This book offers a concise introduction to the main ideas and arguments of the major political thinkers of modernity. It considers the following key thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, J. S. Mill, Rousseau, Burke, Hegel and Marx.
Perhaps the best way to understand the ideas of a thinker is to read from their work. This book devotes each chapter to the main writings of a single thinker, providing excerpts from their work and explaining their views in detail. Readers are not expected to have any previous knowledge of the writings of these eight political philosophers, but by the end they should have a solid grasp of their central ideas. This book serves as an essential guide to some of the most important writings on political philosophy of modern times.
Chapter 6 Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke was born in Dublin in 1729 and lived until 1797. His father was a Protestant attorney, while his mother was Catholic. In the eighteenth century Ireland was beset by religious conf lict and during Burke’s lifetime Catholicism was repressed. Burke was not a philosopher. He was a practising Whig politician and worked for the Marquis of Rockingham and with Charles James Fox. He made a reputation as a commentator on current political af fairs. His writings are, therefore, those of a politician with extensive experience of political reality. For this reason they are characterized by pragmatism rather than by theoretical rigorousness. He supported the American Revolution, as well as the rebellions of the Corsicans, Poles and Indians, because these were attempts to reaf firm the political identity of a given people. On the other hand, he came to condemn the French Revolution, as it was disrup- tive of the history and ties of the French people. Burke’s most famous work is Ref lections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790 and immediately becoming a best-seller. Eleven editions of it were published within ten months.1 It is on this work, therefore, that this chapter shall concentrate. 1 L. G. Mitchell, ‘Introduction’ in E. Burke’s Ref lections on the Revolution in France (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. vii. 162 Chapter 6 The Nature and Sources of the Ref lections As Mitchell has said: That Burke should write about a French theme at all was remarkable. Unlike...
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