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on May 17, 2002
I personally find, overall, that other persons writing
about and analyzing Burke and his views tend to be a bit
more interesting and compelling, than Burke himself in
his prose.
I do not consider myself a "conservative" -- in the
sense that that is a political agenda or mindset, nor
a reactionary. There is much in academics and political
philosophy which tends to want to damn by labels -- and
by putting ideas into boxes, filing, and forgetting...rather
than listening to, or thoughtfully considering.
One can believe in classic values, and find his
grounding in classical philosophy without being a
rigid reactionary or even a doctrinaire conservative.
So, when Burke speaks with the speech of the
Ancients and espouses classical warnings and
remonstrances about the necessity of restraint
and careful consideration, one can agree with him.
And, as the editor and author of the "Introduction"
to the Penguin Classics edition, Conor Cruise O'Brien,
points out, there is that of the prophet in Burke as
well, since he published these REFLECTIONS in 1790,
before the Reign of Terror in 1793, yet he correctly
foresees the excesses to which the French Revolution
will proceed in its unchecked course.
One of the best quotes which I like very much from
this work follows:
"When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see
a strong principle at work; and this, for a while,
is all I can possibly know of it. The wild GAS, the
fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to
suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is
a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and
until we see something deeper than the agitation of
a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably
sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men
upon a blessing, that they have really received one.
Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver;
and adulation is not of more service to the people
than to kings. I should therefore suspend my
congratulations on the new liberty of France, until
I was informed how it had been combined with
government; with public force; with the discipline
and obedience of armies; with the collection of an
effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality
and religion; with the solidity of property; with
peace and order: with civil and social MANNERS. All
these (in their way) are good things too; and, without
them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and
is not likely to continue long."
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on July 4, 2000
In Life of Johnson, Boswell brings up the name of Johnson's one-time sparing partner, Edmund Burke. Johnson, being quite sick, and not given to easy praise, admits, "Yes, Burke is an extraordinary man." Boswell tries to coax a more quotable reply, and Johnson, who thought argument the sole end of conversation, finally noted, "That fellow calls forth all my powers. Were I to see Burke now, it would kill me."
Reflections on the Revolution in France should not be a killer read for most, but is difficult in spots. Many of the sentences are long and complex, written in an age when thought and rhetoric had not yet been corroded by sound bites. Some of the topics may seem a bit obscure now. But this is undoubtedly a great book, by a great man, thinking lucidly and passionately about great issues. It is indeed a work of great intellectual power. At the same time, it is also a work of moral passion, balance, and foresight, often eloquently and sometimes simply expressed.
Much of it is also remarkably timely. Not only did Burke seem to anticipate the extremes to which the French Revolution was tending, the great Marxist revolutions of our times also often greatly resemble his remarks. "It is a suffient motive to destroy an old scheme of things, because it is an old one." "Kings will be tyrants from policy when subjects are rebels from principle." "Criminal means once tolerated are soon preferred. . . Justifying perfidy and murder for the public benefit, public benefit will soon become the pretext, and perfidy and murder the end." Examples could be multiplied. Reading the book, the subsequent history not only of communism, but also of progressive social cults in the West, becomes more comprehensible.
I prefer to think of Burke primarily in moral or spiritual terms, rather than political. Burke remarks, anticipating Rank and Becker and preempting Marx's silly economic heresy, (and anticipating Marxist personality cults) "Man is by his constitution a religious animal." One of the attractive things about Burke to me is his non-sectarian faith; he spoke from a viewpoint C.S.Lewis later described as "Mere Christianity." Some of his insights also parallel those of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius. What the two men shared was intellectual accuity combined with humility that expressed itself as a willingness to sit at the feet of teachers of the past. "We know that we have made no discoveries; and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality." That is one pole within the orthodox Christian approach to morality; God has "placed eternity in our hearts;" the Tao is universal, as Lewis argued.
Burke's argument may go too far at times; surely some of the changes wrought by the French Revolution were for the good, and there is something to be said for the moral passion of the revolutionary. And not every paragraph is interesting to me. Still, overall, the balance and sanity of this book remain not just as a monument to the powers of its author, but as useful resource to anyone who thinks about the relation of power and morality. Solomon said, "Pride comes before a fall." This book is, in some ways, a prophetic and wise meditation on the social consequences of that deep truth.
Author, Jesus and the Religions of Man (July 2000)
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on July 18, 1999
Edmund Burke is considered by many to be the first to expound upon Conservative principles. And this book provides plenty of justification for that view. Burke's "reflections" are especially potent since they not only provide a common sense defense of Conservative values but allow one to examine the consequences of ignoring those values, vis-à-vis the French Revolution. Burke defends the stability that comes with constancy and aged wisdom and derides those that embrace variability and experimentation as virtues. However, the reader is not left with the impression that Burke is opposed to all change. Quite the contrary. Recognizing the fallibility of Man, Burke fully expects that there is to be changes in our habits and prejudices as part of the normal course of human endeavors in order to improve upon established wisdom. But he forthrightly rejects the wholesale dismissal of knowledge and wisdom accumulated over vast periods of time. And he holds no punches in castigating the French Revolutionaries who were so presumptuous and arrogant as to count their vernacular wisdom wiser than that of all generations preceding them. He uses example after example of failures in the French experiment to demonstrate the futility and imbecility of starting afresh instead of building upon an existing foundation. This book is an absolute must read for conservatives.
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on October 8, 2001
I would agree with the commentators below in that Burke is by far the greatest politican ever, and that Reflections is not to be missed. However, of the several editions of this book I have read, this is undoubtedly among the worst. None of Burke's french footnotes are translated. Several quotations are untraced. The introduction is too long and unintelligent. The view it provides of Burke is not particularly accurate. The picture chosen for the cover ought to tell us what to expect from this edition, and the hopes we have are not disappointed. I recommend, for anyone who really wants to read this wonderful book, the Everyman edition, which is better on all of these counts.
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on May 27, 1996
Without a doubt, the finest political/philosophical conservative text published in its time. The Honorable Mr. Burke saw what the French revolution was about and attacked it root and branch. Ultimately being vindicated by Napoleon's fall at Waterloo.
The work posits the chaos of the left to the natural political order of the right well before those terms were connected. Serious students of the subject will learn much from this text
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on October 11, 2001
My recommendation was for the Oxford rather than the Everyman edition, edited by L.G. Mitchell. I apologise for this error.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2001
This version (Penguin Classics) has a wonderfully informative(81 pages) introduction that will bring anyone not familiar with Edmund Burke or his writings up to par.
Edmund Burke originally wrote what became "Reflections" as a letter in response to a young Parisian man who sought his support. He later went back to elaborate upon the original letter and wrote this book, knowing then that the book would be read by many more than the simple few that would read the letter.
In "Reflections on the Revolution in France", Edmund Burke lays down his arguments against several items on which he disagreed with the National Assembly leaders responsible for the French Revolution. The basis for most of his concerns was that he saw the French to be tossing aside all the prior wisdom and knowledge gained throughout history, simply to erect a radical, new government. It is amazing in retrospect to see how uncannily Burke predicted the Reign of Terror that would follow shortly. Thomas Paine, a hero of the US Revolution, who then went to France to aid in their revolt, angrily chastized Burke and this book, in Paine's "The Rights of Man." But while Paine gave many valid points in his book (I recommend it and this one for the full spectrum of the debate), he clearly ended up on the wrong side of this argument.
Another thing I found so amazing about reading this book was how Burke's warnings to the French are still almost entirely applicable today. One of my favorite passages, Burke writing about the general public, is something I would love to personally deliver to every modern-day political pollster (not to mention Bill Clinton & Co.): "A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world... It is therefore of infinite importance that they (the people) should not be suffered to imagine that their will, any more than that of kings, is the standard of right and wrong."
I recommend this book to anyone who thinks logically or wants to know why conservatives think the way they do. Also, if you believe yourself to normally be conservative, but often find yourself pinned or lacking an explanation for why you are against something that the majority, or "trendy" minorities, might support, then this book is where you need to start.
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