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Reflections on the Revolution in France (Rethinking the Western Tradition) Paperback – 25 Feb 2004

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Frank M. Turner is John Hay Whitney Professor of History, Yale University. Conor Cruise O'Brien is the author of The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke. Darrin M. McMahon is the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity. Jack N. Rakove of Stanford University was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. Alan Wolfe is director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and the author of Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Probably the greatest defense of tradition and political caution ever conceived 14 Dec. 2008
By Bibliophile - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the book - a letter, actually - which established Burke's title as the father of conservatism in the English-speaking world. Burke did what no other writer had done in establishing a framework and a moral philosophy for conservative thought.

Burke deplored the reckless upheaval he saw in France, in which so much good was lost in a cataclysmic uprising, simply because it was traditional good. While not afraid of change, especially necessary change, Burke compellingly advocates caution and respect for tradition, so that political changes are more likely to be for the best.

Most importantly, Burke is almost single-handedly responsible for all modern conservative movements; while not all who call themselves conservative recognize Burke's centrality, all true conservatives see his work as foundational.

I could go on and on about this book, but thankfully thousands of other writers have done so already. For all these readings, this is required reading for anyone who wishes to play a meaningful role in society, whether liberal or conservative. A timeless classic.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Read before debating OWS or the Individual Mandate 4 May 2012
By RWordplay - Published on
Format: Paperback
First, I recommend the Yale University Press Edition--"Rethinking the Western Tradition"--with introduction by Frank M. Turner, and essays by Darrin M. McMahon, Connor Cruise O'Brien, Jack N.Rakove and Alan Wolfe. Burke's magnificent essay, put in perspective by these thinkers/scholars/interested parties, offers a delectable exercise in thought and manner.

Second, really what can I add to any discussion of this much discussed book, except to suggest that Burke has never seemed quite so relevant to me as of Thursday, May 3, 2012. I can't recall a time when the distance between actions and rhetoric based on theory, versus actions and rhetoric based on experience and reflection and honesty and humility, too, has never seemed so at odds. Burke insights have left me with a real distaste for theory, whether emerging from the so-called right or presumptive left. His essay left me hungry for argument that is thoughtful as it is considerate, penetrating as it is kind.

It is not that I think there's no room for passionate feelings, I just think they're more sincere and effective in bed than in debating halls, or Op-ed columns, or City streets. It is not that I don't think there aren't wrongs deserving to be righted, but rather that it appears that so many of those rude, disingenuous, and often ignorant voices arguing for or against reform/redemption love little more than the sound of their own voices and, of course, those who butter their bread.

My last word on Burke is that he reminds us that the right thoughts/expressions/actions are so because they possess a fundamental decency that is religious not intellectual in origin.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Security of order over political freedoms 9 July 2013
By Scot Potts - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Burke championed the security of order over political freedom, particularly when brought about by revolution.

Edmund Burke wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790, at the very onset of the French Revolution. Burke saw in the events in France the dangers of Revolution and presciently foresaw some of the worst excesses likely as a result of the governmental breakdown. He was a politician as well as a philosopher and man of letters and had accumulated a lifetime of experience pertaining to the subtle interplay of how a government is organized. He had uppermost in his mind the benefits of living in safety and accumulating material goods which would be allowed by a well ordered society.

This emphasis on order is both the strength and the downfall of Burke. To give the man his due, he had well considered criticism of the many inadequacies of the constitutional monarchy formed after the Estates General had been replaced by the National Assembly in 1789. This civil structure failed on many levels, stripping the executive of respect and power, thereby creating a situation in which the army would become disordered and eventually grab power itself through some young officer of ambition. They made a shambles of the financial system. Fair representation of the people in the government was non-existent. The National Assembly held up the ideal of the rights of man, but by their failure to provide order in which liberty and freedom could flourish, provided only for the worst excesses of Robespierre and Danton. "To make a government requires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power; teach obedience: and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go of the rein. But to form a free government; that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind."(p. 208)

History proved Burke right in the short term of turn of the century French politics. The slaughter, the toll in human misery and injustice which ensued in the last decade of the 18th century, after he published his Reflections in November of 1790, amply demonstrate the protection people often take for granted in a civil society which functions even merely adequately.

Burke has a deep concern for human rights in a limited sense, that is, that a human is owed what is his due. This is based on freedom and justice more than equality. "If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right...They have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself...In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not to equal things. He that has but five shillings in the partnership, has as good a right to it, as he that has five hundred pounds has to his larger proportion."(p. 50)

He saw government as a malleable instrument which could change to some degree to meet current needs. Completely replacing it with a new one, particularly one based on high ideas rather than on experience was sure to bring disaster. Burke was a champion of experience rather than idealism, particularly the Enlightenment ideas of thinkers such as Voltaire. Though the current system resulted from violence and injustice in the past, sudden change of this system would bring about greater injustice. Politics seeking perfection were doomed to failure and Burke thus argued for acceptance of the current imperfect, messy system which strikes a working balance between, good and evil, or many times, between two evils.

The sense in which reverence for order is his downfall is in Burke's willingness to accept the current order, even to uphold and defend it, when it was clearly unjust, unfair, or just plain evil. At his worst, his hidebound aversion to change holds up his prejudice against Jews, his apology for slavery, his religious intolerance, his lack of concern for marked discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor.
Five Stars 9 Oct. 2014
By Eduardo Terra Romero - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A classic book and an excellent edition!
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