French Revolution

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ON 9th JULY 1797 the statesman and the philosopher Edmund Burke died, after having contracted stomach cancer. He was buried in Beaconsfield Church near his Buckinghamshire home. Burke had been a distinguished Member of Parliament but never attained high office. His political career must be judged a failure. However, Edmund Burke's true legacy was contained in his extensive writings. In letters,pamphlets and books he expounded a coherent system of ideas about human nature;the organic state; the benefits of prejudice;the dangers of government by secret consensus and the role of political parties. Two hundred years on, most scholars would agree that Burke had a gift for deep analysis conveyed in stylish English prose.Yet the content of his work though remains controversial. Supporters included the poet William Wordsworth, who called Burke: "the most sagacious politician of his age". Karl Marx, on the other hand, complained in Das Kapital that Burke was a bourgeois stooge of the English ruling class. Marxists took particular offence at Burke's critique of egalitarianism, perhaps realising the radical threat which this presented to their own vision of a future society. Modern liberals and conservatives still acclaim some of Burke's ideas, but their interest is largely rhetorical. Burke's liberal tendencies would almost certainly not go far enough for today's liberals. His support for the abolition of slavery was only gradualist, his religious toleration did not extend to atheists (whom he saw as dangerous criminals) and, whilst in favour of curbing royal patronage, Burke supported monarchy and aristocracy. Meanwhile, his conservative defence of Parliament, the nation and the Anglican Church would presumably be a sheer embarrassment to today's Conservative Party, which has embraced European Union and a secular, free market ideology. This two-part article will outline some of Edmund Burke's key ideas and assess their relevance to nationalism. His contribution is an important one. Sadly, Burke's clarity and complete lack of political correctness must limit his appeal in the modern age. In 1997 and beyond Burke seems destined to become a forgotten prophet except to those who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. 1.THE NATURE OF MAN All societies are based on a particular view of human nature. Today's view, springing from Enlightenment philosophy, is that peo... ... middle of paper ... ...ng nature is unworkable, equality is "a monstrous fiction" (7). At worst, ambitious elites use equality as a pretext to reallocate resources to themselves. At best,well-intentioned people see equality as no more than a benign aspiration. They think it would be just in theory but of course not when applied to themselves in practice, lest this endanger their own privileges. This is perhaps the greater error. "Abstract principles,however appealing, cannot be applied directly to solve real political problems. Any attempt to do so will have futile or harmful results. There is no such thing as a political principle which is good in itself, but not practicable. If it is not practicable then it is not good. In Part II of `Edmund Burke's Legacy' the focus will be on other pertinent aspects of Burke's thought. These include his views on:prejudice as being a form of wisdom; "human rights" as being rooted in a specific culture rather than inherited by all people; the dangers of a dual system of government (open and secret) and Burke's belief that political parties should be ideological and that their ideologies should involved "pursuing the national interest'.

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