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Reflections on the Revolution in France by…

Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

by Edmund Burke

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  OberlinSWAP | Aug 1, 2015 |
  OberlinSWAP | Aug 1, 2015 |
How decayed is contemporary political discourse? So decayed that libertarians and small market conservatives consider Burke to be their forebear, and Marx to be the forebear of Democrats. I imagine that Marx and Burke would much rather have a beer with each other than with any of their lilliputian, soi-disant followers.

So, just to be clear. Burke claims that a society functions best when it has a completely stable set of institutions as its base: civil society, landed property, and a state/church marriage. Only if these persist will liberty give us worthwhile projects, rather than muck; only if they persist is capitalism and financial speculation anything other than a casino in which the rich get richer and the poor get shafted.

These institutions necessarily require what today we think of as 'government intervention.' The poor should be cared for; the benefits of social life should accrue to all, and not just the rich; the profits of the wealthy should be re-invested in productive enterprise and not frittered away on luxury or the aforementioned casino.

Burke is no more compatible with contemporary, so-called 'conservatism' than Marx is. They both saw the dangers of unrestrained capitalism. They both saw the dangers of 'utopian' revolutionary planning (although neither conservatives nor Marxist read those bits of Marx, for obvious reasons). Admittedly, Burke was a sycophantic, power-hungry hack; and Marx went from being a lunatic pamphleteer to an impressive but ineffectual research academic. Neither of them are role-models. But at least they were willing and able to think - actually *think* - about politics, rather than just spouting party line drivel.

All that aside, Burke's analysis of the French Revolution's violence is tendentious, sometimes slipping over into yellow journalism rather than convincing critique. He's not always wrong, but he is always hyper-polemical, and that's never very constructive. His praise of English political institutions is far more interesting, as is his defense of landed property, although it's hard to distinguish the philosophical claims (need for stability in society) from the class-based ideology (stability is produced by Whig aristocrats). And his rhetoric with regard to the dangers of democracy (and, therefore, the libertarianism of the contemporary right) needs to be taken on board by anyone who cares that we're about to destroy our economic, social and environmental heritage: "The will of the many and their interest must very often differ, and great will be the difference when they make an evil choice… government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions." "The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints… liberty, when men act in bodies, is power."

The solution for the problems of democracy is not, alas, more democracy, as nice as it would be to think so.

Also, the introduction to this Hackett edition is great, although Pocock doesn't really *show* that Burke wasn't in a rage against a proto-bourgeoisie. He does state it over and over again, but it doesn't seem important enough a point to make, considering that Burke most certainly was in a rage against some people an awful lot like the bourgeoisie of the later nineteenth century. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Edmund Burke does NOT like what he sees in Paris-be warned there are graphic descriptions of horrific atrocities being meted out on the Citizens; the phrase 'reign of terror' is a apt description'. He hits out at the political instruments of the Jacobins in the most searing of ways. One to read alongside others happening at that time like Mary Wollestonecraft, Thomas Paine Rights of Man (both need to be read by me) ( )
  wonderperson | Mar 30, 2013 |
Ur-text of modern conservatism. Well, he has a good writing style. I'll give him that.

For all of his self-righteous condemnations, which are so often repeated by conservatives and reactionaries today, I note how so very few of them tend to notice his conspiratorial wailing about international finance and the Jews. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmund Burkeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mahoney, Thomas H. D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, Conor CruiseIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dear Sir,
You are pleased to call again, and with some earnestness, for my thoughts on the late proceedings in France.
"It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles. . . "
"The age of chivalry is gone."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140432043, Paperback)

‘To make a revolution is to subvert the ancient state of our country; and no common reasons are called for to justify so violent a proceeding’

Burke’s seminal work was written during the early months of the French Revolution, and it predicted with uncanny accuracy many of its worst excesses, including the Reign of Terror. A scathing attack on the revolution’s attitudes to existing institutions, property and religion, it makes a cogent case for upholding inherited rights and established customs, argues for piecemeal reform rather than revolutionary change – and deplores the influence Burke feared the revolution might have in Britain. Reflections on the Revolution in France is now widely regarded as a classic statement of conservative political thought, and is one of the eighteenth century’s great works of political rhetoric.

Conor Cruise O’Brien’s introduction examines the contemporary political situation in England and Ireland and its influence on Burke’s point of view. He highlights Burke’s brilliant grasp of social and political forces and discusses why the book has remained so significant for over two centuries.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:13 -0400)

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But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tradition or restraint." Edmund Burke Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) is the undisputed foundation of modern conservatism. It is a brilliant pamphlet against the French Revolution, one rooted in the solid ground of a practical political philosophy. Burke's central argument is that the French Revolution was driven by a utopian egalitarianism, which was dangerously disconnected from the actual experience of politics. A conservative, he grants centrality to the practical rationality of existing socio-political traditions and institutions, criticizes radical changes at all costs, and advocates gradual political reforms.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300099797, 0300099789

Liberty Fund, Inc

3 editions of this book were published by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Editions: 086597165X, 0865971641, 0865971625

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