The Books: “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (Edmund Burke)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

K-ReflectRevoFrance.jpgNext book in my politics/philosophy section is:

Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke.

All I can really say is is that this book is essential reading. That’s all. After I read it for the first time, I couldn’t believe that there was a time in my life when I hadn’t read it. It had a huge impact – in Burke’s day, and in mine. Extraordinary.

Wow. That last sentence reminds me of the quote I posted from The Language Police and our ensuing discussion. It reminds me of the misguided (and to me, infuriating) crusade of Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. In having an incompete understanding of history – in wanting to provide redress to those with grievances – in saying they are fighting ‘intolerance’ – they have become just like the intolerant folks they scream about.

The victim becomes the oppressor. The revolution eats its young.


EXCERPT FROM Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke.

We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials fo future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civic fury. History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public with the same

—troublous storms that toss
The private state, and render life unsweet.

These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts. The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good. You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition, by rooting out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would root out every thing that is valuable in the human breast. As these are the pretexts, so the ordinary actors and instruments in great public evils are kings, judges, and captains. You would not cure the evil by resolving, that there should be no more monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change the names. The things in some shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in the community, in some hands, and under some appellation. Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice.

Seldom have two ages the same fashion in their pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive. Whilst you are discussing fashion, the fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life by the change of its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs wtih the fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. It walks abroad; it continues its ravages; whilst you are gibbeting the carcass, or demolishing the tomb. You are terrifying yourself with ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It is thus with all those, who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.

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4 Responses to The Books: “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (Edmund Burke)

  1. Anne says:

    My dead boyfriend!

  2. red says:

    Ha!! I know!

    He’s on my “if I could throw an ideal dinner party and invite people from history” list … so of course, you will also be invited to attend as your dead boyfriend’s date.

    Other people in attendance? Emily Bronte, Marilyn Monroe, and Alexander Hamilton.

    Good times, good times.

  3. Dave J says:

    When I finally get around to writing on that book meme (or anything else, but that’s another story), this is the one that goes at the top of the list. Yes, above Tolkien and Lewis Carroll. ;-) I am tremendously grateful to my AP European History teacher in high school, the token conservative in an otherwise uniformly leftwing faculty, for assigning it: it is no exaggeration to say reading it the first time was an epiphany that continues to shape how I think about politics every day, and yet I go back again and again and continue to find something new.

    Like John Locke, Adam Smith and Montesquieu, I think Burke’s legacy is far more remembered here in the US than in their own countries, his statue in the Palace of Westminster notwithstanding. It’s their loss, though of course I’m not saying that Americans always heed his advice when they should, either.

  4. Pingback: Liberating Mary | The Sheila Variations

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