In the old divisions of the country, various accidents at various times, and the ebb and flow of various properties and jurisdictions, settled their bounds. These bounds were not made upon any fixed system undoubtedly. They were subject to some inconveniences: but they were inconveniences for which use had found remedies, and habit had supplied accommodation and patience ... When these state surveyors came to take a view of their work of measurement, they soon found, that in politics the most fallacious of all things was geometrical demonstration ... It was evident, that the goodness of the soil, the number of the people, their wealth, and the largeness of their contribution, made such infinite variations between square and square, as to render mensuration a ridiculous standard of power in the commonwealth, and equality in geometry the most unequal of all measures in the distribution of men ...We seem to be faced with a contradiction. In his 1788 Warren Hastings speech, Burke had condemned spatialized morality as being against all the foundations of natural law. But here, he seems to be saying something totally different: namely, that spatialization--the unequal distribution of norms--is both inevitable and integral to effective policy. I have tried to establish a parallelism between historicism and spatialization; this confirms it. It does so because Burke's contradictory attitude toward space is almost an exact mirror of his uneasy attitude to history. On the one hand, history and tradition (in Alasdair Macintyre's sense of tradition as a mode of moral inquiry) are the source of political legitimacy, that deeply irrational inheritance which must guide us in our behavior; but on the other, natural law is still the governing force of morality. In the same way, historical delimitations of space are the natural companion of the traditions of communities, free cities, noble estates--the inequality of space is an index of the natural inequality of society, which Burke cannot but affirm; yet morality must not be guided by lines of latitude because it really depends on man's relationship to God and to his fellows, on a strange sort of natural law.
It is impossible not to observe, that, in the spirit of this geometrical distribution, and arithmetical arrangement, these pretended citizens treat France exactly like a country of conquest. Acting as conquerors, they have imitated the policy of the harshest of that harsh race. The policy of such barbarous victors, who contemn a subdued people, and insult their feelings, has ever been, as much as in them lay, to destroy all vestiges of the ancient country, in religion, in polity, in laws, and in manners; to confound all territorial limits; to produce a general poverty; to put up their properties to auction; to crush their princes , nobles, and pontiffs; to lay low everything which had lifted its head above the level, or which could serve to combine or rally, in their distresses, the disbanded people, under the standard of old opinion.
- Edmund Burke, "Reflections on the Revolution in France"
Burke's exit from the contradiction between the historicized and spatialized morality of tradition and more-or-less transcendent natural law depends on the redefinition of natural law itself as something accessible through historical and spatial inquiry. This is never wholly satisfactory, and in his "Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs" he avoids the responsibility of fully resolving the contradiction:
No lines can be laid down for civil or political wisdom. They are a matter incapable of exact definition. But, though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are upon the whole tolerably distinguishable.The problem, of course, is that what may be tolerably distinguishable in one age or place is not necessarily so in another. If Burke cannot, then, resolve his dilemma, perhaps we can try to suggest a different approach.
I propose that the operative question is not of morality, but of power: applied ethics. What does the India of Warren Hastings have in common with the France of the National Assembly? They are both victims of the imposition of a supposedly transcendent, but arbitrary, power with the privilege of governing morality. Thus Warren Hastings' crime is not that he thinks ethics vary from place to place, it is that he thinks this distribution ought to be governed by some method of inquiry other than tradition; his arbitrary exercise of power is not a consequence of the indigenous political development of the Indians. Similarly, the National Assembly presumes to substitute geometry for tradition, denying the necessary inequality of space. It is obvious to any reader that Burke's objection to the French Revolution is that it deploys reason inappropriately. But why, then, does he compare the French to conquerors? It is because power, applied from outside, is always illegitimate.
The significance of spatialization here is clear. If history provides a source for morality, space delimits and circumscribes its legitimacy. The Burkean ideal is not the dynastic state (like Japan, whose rulers descended from Amaterasu), wholly legitimized by history; it is the tiny London principalities of Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill. This ideal allows the philosophy of Burke to emerge from its hidebound devotion to the powers that be and provide a genuine site of resistance, an incontrovertible claim to resistance against state power, which by its nature is external, un-historical, un-spatial. We may then more easily recognize the roots of Burke's revulsion for even, geometrical, surveyed space, a revulsion which, again, has found its echo in Foucault.