Bastion Magazine: Edmund Burke tempers libertarian individualism
Religion & Liberty Online

Bastion Magazine: Edmund Burke tempers libertarian individualism

I just was introduced to Bastion Magazine , founded by a group of young libertarians who have realized that in order to have a limited state, we also need strong civil and cultural institutions and especially strong families. I have only skimmed the site, but it looks well done.

As one of the founders, C. Jay Engel, the founder and publisher explained to me, they began to realize that insights from thinkers like Edmund Burke and Robert Nisbet about civil society, including their approval of tradition and various forms of authority as well as their critiques of individualism, were not seriously addressed by many libertarians. 

The magazine argues that much of the libertarian movement has moved increasingly toward progressivism and nihilism and they are trying to re-examine arguments for political and economic liberty in light of Burke et. al. Engel writes: “Our move to Bastion Magazine is a revolt against libertarian nihilism.”

I think this is an interesting and positive development. A revitalization of Burke is needed. His insights about the nature of liberty and his worry about abstract thinking divorced from tradition are essential. Burke recognized that liberty cannot endure without deep respect for tradition and predicted that cold, calculating hyper-rationality of the “economists, sophists, and calculators” would lead to terror. Burke is also important because unlike an increasing number of conservatives, he recognized the important role that a market economy plays in liberty. In fact, Adam Smith noted that Burke and he shared many of the same views.

I am also glad to see the interest in Robert Nisbet.  His work on community, authority and individualism is relevant for our times. Following Tocqueville, Nisbet stresses the importance of civil society and multiple layers of authority for resisting centralization.

As Tocqueville made clear, individualism leads to centralization and the state has an interest in promoting individualism: “The tyrant does not care if you love him as long as you don’t love one another.”

One of the weaknesses of libertarianism is its tendency toward individualism, which in the long run leads not to a limited state, but to an intrusive one.


Michael Matheson Miller

Michael Matheson Miller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute