
be the guardians of public tranquillity. As soon as the commercial spirit begins to acquire vigour,
and to gain an ascendant in any society, we discover a new genius in its policy, its alliances, its
wars, and its negociations. Conspicuous proofs of this occur in the history of the Italian States, of
the Hanseatick league, and the cities of the Netherlands during the period under review. In
proportion as commerce made its way into the different countries of Europe, they successively
turned their attention to those objects, and adopted those manners, which occupy and distinguish
polished nations."

John Callandar of Craigforth who attended Smith’s lectures on jurisprudence in 1750-1751
claimed that, "Dr. Robertson had borrowed the first volume of his History of Charles V. from
them as every student could testify." He also claimed that Smith said, Robertson "was able to form
a good outline but he wanted industry to fill up the plan." (cf. Smith’s Correspondence, p. 192, fn
2)

These are Robertson’s links to the morning sessions. But he can also provide us with a smooth
transition to the afternoon sessions. Although he could be quite critical of the Spanish, he never fell
into the Black Legend propaganda mode which one might expect from a Presbyterian minister in
Scotland at the time. In fact, he was even charged with being too soft on the Spanish by Dugald
Steward, his biographer. In effect Robertson stresses the principal-agent type problem in
economics and the inspection costs as the source of the evils of the Empire. The motivation of the
Spanish monarchs, he says, "far from acting upon any such system of destruction, were uniformly
solicitous for the preservation of their new subjects." (348-349)

As for the clerics who went to the New World, "With still greater injustice have many authors
represented the intolerating spirit of the Roman Catholic religion, as the cause of exterminating the
Americans, and have accused the Spanish ecclesiastics of animating their countrymen to the
slaughter of that innocent people, as idolaters and enemies of God. But the first missionaries who
visited America, though weak and illiterate, were pious men…They were ministers of peace, who
endeavoured to wrest the rod from the hands of oppressors. To their powerful interposition the
Americans were indebted for every regulation tending to mitigate the rigour of their fate" (349) We
shall be hearing more of the specifics of that from Leonard Liggio later this afternoon.

Robertson’s judicious temper can be seen in his assessment of Las Casas’ famous treatise, "in
which he relates, with many horrid circumstances, but with apparent marks of exaggerated
description, the devastation of every province which had been visited by the Spaniards." (296) His
assessment of las Casas’ earlier actions are also carefully measured, "His system was the object of
long and attentive discussion; and though his efforts in behalf of the oppressed Americans, partly
from his own rashness and imprudence, and partly from the malevolent opposition of his
adversaries, were not attended with that success which he promised with too sanguine confidence,
great praise is due to his humane activity, which gave rise to various regulations that were of some
benefit to that unhappy people." (118)

It is such judiciousness that probably led to the Royal Academy of History at Madrid unanimously
electing him a member on August 8, 1777, "in testimony of their approbation of the industry and
care with which he had applied to the study of Spanish History, and as a recompense for his merit
in having contributed so much to illustrate and spread the knowledge of it in foreign countries."
(xxii)

His America was supposed to be translated into Spanish and progress had been made when the
project came to a halt. According to one of his biographers, this project "excited alarm in an absurd
and decrepit government, which sought for safety in concealment rather than in a bold and liberal
policy, and, like the silly bird, imagined that by hiding its own head it could escape from the view of
the pursuers. The translation was, therefore, officially ordered to be suppressed, with the vain hope
of keeping the world still in the dark, with respect to the nature of the Spanish American
commerce, and of the system of colonial administration." (xxii)

The attempts to force the silly bird to take a look has been a major part of the work of all the Latin
Americans on our program. I would especially like to thank Fernando Monterroso who helped
shape this meeting at the planning stages; he has been helpful at every stage. Along with his
colleagues at the University of Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala, Giancarlo Ibarguen, and, of
course, Manuel Ayau, the Guatemalans have been attacking the silly bird for decades. This effort
did not start with Hernando De Soto’s The Other Path in 1989 nor will it culminate in the
wonderfully titled, The Manual for the Perfect Latin American Idiot published in Spanish last
year.

The fight against the dirigiste bird has also been carried out by our Mexican friends, Roberto
Salinas Leon whom you heard this morning and Carolina Bolivar from the Instituto Cultural Ludwig
von Mises. Finally, you will get a chance to hear the great Nicaraguan defender of liberty, Adolfo
Calero this evening.

On this side of the border, we must especially thank Diana Denman who is responsible for the
wonderful San Antonio hospitality and Joe Sullivan for the vigorous support of the Landrum
Society.

All of these men and women form part of what Edmund Burke called the "natural nobility." While
he was paying tribute to Keppel, Burke points out that a country needs a natural nobility, a body of
some kind or other, which "forms the chain that connects the ages of a nation." To protect against
the "levity of courts, and the greater levity of the multitude" this natural nobility would "afford a
rational hope of securing unity, coherence, consistency, and stability to the state."

Our speaker today, Bill Murchison, is pre-eminently a link in that chain. As a columnist for the
Dallas Morning News and many conservative publications, as an author of the book, Reclaiming
Morality in America
, he has with elegance and wit, with modest good humour, for many years
been shielding us from the levity of courts and the greater levity of the multitude. I present to you
Bill Murchison.
 

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