Reflections on the Revolution in France
by Edmund Burke

Burke's Ideals
Preserve “a certainty in the succession” of the rulers to maintain the unity, peace, and tranquility of the nation as God would like it. Our forefathers most humbly and faithfully submitted themselves, their heirs, and their posterity forever to maintain and defend the rulers. So you see you have no right to protest.

Power should be hereditary. The hereditary king (monarch) rules not by divine right but by a contract between king and people (similar to the notion that the US government gets its authority from a contract [the Constitution] between its citizens.

A king can be overthrown only if he breaks his contract, not simply for misconduct.

A king is the servant of the people in that he increases the general good, but he does not take orders from the people, and we are obliged to obey his commands.

“A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views.”

Rights are inherited - not something general prior to belonging to all men. Inheritance “leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires.” “By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom.

[If rights come from contracts between kinds and subjects or rulers and the ruled or governments and citizens or between citizens and citizens, where does the right to make such contracts come from? If the right to make contracts is a natural right, then the right not to make contracts is also a natural right. And if these are natural rights, they are possessed by everyone who has lived and still lives (for man’s nature has not changed). If a person has not made a contract himself, no one can make it for him because that would mean that he has no right to make contracts. Therefore, unless an individual has made a contract to abide by the laws of a particular government, he is under no moral obligation to obey such laws except in so far as those laws coincide with the natural limits of his rights. The idea that contracts are hereditary must be rejected too for the same reasons.]

He cuts up democracy well. If the choice is democracy or aristocracy, then I would side with Burke on aristocracy.

One of the first motives for establishing a government is to avoid the subjectivity of having a man be the judge in his own case.

Burke dismisses any questions about the practicality of government as metaphysical speculation. Then he goes on to expound on his theory of the best government. It is the same spirit as gangsters might use to discuss their organization. One must first see if a field of endeavor is itself legitimate before considering its best manifestation.

He reveres the ideals of gentlemen, religion, and manners. He criticizes democracy on the grounds that people are not refined, civilized, and intelligent enough to rule and the people are not restrained by the demands of fame and esteem.

The State is necessary to the perfection of us all. Submission to necessity should not be made the object of choice.

He favors mild majesty and somber pomp. It is the public ornament, a consolation. It nourishes the public hope. The poor man finds his own importance and dignity in it.

He favors ecclesiastical education and affiliation of church and state, but independence of church and state.

This book is considered a "classic" of conservativism. The conservative ideas expressed seem repulsive to me. They are in direct opposition to the libertarian views being expressed at the same time by such men as Jefferson, Paine, and Patrick Henry (men I admire). Burke seems to be opposed to change of any kind, except for extremely small and slow changes. He was opposed to the French revolution primarily because it was a revolution, but also because it challenged the "natural privileges" of the landed aristocracy and clergy. He was a monarchist, nationalist, traditionalist, statist, anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, anti-Negro, and proud of it. These then must be the conservative virtues if this is a classic of conservativism, and that makes me anti-conservative.

Year Read: 1966


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