When the writer and politician Edmund Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790, Britain was particularly focused on what had just happened on the other side of the Channel. At a time when radical societies were emerging in Britain and dissenters were about to claim new rights, France had just turned a page in history with the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the abolition of the French Monarchy. As we know, the news of the French Revolution was at first received with enthusiasm in certain circles (and this might explain why Burke's work was at first so criticized) before British public opinion changed dramatically, after the Terror began in 1792.
Tags: Analysis of reflections on the revolution in France, Summary of reflections on the revolution in France by Edmund Burke, Edmund Burke reflections on the revolution in France analysis
[...] On a less ideological level, Burke is also believed to have written Reflections as a means of gaining a political influence he had lost since the death of his patron, the Marquess of Rockingham, in 1782. But the most common reproach addressed to Burke (beyond details such as his lack of knowledge about the French culture and language) is that he is seen as a political conservative who is very much at odds with Enlightenment ideals and their concern with the individual. [...]
[...] Even the conservative Prime Minister, William Pitt initially found in Burke's book only "rhapsodies in which there is much to admire and nothing to agree with." Some observers suggested that Burke had either become mentally unbalanced or that he was secretly a Catholic and was therefore outraged by the new French government's expropriation of Church lands and other anti-clerical policies. Thomas Paine published a rejoinder to Burke in his Rights of Man, and Mary Wollstonecraft did as much in Vindication of the Rights of Men. [...]
[...] As we can see, Burke criticizes the French Revolution on many fronts, but his main qualm with it is that the Revolution is more about power than about liberty. He concedes that the French government was far from perfect and that it was much in need of reformation, but he believes that having a revolution is going too far. That France resorted to revolution, he feels is an indication that the leaders of the revolution are more interested in their own power than in the well-being of the French people. [...]
[...] It lay in the fact that, unlike all other revolutions, the French started from no mere desire for the redress of grievances or shifting of the centre of gravity of government, but promulgated a new philosophy, a new gospel, judged by which all governments are usurpations, and that its watchword was rights of man.” The paragraphs on the abstract rights of man and the inevitable tendency of such a doctrine to identify right with power leads Burke back again to Price and his exultation over the leading in triumph of the king and queen from Versailles. [...]
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