Friday, August 1, 2014

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered by Russell Kirk, 255 pages Burke was an eighteenth century Anglo-Irish statesman given to quixotic causes.  He tried to persuade Parliament to moderate its policies towards the American colonies.  He tried to persuade Parliament to allow religious freedom to the Irish.  He tried to prosecute the leading representative of the East India Company for corruption and abuses against the people of India.  He failed at all three, but in each case the consequences he warned against came to pass.  Due to his reputation as a champion of liberty, he was courted by Mirabeau and Paine, but he rejected the principles of the French Revolution, instead writing what author Kirk (author of Eliot and His Age and The Roots of American Order) calls "the greatest work of English political philosophy", Reflections on the French Revolution, and its sequel, Letter to a Noble Lord.
Kirk spends little time on Burke's private life, only making a few mentions of his perpetual financial woes and his frustrated hopes for a peerage.  Instead, the focus is on Burke's career, and Kirk makes an argument for the ideological consistency of that career - a quest to maintain the balance between freedom and order, to "conserve instead of covet", to reform rather than destroy.  Burke's role in the genesis of the modern political party is an extension, not a violation, of that consistency, following his maxim that the virtues of an organized minority are sometimes needed to check a vicious majority.  The book also argues for Burke's lasting impact, tracing his influence on the Romantic movement and twentieth century anti-totalitarianism.
A thorough introduction to the life and works of a seminal thinker.

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