Edmund burke french revolution essay

In in the case of William and Mary and in in the case of the "Hanoverian" George I the British thrones had been settled on persons whose were chosen primarily because the alternative would be a catholic monarch who, rightly or wrongly, was seen as a potential suppressor of both political liberties and protestantism.

Excursions, Episode 120: Edmund Burke, Intellectuals, and the French Revolution, Part 4

From these "monarchs of choice" had found it necessary to act in consultation with the British "Political Nation" in pursuit of broadly agreed policies. From and the accession of George III however, a new Royal outlook became evident in that this monarch, deeming that external threats to his throne were effectively a thing of the past, decided to largely abandon any consultational approach in favour of a system based on attempts at appointing ministers who would follow policies approved by himself as King. There was a court sponsored ministry headed by the Earl of Bute , that was replaced by a "whig" ministry led by George Grenville which offered to be somewhat responsive to the King's wishes.

This ministry became unpopular at home, through such things as limitations on the press, and in the American colonies, through such things as the impositions of taxations, and was itself replaced by a more independent "whig" ministry in Burke became private secretary to the incoming July 10th prime minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd marquis of Rockingham, and in January Burke was elected as a Whig to Parliament as a representative for the "pocket borough" pocket boroughs being constituencies effectively in the gift of powerful persons - in this case a Lord Verney of Wendover.

Almost immediately Burke began to gain a reputation as a rising champion of a more principled approach to governance at home and abroad. From soon after his election Burke, in elevated and almost philosophical terms, sought the repeal of the Stamp Act that was so resented in the American colonies. Although this "Rockingham" administration only remained in office for about a year one measure they did secure was a repeal of the Stamp Act.

Although Burke was to spend most of his twenty five or so years in parliamentary circles in opposition to policies as sponsored by George III including those of the ministry of Lord North he was nonetheless highly influential as a parliamentarian and political commentator. Later notable interjections by Burke into American colonial issues being a pamphlet, "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents" , and two speeches, "On American Taxation" and "Conciliation with America" , in which he urged a policy of justice and conciliation.

Burke was elected as a member of parliament for Bristol then the second city in England in but lost this seat within a few years after championing such locally unpopular causes as the rights of catholics and a liberalisation of Irish trade. From , and the fall of Lord North, Lord Rockingham briefly headed a ministry and Burke was appointed to a moderately well paid office of state.

For the rest of his political life to Burke sat in parliament for Malton a pocket borough that was initially under Lord Rockingham's, and then Lord Fitzwilliam's, control. Burke took a deep interest in India and advocated a reversal of the British policy that allowed the East India Company to exploit the population of that country. From parliament was made aware of most serious allegations against an Indian colonial official named Warren Hastings.

After April much of Burke's time and effort went into the framing of an India Bill that was intended to provide for the government of India but his efforts were frustrated by the intruigues of the court party in the House of Lords in December In February, , Burke began a four-day-long opening speech in Westminster Hall in impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanors committed in India.

There was the contrast, too, between the breadth of view and of learning in the matured statements that Burke published, on the one hand, and, on the other, the ways of the parliamentary pugilist who was audible to fellow M. Partly this was, doubtless, because Burke was like that as a person, and not least because he had a weak voice that had to be raised if it was to be heard in the bear garden that was the House of Commons, but partly, too, because his Philosophical Enquiry had suggested that the best way to impart a mood to an audience was to display it oneself.

So, for instance, if Burke needed to plead for moderation, he did so immoderately. Above all, perhaps, it was because this philosopher- turned-participant was not exempt from the need to win to his side enough minds to ensure that his side was not beaten or, at any rate, demonstrated enough strength to remain in contention , and had at hand an exceptionally powerful range of persuasive tools.

It is an evident fact, too, that the resources of Western civilization were sometimes invoked by Burke in order to produce votes in the House of Commons—votes, which, whatever else they were, were in the interests of his party.

Reflections On the Revolution In France Background

But, manifestly, these resources do not supply a rationale for only one policy, still less for only one party. The roles of thinker and party spokesman consort ill: and there were bound to be doubts about one. A disparity of this sort was always likely to suggest that Burke had profoundly personal motives for narrowing his mind, and when he was not being caricatured as an Irish Jesuit he was being satirized as a corrupt hack [ 7 ]. Yet some sort of procedure of the type pursued by Burke was implied in his sense of practical reasoning.

Parliamentary votes, in the situation that Burke found himself, were amongst the proper means. Political participation generated scepticism about Burke as a person, some of which was unjust, though all of it was to be expected. What was perhaps less predictable, and is certainly more interesting philosophically, is that this participation was a precondition of the practical thought which made Burke famous in his own time and has given him a leading place in the canon of Western political thought.

Burke's practical thinking about the dispute between the British parliament and its North American colonies began with a situation not of his making, that is to say the rejection of the Stamp Act by the colonists, and its withdrawal by the ministry headed by Lord Rockingham in —6.

Aeon for Friends

The Rockingham ministry followed up this concession of letting the colonists alone with the assertion of Parliament's right to legislate for the colonies in the Declaratory Act of Burke's task was to demonstrate to the House of Commons the plausibility of this package. He did so by combining two complex ideas—or at least two abstract compound nouns—in a new way. One idea was empire, which involved command. The other was liberty. These, Burke thought, were ideas difficult to combine—a sound reflection as they are diametrically opposed—but that they were combinable in the further idea of a British empire—one which combined legislative command with civil liberty.

It was also accommodating, because it made the British executive's policy intellectually and therefore practically respectable at the same time that it made room for colonial preferences.

In short, it was a small masterpiece of thinking about policy. The repeal of the Stamp Act was followed by the passing of the Declaratory Act.

Edmund Burke's Critique of the French Revolution – Essay

Burke was practically successful in with the House of Commons because he was speaking for the executive, and a majority amongst Members of Parliament, ceteris paribus , tended to vote for the king's ministers. In and he was practically unsuccessful, because he was now in opposition, but his conceptual achievement in dealing with the American question became much greater. By , the issues dividing some American colonists from the British parliament had changed. The former now resented the attempts of the latter to levy taxation on them directly, rather than by the authority of their own colonial legislatures, and they resented still more the project of backing the attempt, if need be, with coercion.

Burke's speech of on American Taxation did not delete the idea of imperial command, but rather elaborated his complex idea of the British empire in a new way in order to deal with the new situation. Burke elaborated the complex idea in a way to which complex ideas lend themselves, that is to say, by adding a qualification. The sovereignty of the British parliament was an idea that certainly included a right to tax: but a right to tax could be understood to be consistent on principle with inaction as well as action.

The right, in plainer language, need not be applied. Burke could accommodate, therefore, both the claims of Westminster and those of the colonists. To this point, of course, one might reply that Burke was merely making concessions. But observe: this situation provided a cue for conceptual innovation—Burke inserted a distinction into the idea of sovereignty. It could be inferred that. Conceptual refinement provided a practical avenue that other, less gifted politicians had not devised.

Events soon required a further elaboration of Burke's idea of the British empire. The continued use of coercion made the colonists more, not less recalcitrant. The practical need seemed to be for terms on which they would stay, at least nominally, under British rule. Their crucial claim was now that their right to tax themselves by their own legislatures rested on charters from the Crown, and that they were subordinate to the Crown alone, and not to Parliament.

Burke gave still closer attention to the idea of sovereignty. It would be tactless to emphasize the sovereignty of Parliament, but it would be self-defeating to withdraw it explicitly and concede a sovereign right over taxation to the colonial legislatures. So now, in Burke's speech on Conciliation with America , he focussed upon only one aspect of the complex idea of a parliamentary sovereign. The latter comprised in the British instance not only Lords and Commons, but also the king.

It is clear, however, that Burke's ability to make conceptual changes depended on his philosophical thinking. To think in terms of complex ideas is to recognize that they can be elaborated by adding further ideas; to distinguish between the roles of Parliament is to make that addition; and to analyse the powers of a sovereign parliament as a preface to relocating one of them is to use philosophy as a tool in practical reasoning.

It is noteworthy, also, that these philosophical exercises were the means of coping, as Burke hoped, with practical changes. Neither was his work here primarily ideological, for though Burke had a practical goal in view, and at that one consistent with the Rockingham achievements of , he worked philosophically to modify the conceptions in terms of which his contemporaries viewed their situation, rather than using his conceptual tools as ways of defending those conceptions without modifying them.

Thus he added ideas to the stock of his day. It is fitting, though Burke's proposals were not implemented in time, and though his goal was not attained, that his American speeches figured prominently in the schools and universities of both the U. Burke's thinking about America also suggests a political disposition that owed something to his philosophical conceptions. It was also, implicitly an ethical position: governments ought not to apply force to existing relations, at least those that were legitimate. This is, in one way, an obvious point from natural jurisprudence, and one that Burke had made transparently with respect to inroads by the government of Ireland against Catholic property.

In another, and more interesting way, it reflected his view that abstract compound nouns and complex ideas evoke specific past experiences. To interfere forcibly with someone's experientially-based expectations would be to break their mental association between experience and idea or word: and so the idea or the word would become meaningless and cease to influence action.

To break such mental associations was to break communities. This, indeed, was what Burke claimed to be doing in his contributions of —82 to the recasting of the royal household. The intellectual counterpart of this prudent conduct, namely the refinement of our existing ideas, rather than replacing them, is what he had done in his revisions of the idea of sovereignty. This style of thinking gave Burke a very lively sense of the corrosive power of new ideas. Even new questions could have unpleasant results.

haralireby.tk His was therefore a philosophically conditioned attitude to practice, and one that was very sensitive to the hiatus that speculation could cause in the latter. His deprecation of speculation was logically anterior to taking sides in politics. It was also, in effect, an appeal for ideas adequate to governing. Burke himself, however much he might try to hide the logic of his thought under the rich foliage of words generated by his skill with words—he is perhaps the only classic of political thought in the English language who is also a literary classic—was a philosophical thinker.

As such, his practical conclusions could change, and did, as we have seen. Practical conclusions changed because they were meant to be serviceable in a world that itself was changing. Burke's philosophical equipment, however, served him in the face of all external changes. Burke's name is indissolubly connected to his Reflections on the Revolution in France , though a more perceptive account of the causes of the Revolution of can be found in A Letter to William Elliot , and the Letters on a Regicide Peace —7 investigate the character and consequences of the Revolution from in a more thoroughgoing way.

This is true, in the first place, in terms of insight. Reflections was published on 1 November , less than eighteen months after the storming of the Bastille. The intervening period had been characterised by a mixture of popular violence and peaceable, if feverish political activity in France, as its absolute monarchy gave way to a constitutional monarchy. A detached observer would be unsure of the future—whether destruction and violence would predominate or whether an enduring constitutional order would emerge was a question which events had not answered.

In the event, of course, the Revolution would be characterised by both violence and constitutional development, at different times, but this was as unknowable in as it is obvious in Burke's Reflections may be divided for the author did not provide any formal divisions into two portions of unequal length. Both of these are concerned with relations. The first portion, about two-thirds of the text, suggests that the French, in their enthusiasm for the idea of liberty, had failed to understand that liberty was only one amongst a range of benefits, all of which were required in mutual connexion for a life under civil government that was civilized in the proper sense.

The results which flowed from this deficiency of understanding included constitutional arrangements which, because they did not reflect an understanding of liberty that was subtle enough to grasp that the liberty of the many was power, did not qualify popular sovereignty in a way that would restrain the demos effectively.


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  • Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

As if an unrestrained populace was not bad enough, an understanding of life only in terms of liberty swept away preceding elaborations of our ideas. This mattered, because the refinement of ideas had been a precondition of refinement of conduct and therefore of the progress of society in many respects. One key instance of these was the respectful treatment of women encouraged since the middle ages by Christian learning and by chivalry.

The result, as people would no longer be moved by opinion, which had embodied refined ideas, would be that they would need to be governed by force. Force, too, was the ultimate destination of the second portion of Reflections.