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The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left Paperback – 2 Dec 2014
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"Yuval Levin, whose sharp thinking was honed at the University of Chicago s Committee on Social Thought...is one of conservatism s most sophisticated and measured explicators."
-George F. Will, Washington Post
The Great Debate s architecture is clever and intellectually persuasive.... A thoughtful introduction to this famous paradigmatic opposition.
Levin enters into another great debate that riles academia: between historians insisting upon the uniqueness and specificity of events, which defy abstractions and generalizations, and philosophers impatient with the ephemera and contingency of events, which do not rise to the level of truth and certainty. Here too he rises to the occasion, satisfying the scruples of historians and philosophers alike. From a debate raged about an event centuries ago, he deduces truths that illuminate some of our most vexing political and social problems today.
A judicious, nuanced, and accessible precis that reveals both Burke and Paine to be complicated and compelling thinkers. This sympathetic treatment of the two men, in turn, allows Levin to paint an intellectual picture of right and left that is more gray than black and white, something all too rare today.
[Has] potential to have long-lasting impact on a reader.... Levin's book forces the reader to stop and create space for thought and reflection, and does not spoon-feed easy answers or applications to today's politics. It does, however, raise serious questions about whether the new obsession with data-based decision-making, the Nate Silver-ization of journalism and politics, could be taken too far if we come to believe that everything in public life can be answered by the scientific method. It also poses significant queries worth grappling with for those rightly concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor. Levin echoes Burke's challenge to reformers to proceed with caution, and with humility.
The Great Debate s excellent writing about 18th-century history and political theory will inform and educate readers.
-Washington Independent Review of Books
In this rigorous yet accessible work, Levin contextualizes the positions of British philosopher Edmund Burke, who has been viewed as both the founder of modern conservatism and an example of classical liberalism, and Thomas Paine, the author of several classic political texts, including Common Sense and The Rights of Man.
Levin s critique of liberalism is powerful and to be expected. But what makes his book much more interesting is his truly trenchant critique of his fellow conservatives as well. And it is a critique well-taken. I d be much tougher on them, but this book is a tonic for a new discourse.
-Andrew Sullivan, The Dish
Must-read primer on America s ideological faultline[a] wonderful new booka readable intellectual history that fairly crackles with contemporary relevance. The must-read book of the year for conservativesespecially those conservatives who are profoundly and genuinely baffled by the declining popularity of the GOP as a national party.
-American Conservative's State of the Union Blog
Mr. Levin, the editor of the journal National Affairs and a former aide to both Speaker Gingrich and President George W. Bush, provides a valuable service by dusting off the writings of Burke and Paine and by clearly, concisely, and accessibly summarizing them in a way that highlights their relevance to contemporary politics and policy.... The monarchist Burke and the religious skeptic Paine, an early supporter of the bloody French revolution, would seem to be unlikely models for today s American politicians of either party. But Mr. Levin has made a convincing case that, 200 years later, we can still learn from both men.
-New York Sun
Two seminal thinkers anticipate the modern split between progressives and conservatives in this insightful study of 18th-century political theory. National Affairs editor Levin presents a lucid analysis of the ideological confrontation between Paine...and Burke...he succeeds in establishing the continued relevance of Burke s thought and prescient critique of revolutionary excesses.
Making intricate contrasts between Paine and Burke throughout, Levin perceptively demonstrates the philosophical routes to liberalism and conservatism for politics-minded readers.
The Great Debate brilliantly brings out the richness of the tradition underlying our politics. It reminds us that politics is an intellectually serious thing that deserves better than the shallowness and cynicism that fills our political conversations. It reminds us that the right and left are each rooted in a desire to see politics serve the cause of human flourishing, even if they understand that cause very differently. And by the way, Burke was right.
Peggy Noonan, columnist, The Wall Street Journal
Yuval Levin s lucid and learned investigation of our origins is not only a study in the history of ideas, it is also a summons to first principles. Like Burke and Paine, Levin believes that philosophies are buried in the shabbiness of politics. His book is both clarifying and complicating: he writes sympathetically about both sides of the heroic disputation that he describes, and so his book will have the salutary effect of shattering ideological complacence. In our infamously polarized climate, The Great Debate may even be a public service.
The Great Debate is an exciting, narrative adventure in the contest of ideas. With two world-shaking revolutions as background, Levin brilliantly explains how two great minds shaped the broad debate between left and right that still governs our political debates today.
William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education and author of America: The Last Best Hope
The polarized character of contemporary American politics is widely noted, yet the intellectual origins of the division between right and left remain obscure. In his deeply historically informed and elegantly argued book, Yuval Levin casts a brilliant light on the matter. It is a work of lasting significance that will instruct liberals and conservatives alike on their intellectual heritage.
Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University
"In a Burkean manner, Mr. Levin enriches through wisdom rather than prescription. He gives us something more than a manual of past lessons-namely, the historical framework to achieve greater understanding."-Wall Street JournalSee all Product description
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Both gentlemen lack a theory of how human political society evolved. Paine argues that society was originally organised because free people agreed to cooperate. Burke is of the opinion that the birth and causes of the first human societies are unexplainable and that the beginnings of history should be shrouded in a veil. This is in sharp contrast to later thinkers like Rousseau and Marx who tried to seek explanation of the first forms of organised society in order to explain how society evolves throughout history. Paine believes that humans are rational and free to choose the best forms of government. He has no reflexions about how traditional family rule, religion and beliefs shapes peoples minds and how they choose. Burke believes that we are governed by rules that has evolved through trial and error and that our current political system therefore is the best possible.
Burke argues that society should not only be subjected to passions of the individuals and therefore pragmatism and wisdom of the educated and experienced must govern the society. Paine seeks to put universal principles into practise and he therefore rejects references to history and past practise. In Paine’s view, Burke encourages national prejudices, while he himself promotes universal society. Burke warns that the pursuit of a full theoretical perfection of an abstract idea will not see the limits of reality and therefore leads to extremism, while Paine accuses Burke of defending an unjust class society built on tradition and the power of the rich. The provocative response from Burke was: “If the premises of enlightenment liberalism are inadequate, and if the resulting faith in modern reason is unjustified, what is the alternative?”
It is interesting that conservatives as well as liberals sometimes use both philosophers’ ideas. Reagan referred to Paine when he wanted to reform the government administration, while Obama referred to Burke when he advocated gradual change. The great debate between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine raised timeless and universal ideas that are as relevant today as 300 years ago. It is therefore a very useful and enlightening book for anyone interested in political philosophy.
Thank you seller.
If you are unfamiliar with who Burke and Paine were I included a small bio about each of them.
Edmund Burke was an Irish-born English politician. He was one of the great figures in parliamentary politics in the last 18th century. He was in the House of Commons for about 30 years. He supported of the cause of the American Revolution but later opposed the French Revolution. He also become the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig party.
Thomas Paine was an English-American political activist, author, political theorist and revolutionary. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he is believed to have inspired the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain.
I enjoyed this book because it showed how great writers these two men were. The author provides tons of quotations and excerpts for the reader to understand why these men are considered great writers. I definitely enjoyed this book and would recommend it for you to read.
Thank you for reading my review.
I won't try and summarise the content, only to say that it offers an incredibly astute and well articulated view of western liberal political thought.
A view that is very rarely put forward in the media, and, at least for myself is one i'd not heard or read before.
I wanted to give it four and a half stars because it seemed ever so slightly too long, but for the lasting impact it will have on me, It is definitely closer to five than four.
A truly wonderful insight, incredibly well written and referenced.
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