BrothersJudd.com
Loading

Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!
Download and Listen to any Audiobook for only $7.49. Save 50% for 3 months on over 100,000 Titles.

    ...the age of chivalry is gone.  That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and
    the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
            -Edmund Burke
 

    American colonies, Ireland, France and India Harried, and Burke's great melody against it.
            -W.B.  Yeats (The Seven Sages)
 

What a heady time were the late 1700's.  For hundreds, even thousands, of years, Western man had been saddled with monarchy; kings who were said to rule by divine right.  But by the end of the 18th century, Martin Luther, John Locke and Adam Smith had propounded the essential framework for modern liberal capitalist democracy and the Revolution in America had launched a grand experiment based on those ideas.  Then came the French Revolution and it was blithely assumed that here again Liberty was on the march.  When suddenly, rising to meet the tide of history, came Edmund Burke to excoriate the Jacobins and denounce the Revolution.    In so doing, he not only did mankind a great service, by sounding the alarms against unchecked liberty, he also basically gave birth to modern Conservatism.  Today, after a long period in the wilderness, particularly during the Cold War, Edmund Burke has come roaring back into fashion.  In a sense, he has finally won his argument with the defenders of the French Revolution, two hundred years after the fact, and is reaping the spoils.

For two centuries a controversy has raged over Burke's political philosophy, in particular whether the great defender of American, Irish and Indian rights was inconsistent in opposing the French Revolution.  The very existence and the stubborn persistence of this controversy seem to demonstrate either a complete misunderstanding or a willful misrepresentation of Burke's basic arguments.  One suspects it's a bit of both.  The greatness of Burke lies in the fact that he was among the first, and certainly the most eloquent, defenders of democracy to recognize the dangers it entails; that power in the hands of the masses is just as great a threat to liberty as when it lies in the hand of a dictator or king.  This point had been amply demonstrated in France, where the revolutionists had quickly abandoned any concern for personal freedom and had moved on to a bloody demand for equality--freedom's enemy.

It is here that we arrive at the key point that divides the modern Left and Right.  The Left believes (a la Rousseau) that man is by nature "good" and all men are born with equal abilities, but that environmental factors and corrupt institutions warp individuals, making some evil and keeping others from realizing their full potentials; which if realized would make them equal to other men.  The goal of the Left is therefore to remove, by any means necessary, these environmental and institutional impediments and return to an imagined state of nature where all men are good and are equally able; where Man will be governed by pure reason.

The Right, on the other hand, recognizes that man is inately "evil"; that is, evil in the sense that he is self centered and will generally act in his own interest not the interest of others.  Moreover, men are inherently unequal; in the state of nature, the able will tyrannize the less able.  It is for these reasons that men form governments in the first place; to protect themselves from one another.  The goal of the Right is to provide each individual with the greatest personal freedom and utmost opportunity to realize his potential, consistent with the basic safety concerns that gave birth to the state in the first instance.  Conservatives realize that pure reason will not lead men to treat each other with justice, by nature, men will always seek advantage over one another.  The State and other institutions safeguard us against this eventuality.

This fundamental difference can not be overstated.  Prior to the 18th century, the Left would have included all democrats, while the Right would have been made up of monarchists and supporters of aristocracy.  But beginning with the French Revolution, this fissure separated the regnant liberal forces into two competing camps, setting the stage for the two century long contest that ended in the early 1990's with the fall of the Soviet Union.  Both sides would produce great men, original theorists, brilliant writers and magnificent orators, but none of them would ever surpass Burke and his mastery of all these fields.  Rare are the men who so clearly perceive the fundamental issues that confront mankind.  They seem at times to be travelers from the future, come to warn us about what horrors the years to come will hold unless we obey their counsel.  Rarer still are the occasions when we heed them.  We can only imagine the millions of lives that would have been saved had people followed Burke's vision rather that that of Rousseau and Jefferson and Marx.

Happily, here in America, James Madison's Constitution embodies many of the same ideas and protects against many of the concerns which Burke expressed.  The adoption of representative, rather than direct, democracy; the bicameral legislature and tripartite government; the careful system of checks and balances; the protection of basic rights from government interference: these are all, though we seldom discuss them in these terms, intended to protect the individual from the potentially tyrannical effects of democracy.  When commentators speak of the genius of the American system, whether they realize it or not, it is to this central fact that they refer.  So while critics have struggled to understand a false dichotomy in Burke's thought, we (and to a lesser extent the Brits) have enjoyed the fruits of a political system which assumes that his critique of democracy is less theory than received wisdom.  For whatever reason, it took two hundred years and countless millions of lives before the rest of the world recognized what Burke (the bard) and Madison (the draftsman) had known all along; two centuries that proved them indisputably correct.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Philosophy
Edmund Burke Links:

    -REVIEW ESSAY: Reactionary Prophet: Edmund Burke understood before anyone else that revolutions devour their youngĂ‘and turn into their opposites: a review of Reflections On The Revolution In France: Edmund Burke, edited by Frank M. Turner (Christopher Hitchens, April 2004, The Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Strauss's Three Burkes: The Problem of Edmund Burke in Natural Right and History (Steven J. Lenzner, August 1991, Political Theory)
    -ESSAY: The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek: A Critical Comparison (Linda C. Raeder, Humanitas)

Book-related and General Links:
    -SPEECH: Edmund Burke - On the Death of Marie Antoinette
    -BIO:  Burke, Edmund (  ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA)
    -BIO: Biographies: The Political Philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-97).
    -BIO: A biography of Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
    -CHAT: Edmund Burke Lecture Hall: Edmund Burke
    -QUOTES: Edmund Burke. 1729-1797. Bartlett, John. 1901. Familiar Quotations
    -ETEXT: Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
    -ETEXT: Speech on conciliation with America (1775)
    -Modern History Sourcebook: Edmund Burke: Speech in Commons on India, 1783
    -Björn's Guide To Philosophy - Burke
    -ESSAY: Edmund Burke's Legacy By Andrew Webster A Tribute on the 200th Anniversary of his Death
    -ESSAY: Irish Historical Mysteries: Edmund Burke and Charles Lucas
    -ESSAY: Edmund Burke's Conservatism (Memo To: SSU students on summer break  From: Jude Wanniski Re: An introduction to Burke --Polyconomics)
    -Brief notes on Edmund Burke's philosophy
    -ESSAY: The Value-Centered Historicism of Edmund Burke  (Joseph Baldacchino)*****
    -ESSAY: The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek: A Critical Comparison (Linda C. Raeder, HUMANITAS, Volume X, No. 1, 1997. © National Humanities Institute)
    -ESSAY: Prejudice and Abstract Political Theory in Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution (Nick Russo)
    -ESSAY: On the Political Stupidity of the Jews (Irving Kristol)
    -ESSAY: Literature and the Power of the Imagination (Walter Poznar, World & I)
    -REVIEW: of Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature, Edmund Burke and India, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke  & Intertextual War (Daniel Ritchie, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Frans De Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form (Tim Fulford, Romantic Circle Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke. By Conor Cruise O'Brien, Was Burke a Conservative? (Mark C. Henrie, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of THE GREAT MELODY A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke. By Conor Cruise O'Brien (John Patrick Diggins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Alan Ryan: Who Was Edmund Burke?, NY Review of Books
        The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke by Conor Cruise O'Brien
    -REVIEW: Conor Cruise O'Brien: Two Edmund Burkes?, NY Review of Books
        The Rage of Edmund Burke: Portrait of an Ambivalent Conservative by Isaac Kramnick
    -REVIEW: J.H. Plumb: Burke and His Cult, NY Review of Books
        Burke and the Nature of Politics by Carl B. Cone
    -REVIEW: of A CHOICE OF INHERITANCE Self and Community From Edmund Burke to Robert Frost. By David Bromwich (Harold Beaver, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A CHOICE OF INHERITANCE Self and Community From Edmund Burke to Robert Frost. By David Bromwich (Harold Beaver, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Burke's Mansions (Daniel Ritchie, First Things)
        Edmund Burke: A Life in Caricature. By Nicholas K. Robinson
        Edmund Burke and India. By Frederick G. Whelan
        The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke. By Frans de Bruyn
        Intertextual War: Edmund Burke and the French Revolution in the Writings of Mary
        Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, and James Mackintosh. By Steven Blakemore.
    -REVIEW: of The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke by Conor Cruise O'Brien (Mark C. Henrie, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of The Religious Origins of the French Revolution by Dale K. Van Kley (Norman Ravitch, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Rousseau and the Revolt Against Reason (Mary Ann Glendon, First Things)
    -A READER'S GUIDE FOR  THE INTELLIGENT AMERICAN (National Review)

FRENCH REVOLUTION:
    -LINKS: The French Revolution (Internet Modern History Sourcebook)
    -LECTURE: Lecture 14 The Language of Politics: England and the French Revolution (The History Guide)
    -ESSAY: THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: RIGHT OR WRONG? (Richard Bernstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOKNOTES: Author: Conor Cruise O'Brien Title: The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800
    -REVIEW: Gordon S. Wood: Liberty's Wild Man, NY Review of Books
        The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 by Conor Cruise O'Brien
    -REVIEW: of The Long Affair Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800. By Conor  Cruise O'Brien (Richard Brookhiser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Conor Cruise O'Brien: The Decline and Fall of the French Revolution, (NY Review of Books)
        A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution edited by Francois Furet, Mona Ozouf, and translated by Arthur Goldhammer
    -REVIEW: Robert Darnton: Revolution sans Revolutionaries, NY Review of Books
        Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution by Lynn Hunt
    -REVIEW: J.H. Plumb: The Great Revolution, NY Review of Books
        The Age of Democratic Revolution (Volume II) by R.R. Palmer
    -REVIEW: Peter Gay: The Deluge, NY Review of Books
        Paris in the Terror by Stanley Loomis
    -REVIEW: C.B.A. Behrens: Counter Revolutionaries, NY Review of Books
        The Counter-Revolution, Doctrine and Action, 1789-1804 by Jacques Godechot
        Power, Property and History by Joseph Barnave and translated and edited by Emanuel Chill
        History in Geographic Perspective: The Other France by E.W. Fox
    -REVIEW: of A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION By Emmet Kennedy (Sarah Maza, NY Times Book Review)
 

AMERICAN REVOLUTION:
    -REVIEW: of A STRUGGLE FOR POWER The American Revolution. By Theodore Draper (John Patrick Diggins, NY Times Book Review)
    -INSTITUTE FOR AMERICAN LIBERTY
    -Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (Library of Congress)
    -RevWar: Revolutionary War links
    -REVIEW: of A STRUGGLE FOR POWER The American Revolution. By Theodore Draper (John Patrick Diggins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought by Barry Alan Shain (Eugene D. Genovese, First Things)
 

GENERAL:
    -REVIEW: of HOLY MADNESS: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871  By Adam Zamoyski  The bloody gods of revolution: With Christ safely out of the way, revolutionaries from Lafayette to Bakunin waged their own holy wars in the name of liberty and democracy, says John Lukacs ( John Lukacs, London Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE CROOKED TIMBER OF HUMANITY Chapters in the History of Ideas. By Isaiah Berlin. Edited by Henry Hardy (Gertrude Himmelfarb, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A CONFLICT OF VISIONS By Thomas Sowell (Fred Barnes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Gordon S. Wood: Americans and Revolutionaries, NY Review of Books
        Revolutions: Reflections on American Equality and Foreign Liberations by David Brion Davis
    -REVIEW: Keith Thomas: Just Say Yes, NY Review of Books
        Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America by Edmund S. Morgan
    -REVIEW: Keith Thomas: Politics Recaptured, NY Review of Books
        The Foundations of Modern Political Thought Volume One: The Renaissance Volume Two: The Age of Reformation by Quentin Skinner
    -ETEXT: The Rights of Man (Thomas Paine)
    -REVIEW: Gordon S. Wood: Disturbing the Peace, NY Review of Books
        Tom Paine: A Political Life by John Keane
        Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom by Jack Fruchtman, Jr.
        Thomas Paine: Collected Writings edited by Eric Foner
    -REVIEW: Eric Foner: Founding Father Tom, NY Review of Books
        Paine by David Hawke
        Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times by Audrey Williamson
    -ESSAY: Introduction to The Rights of Man (Howard Fast)
    -REVIEW: Alan Ryan: The "New" Locke, NY Review of Books
        Locke and Berkeley edited by David M. Armstrong and C.B. Martin
        The Political Thought of John Locke by John Dunn
        John Locke: Problems and Perspectives edited by John Yolton
        The Educational Writings of John Locke edited by James Axtell
        John Locke: Two Tracts on Government edited by Philip Abrams
        Locke's "Two Treatises of Government" edited by Peter Laslett
    -REVIEW: of Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from Davide Hume to the Present edited by Jerry Z. Muller (Daniel J. Mahoney, First Things)

Comments:

Your essay is interesting and well written, but it does not 'reflect' on Burke's 'Reflections on the Revolution in France.' Would it be possible to add on or write a subsequent essay explaining what exactally Burke was proposing with his reflection?

- Mary

- Apr-26-2006, 00:41

*******************************************************