- Series: Dover Value Editions
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications (February 10, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0486445070
- ISBN-13: 978-0486445076
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 87 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reflections on the Revolution in France (Dover Value Editions)
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Burke was fighting, in reality, proto-communism. He saw with prescient clarity where the Jacobin philosophies would lead. He sounded a clear warning about the dire and destructive consequences that the French Revolution would unleash.
He immediately saw that the French Revolution was not at all what it ostensibly claimed to be —Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. It was instead a rebellion; a rebellion against authority-- any authority- all authority- in any form. The heralded “empire of light and reason” would bring forth a dark and dangerous ochlocracy.
Of course, if you’re any student of history you will have heard of the debate between Burke and Thomas Paine. Although Paine does well in arguing his case- his points do have weight and merit, he cannot approach Burke in eloquence, beauty of language or power of metaphor.
Burke will stand, as he has stood for over two hundred years, as a beacon and light over and against those who have claimed- and continue to claim- that only they know what’s best for mankind.
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well considered criticism of the many inadequacies of the constitutional monarchy formed after the Estates General had been replaced by the National Assembly in 1789.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.
Laws and Constitutions must be held in exactness, or legally changed, lest anarchy arises from within.
Burke's prose sings this very day. I found myself reading aloud on many occasions. This is a book that must you must take time and slowly read. I encourage reading many passages aloud to feel the true impact. I nod in humble agreement to everything Burke posits on. The weight of his words must be viewed as a wake-up call for all teetering domestic and political societies.