Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 70% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now

Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 2 August 2008
Edmund Burke's tour de force, demolishing Jacobin upstarts and naive, utopian aristocrats alike, is a witty, intelligent and lively work which has rightly gone down in history as a seminal conservative text.

These reflections were first published in 1790, around a year after the Revolution began; before the monarchy had been overthrown and before the King was executed; before the Reign of Terror began which would result in great bloodshed. Burke was initially dismissed as an alarmist reactionary by many but as the Revolution culminated in the grotesque abuses of the guillotine and the rise to power of a military dictator, which he predicted in this text, Burke was hailed as a prophet and was vindicated in his wise warnings.

Without regard to fashionable and trendy abstract theories Burke defended prejudice, tradition and custom against the 'enlightened' intellectuals who thought they ought to rule in place of those born in the purple. Burke claimed that society is a contract, although a contract between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born. Those who are alive must not posses dictatorial powers over the majority constituents of this contract, the dead and the unborn, but must work in accordance with traditions and be aware that they are but trustees of an inheritance which they must pass on to the next generation.

For Burke prejudices were the "bank and capital of nations and of ages" which make habits out of virtues. Prejudices give people instinctive responses in moments of decision and do not leave people hesitating in an emergency. The revolutionaries rejected all ideas repugnant to their individual reasoning and were bigotedly self-satisfied in their own way of thinking; they had "no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own". By destroying established authority on the grounds that it was irrational or unjust the revolutionaries eroded the stability of their country and made the intervention of a "popular general" who would restore order inevitable. This was borne out when General Napoleon took control over France on the 18th Brumaire in 1799 and proceeded to try and conquer all of Europe until finally defeated by the counter-revolutionary forces of Britain and Prussia at Waterloo in 1815.

The description of Burke's visit to the French court where he witnessed Marie Antoinette on the horizon is probably one of the finest pieces of English literature I have ever read. The emotions; awe, outrage and anger all wrapped up to express Burke's indignation that 'the age of chivalry is gone' and that the 'glory of Europe is extinguished for ever'. According to one of Burke's correspondents Marie Antoinette was shown this passage whilst she was held captive and before she could finish reading it she had burst into tears and took considerable time to recover before she could read the rest.

One must remember that Burke was writing this letter to a French nobleman who obviously knew more than Burke on what was happening in France and so would not have needed a narrative of the political goings-on.

This edition, edited by historian of eighteenth-century Britain, J. C. D. Clark, is the most helpful for students. It includes a lengthy introduction exploring Burke's identity as a Whig, his ideas on the Glorious Revolution, the background to the "Reflections", its political theory, and Burke's career afters its publication. Unlike other editions, this edition includes a detailed table of contents for Burke's text as he never divided his letter into chapters. This is extremely helpful for the reader, as are the numerous footnotes.
0Comment| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 July 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.
0Comment| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 February 2011
"Reflections" is ostensibly a tract attacking the French Revolution of 1789 but in reality its importance is its case for conservatism. The polemical nature of the book means that it is not a systematic analysis so one has to search for Burke's conservative principles.

One of his most important principles is "prescription", by which the possession of property and authority are given (at least some) legitimacy by the passage of time. Burke did not oppose all change but believed that if things are going well then they are best left alone. He wrote "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation", but believed that change should be for "proved abuses". Burke saw society as organic, as a "partnership" bridging all generations. In typical Burkean language he wrote that citizens "should approach the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude." As in any natural organism change must be slow and gradual. He observed that "I do not like to see anything destroyed, any void produced in society." He was, of course, opposed to abstract theories that he thought at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous. Society, thought Burke, needed not abstract reasoning but practical and pragmatic statesmen. He was even more opposed to revolution for it leads to excesses and unintended results.

Not surprisingly Burke stresses the importance of codes of conduct, custom and what he called "prejudice". He writes of the "pleasing illusions" that constitute "the decent drapery of life". These "antient opinions and rules of life" include politeness, deference, the chivalrous treatment of women, the "spirit of a gentleman" and the "spirit of religion". Much of this "decent drapery of life" plus respect for social superiors and authority depends on "prejudice", which is a settled inclination of mind that prompts an individual to act (virtuously) without thinking why. (Today we would call it social conditioning!) Burke argues that prejudice is not irrational for it allows people to draw on the nation's collective wisdom (which Burke calls its "bank and capital) to supplement their own inadequate powers of reason.

In using prescription to justify existing institutions, Burke defended the unequal division of property, wealth and power, plus the social hierarchy that characterised the age in which he lived. He declared (with the French Revolution in mind) that a state ruled by men such as hairdressers and tallow-chandlers would "suffer oppression", and though ability must be represented it was vital that property should "be out of all proportion predominant in the representation". He believed that in all states there are necessarily differences in status and power, and that power is best placed in the hands of men brought up from childhood with an appropriate education, status, and a sense of mission. In other words a "natural aristocracy" that had the duty of using authority for the good of all.

This support for inequality looks out-dated to 21st century readers but many of Burke's other ideas were to continue to flourish as canons of conservatism. "Reflections" is well worth reading not only for its exposition of conservative principles that so strongly influenced political thought in the following century but also as a powerfully written and prophetic polemic about the French Revolution.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 April 2009
Edmund Burke's tour de force, demolishing Jacobin upstarts and naive aristocrats alike, is a witty, intelligent and lively work which has rightly gone down in history as a seminal conservative text.

These reflections were first published in 1790, around a year after the Revolution began; before the monarchy had been overthrown and before the King was executed; before the Reign of Terror began which would result in great bloodshed. Burke was initially dismissed as an alarmist reactionary by many but as the Revolution culminated in the grotesque abuses of the guillotine and the rise to power of a military dictator, which he predicted in this text, Burke was hailed as a prophet and was vindicated in his wise warnings.

Without regard to fashionable and trendy abstract theories Burke defended prejudice, tradition and custom against the 'enlightened' intellectuals who thought they ought to rule in place of those born in the purple. Burke claimed that society is a contract, although a contract between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born. Those who are alive must not posses dictatorial powers over the majority constituents of this contract, the dead and the unborn, but must work in accordance with traditions and be aware that they are but trustees of an inheritance which they must pass on to the next generation.

For Burke prejudices were the 'bank and capital of nations and of ages' which make habits out of virtues. Prejudices give people instinctive responses in moments of decision and do not leave people hesitating in an emergency. The revolutionaries rejected all ideas repugnant to their individual reasoning and were bigotedly self-satisfied in their own way of thinking; they had 'no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own'. By destroying established authority on the grounds that it was irrational or unjust the revolutionaries eroded the stability of their country and made the intervention of a 'popular general' who would restore order inevitable. This was borne out when General Napoleon took control over France on the 18th Brumaire in 1799 and proceeded to try and conquer all of Europe until finally defeated by the counter-revolutionary forces of Britain and Prussia at Waterloo in 1815.

The description of Burke's visit to the French court where he witnessed Marie Antoinette on the horizon is probably one of the finest pieces of English literature I have ever read. The emotions; awe, outrage and anger all wrapped up to express Burke's indignation that 'the age of chivalry is gone' and that the 'glory of Europe is extinguished for ever'. According to one of Burke's correspondents Marie Antoinette was shown this passage whilst she was held captive and before she could finish reading it she had burst into tears and took considerable time to recover before she could read the rest.

One must remember that Burke was writing this letter to a French nobleman who obviously knew more than Burke on what was happening in France and so would not have needed a narrative of the political goings-on. My only complaint is that this Oxford edition index is inadequate. It lists names but no concepts whatsoever, which makes it practically useless for students. I recommend the critical edition edited by J. C. D. Clark and published by Stanford University Press.
44 comments| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 March 2014
If only political commentators had the quaity of prose of Burke, and his persuasive logical argument, supported by knowledge and learning. Why haven't read it before?
A must for anyone interested in the bankrupcy and futility of revolution,which in history have very often brought more chaos and hardship, than they tried to cure
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 October 2009
To begin with: this book is a pamphlet, not a treatise. It is a call to action about a specific event, not a political programme. Burke enthusiasts may maintain it is; but let's not forget he remained a Foxite still, when he wrote this. Yes this was addressed to English, not French audiences, and was a warning to revolutionary sympathisers, but Burke had yet to cross the floor and would not do so for several years. Nor does this read stylistically, anyhow, like a treatise, even like Locke's highly contextual Two Treatises. Readers expecting a statement of the conservative creed may be disappointed. Hence the 4, not 5 stars.

As a historical document, however, the Reflections are invaluable. Burke published his point-by-point assault on the French Revolution in 1790, when the revolution was still widely popular in Britain. He was an English MP and his public, even if the Reflections are formulated as two letters to a French aristocrat, was British political opinion.

First, his book contrasts admirably the gradual, and ultimately more successful, British path to democracy to the French. Indeed the core of his argument is that the revolution laid waste to tradition, depriving its end system of the essential legitimacy that stems from it. Second, Burke was the first to warn - years before the 'terror' - that radical change, once initiated, would be exceedingly difficult to stop. Third, he makes penetrating (and scathing) observations on the role of class renegades; his dissection of their motivations is striking and finds application in all situations of political upheaval. Burke's warning on radical change was vindicated not just in France, but repeatedly in Europe through the 19th and early 20th centuries. With respect to the French Revolution, he understood that any stabilisation depended on solving the question of church property, which the revolutionaries were already bungling (one smiles at a British MP springing in defence of the catholic church in the still popular days of 'no popery!', but the analysis has to be cold-bloodedly correct).

The only rebuttal to Burke's argument is that the status quo was not an option either. His picture of pre-revolutionary France is on the rosy side; unlike the British, the French monarchy was in deep crisis. Nevertheless, I strongly believe this should be taught in France alongside the more hagiographical stuff. I am French, by the way, and an admirer of the events of 1789.
66 comments| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 February 2014
This book was in excellent condition as described by the seller on its arrival. reading the first chapter I must write it was not portrayed as I had thought but based on a letter from the aurthor Edmund Burke to an another political thinker in France. Perhaps best used for supporting reference to university studies more than a broader opinion of the French Reveolution
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 October 2004
Edmund Burke has written a powerful and eloquent argument against the revolution in France and its instigators. It is easy to be swayed by Burke's rich and dramatic use of language. He shows a deep knowledge of both contemporary history, European events, British History, Ancient History and languages. He does not only decry the excesses of the French Revolution; he is prepared to credit it with its gains although lamenting the manner of their achievement. Further, he is willing and very able to put forward an alternative to the Revolution. This is grounded in the British Constitution. However, it isn't merely patriotic zeal that causes this exaltation of the British way of doing things: it is backed with a knowledge of human nature, as constituted, and an awareness of the limits of life itself. For those who are Romantic, Burke's philosophy is not comforting. There is no progress for the vast majority of mankind. They are to live harsh lives where effort remains unrewarded except by the thought of heavenly compensation.
He is more clear sighted than many of his contemporary pro-Royalist/Conservative writers: he sees that it is the myth of Monarchy that is important, not the Monarchy itself. He sees the world of illusion fading to the detriment of mankind. And he sees exactly who is taking power - the Calculator, the Agent, the Accountant and the Man of Industry. There is a limited attraction for these people in his writings. He does not believe the world they can build will be one where the old values can exist (curious why contemporary Conservatives allude to him when he would be opposed to their world of markets and free trade). Interestingly, he foresees the weakening of human values in their entirety. In passages that will be clearer to the modern reader, he predicts that values are fogged by other principles - economic, social political and sociological. Who, nowadays, cannot see this? When talk of Truth and Justice inevitably becomes entwined with economic growth or societal change that has ramifications that go beyond any one human perspective.
Burke sees this and laments it. His preferred world of the gentleman farmer, with values rooted in an unchanging world with the result that people know where they stand; and can separate what is good from what is evil fairly simply, is argued for with passion and conviction.
As regards The People, as noted before, there is a passage that is telling:
'Good order is the foundation of all good things. To be enabled to acquire, the people, without being servile, must be tractable and obedient. The magistrate must have his reverence, the laws their authority. The body of the people must not find the principles of natural subordination by art rooted out of their minds. They must respect that property of which they cannot partake. They must labour to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, they must be taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice. Of this consolation, whoever deprives them, deadens their industry, and strikes at the root of all acquisition as of all conservation. He that does this is the cruel oppressor, the merciless enemy of the poor and wretched.'
Burke and I parted company long before this, but the breach is final with this passage and I consider him to be, despite his generosity and liberality and feeling and however well-intentioned or misguided, an enemy of mankind. For his 'good order' requires nothing more than the systematic inculcation of fear into children and then to have that fear bounded to them by God and consequences. At root of this there is the belief that people are a danger to themselves and to others. Yet after years of psychological and developmental research we now know differently. It is the aims that Burke advocates that creates the cruel oppressor and this, in turn, necessitates the maintenance of Burke's Conservative Ideas and system. The Revolutionnaries may have lacked knowledge of some critical fundamentals, and patterns of greed and usury and resentment may have lain behind many deeds, as Burke perceived, but that does not mean that they were entirely incorrect or that their resentment lacked justice.
As Burke presciently noted the world will become uglier because of the French Revolutions success (it has - decline of manners, ugly urban areas: it has not - no mas starvation on our doorstep, deforming diseases not rampant). Yet Burke's ideas could not turn back the French Revolution, nor could they sustain the British way of life, nor can they be used to build a future, then or now. A very thought provoking read nonetheless.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 February 2011
"Reflections" is a tract attacking the French Revolution of 1789 but in reality its importance is its case for conservatism. The polemical nature of the book means that it is not a systematic analysis so one has to search for Burke's conservative principles.

One of his most important principles is "prescription", by which the possession of property and authority are given (at least some) legitimacy by the passage of time. Burke did not oppose all change but believed that if things are going well then they are best left alone. He wrote "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation" but added that change should be for "proved abuses". Burke saw society as organic, as a "partnership" bridging all generations. In typical Burkean language he declared that citizens "should approach the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude." As in any natural organism change must be slow and gradual. He observed that "I do not like to see anything destroyed, any void produced in society." He opposed abstract theories, which he thought at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous. Society, thought Burke, needed not abstract reasoning but practical and pragmatic statesmen. He was even more opposed to revolution for it leads to excesses and unintended results.

Not surprisingly Burke stresses the importance of codes of conduct, custom and what he called "prejudice". He writes of the "pleasing illusions" that constitute "the decent drapery of life". These "antient opinions and rules of life" include politeness, deference, the chivalrous treatment of women, the "spirit of a gentleman" and the "spirit of religion". Much of this "decent drapery of life" plus respect for social superiors and authority depends on "prejudice", which is a settled inclination of mind that prompts an individual to act (virtuously) without thinking why. (Today we would call it social conditioning!) Burke argues that prejudice is not irrational for it allows people to draw on the nation's collective wisdom (which Burke calls its "bank and capital") to supplement their own inadequate powers of reason.

In using prescription to justify existing institutions, Burke defended the unequal division of property, wealth and power, plus the social hierarchy that characterised the age in which he lived. He declared (with the French Revolution in mind) that a state ruled by men such as hairdressers and tallow-chandlers would "suffer oppression", and though ability must be represented it was vital that property should "be out of all proportion predominant in the representation". He believed that in all states there are necessarily differences in status and power, and that power is best placed in the hands of men brought up from childhood with an appropriate education, status, and a sense of mission. In other words a "natural aristocracy" that had the duty of using authority for the good of all.

This support for inequality looks out-dated to 21st century readers but many of Burke's other ideas were to continue to flourish as canons of conservatism. "Reflections" is well worth reading not only for its exposition of conservative principles that so strongly influenced political thought in the following century but also as a powerfully written and prophetic polemic about the French Revolution.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 November 2012
This book is like a ramble through a dark forest on a summer's day. There is no sense of climbing to get a good view of the surrounding countryside. Every now and then a gap opens up and the sunlight floods in filtered by the green leaves. For example:

"By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than flies of a summer."

Mr. Burke uses his eloquence to make the following points:
1.) We should be forgiving of other people's faults.
2.) Reforms need to be thought through and should not be so rapid as to destroy people's lives.
3.) Separation of powers and independence of the judiciary
4.) Religion is a useful tool for making people sacrifice their lives for the greater good, and to make people obey the government.

It's the last point that irritates me. Nowhere does Mr. Burke indicate that he actually believes in Christianity. Even though he seems to regard "atheistical philosophes" as mad, amoral and conniving, it can hardly be said that he takes theology for granted. So his model of government is that the aristocracy and clergy should paternalistically lie to the vast mass of the population. This model might be the best that can be achieved in an agricultural illiterate peasant economy. Maybe even this is a step forward over the slave-based economy of ancient times. However surely if society progresses at all, it must be a reduction in the slavery of the mind as well as that of the body. If not then surely trouble is being stored up and the revolution - when it does come - must surely be all the more terrible.

Maybe that is what really made the French Revolution so terrible. But I would not know because almost all that I know about the French Revolution I have learnt from reading this book. The notes and introduction are adequate and the book might be seriously misleading and obscure without them. However more space devoted to context in the introduction would not have gone amiss.

In conclusion I feel sure that - perhaps over a beer or brandy - I would enjoy Mr. Burke's company and that if I managed to discuss with him all the reasons for atheism, I would succeed in convincing him that I am quite mad and possibly dangerous.
11 comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)