Reflections On The French Revo Essay Research

Reflections On The French Revo Essay, Research Paper

Edmund Burke s Reflections on the French Revolution

Edmund Burke s renowned book of 1790 is as famous as any text in the history of

politics, and as controversial. Reflections on the French Revolution has been and will

most likely continue to be the subject of many disagreements, however its distinction is

usually admitted even by those whose ideology makes them an opponent of its principles.

Burke claimed that the revolution went wrong because its leaders tried to scrap an entire

political system and replace it overnight rather than change things slowly and within the

current system. He relates this to the outlook of the philosophes, political rationalists

whose methods lacked realism in an era where abstractness can be fatal. These are also

points that few would argue with, and Burke makes strong cases for both of these points.

It is true that the wholesale abolition of an entire order in France in 1789 created immense

confusion during the period of transformation. The old Feudalism system was declared

dead, which meant the dissolution of institutions such as the army, local government, the

judicial system, and the clergy. As this relates to philosophes political ideology, it did

indeed consist of in good part a general adage without much detail creating a revolution

that was good at destruction put not helpful in the rebuilding process.

Whether Burke s analysis of the French Revolution was right or wrong, the events

in France stimulated him to formulate his political philosophy. Burke s sense for the

subtle points in politics makes this an important book. The leading idea emerging from

this piece of literature was that society is a vast and complicated historical product which

may not be tinkered with at will like a machine. It is a repository for collective human

wisdom to be regarded with reverence, and if it is reformed it must be with due respect for

the continuity of its programs and traditions. There were other related ideas: that a

political community is something made by history, an unanalyzed bond between men

which makes free government possible; that the social organism has its natural aristocracy

which common types of men must and do and respect in a healthy society; and that general

rules and abstract principles are no help to politics.

With the disdain for the abstract rights proclaimed by the French Burke tried to

make clear the real rights of man. Burke certainly believed in rights, but he stressed the

degree to which men in entering civil society must give up some of their liberties in order

to gain advantages of government. He distrusted the restless innovator who had no

patience to search out the wisdom of their ancestors but must draw amateur blueprints for

the total reconstruction of society, as if they were the first to ever think about it. The

science of government is not for those, whose visionary schemes are abstractly true but

are morally and politically false. Burke was pious and felt that political society was sound

only on Christian foundations. To Burke two human needs were evident above all others,

history and religion. Man is a religious animal who, if he did not have Christianity would

turn to some other , and probably less satisfactory faith. He is a social animal, who would

be no more than a beast if he were cut off from the fabric of ancient custom and tradition

that sustains him. Reverence toward God and toward the social order are therefore the

two great duties, and they are linked, for history is the revelation of God s purpose.

Perhaps it was not necessarily conservative in the most obvious sense of this

word. In suggesting an empirical approach to the enormous complexity of human affairs,

in place of the vague sloganizing of the philosophes, Burke may well be viewed as the

founder of a real science of social reform, rather than as a hidebound conservative. He

was certainly not opposed to change, if properly carried out, and his own career, that of a

person of humble birth, consisted of one passionate crusade after another. His more

famous crusades were on behalf of American independence, Ireland, India, and against the

French Revolution. He always seemed to need a great cause to serve, some monstrous

injustice to repair.

There was also the very conservative Burke, the Burke traits that came to be

thought of as conservative. The feeling of piety for the social order, the mistrust of

harebrained reformers with a one shot plan, the organic concept of social growth, these

were the foundation of the conservative faith. A great deal of Burke has been accepted as

essential political wisdom for anyone who wants to participate in politics. The features of

Burke that are less appealing to most moderns include his belief in the aristocracy, with

the accompanying rejection of equality.

Burke lacked faith in the capacity of individuals to think and reason things out for

themselves. He viewed society as a collective, and that collective was more responsible

and rational than was the individual. Man, in his opinion, is by nature unequal; all men are

not created equal. He also believed man to be very religious by nature, and that politics

should be closely intertwined with religion.

Burke believed society was a contract, not easily broken, between those who have

lived, are living, and are going to live. The aim of this contract is for all of society to

achieve the good life as a whole. Society develops because individuals lack the ability to

govern his own actions. It is up to the aristocracy, the more enlightened class in society,

to see that the present generation builds on the culture established by the past for the

future. Society develops for the good of the whole. Burke also believes that people

should absolutely obey the government. The people obey because they were taught to

obey, like countless generations before them. Burke s society would have a deep

reverence for the past. The past would be responsible for many of societies laws, these

laws coming from a countries customs. Custom is the groundwork or roots of society,

and to challenge or disrupt them could undermind it.

To Burke the best form of government would be an aristocracy that rules with a

monarch, the old British system. Burke believed that the aristocracy was part of God s

scheme for governing society. It is his idea that the aristocracy, and people with wealth

were the keeper of societies political wisdom. He also believes in an idea called virtual

representation because he feels only men with property should be allowed to vote. People

have common interests and Burke believed that the landed people act on the behalf of the

non-landed people. Burke strongly believes in the system that has evolved in Britain,

though he believed that there can be no system of politics that can be used in all nations.

Politics is about dealing with situations, and there is no exact way of accomplishing

political ends. For Burke tradition is the democracy of the dead, the appeal to historical

experience, and a recognition of the role of individuals in history. In my opinion, taking

into account Burke s ideas of a reverence for culture and the past, that the best form of

government is what best suits a countries culture. The government that has evolved over


Burke believes that humans have different capacities for freedom. Basically,

freedom and liberty are class issues, and rights are closely related to class, rank, and

privilege. Basically he doesn t mention anything about basic fundamental rights other than

the government should not be oppressive. According to Burke humans are absolutely not

equal, and should not be equal. To Burke inequality among classes is one of the

foundations of society, and is natural. To try and level out the inequality among classes

only disrupts the natural order, and never ends in equality. The higher classes should also

have all the power, and control the lower classes. The aristocracy should be the ruling

class in Burke s society. He believes that the aristocracy is part of God s plan to rule

society. However it is wrong for the aristocracy to use their power to oppress the lower


Burke was a philosophical conservative on almost all issues. While opposed to the

emerging liberalism in Europe, he was also equally critical of revolutionary change or

unchanging reaction. Revolution was especially detrimental, for it sweeps away all sound

principles of political action and discards nature s guidance on a nation. Political

institutions were part of an order which included nature in which things were kept fast in

their place, as they should be. The task of statesmen was, therefore, a threefold

obligation: (1) to take account of all relevant circumstances:(2) to act on the basis of

prudence and caution, which were the cardinal virtues; and (3) to preserve and improve

the legacy of tradition. In differentiating between different actions in history, Burke stated

that the French Revolution was a complete break with the past, and therefore a negative

for the country. However the English, American, and Indian rebellions of the near past

tried to recover past privileges and traditions, and therefore were positive. Many of

Burke s thoughts were attacked by liberal journalists including Thomas Paine, whose

attack was such a harsh blow to Burke that he never fully recovered.


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