Date of Award

2000

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Pamela Edwards

Second Advisor

Dr. Hal Bass

Third Advisor

Dr. Amy Sonheim

Abstract

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, the works of Edmund Burke are "stamped in the colors of his extraordinary imagination. The movement takes your breath and quickens your pulses. The glow and power of the matter rejuvenates your faculties." One cannot help but react viscerally to Burke; the brilliant, blustering Irishman demands attention and response. Some regard him as "the first and most important exponent" of the "theoretical reaction against. .. the tenets of liberalism ... [which] came to be called conservatism." Coleridge called him "a great man;" Victorian liberals even considered him a fellow utilitarian and "the greatest thinker who ever devoted himself to English politics." Others, however, regard Burke as a hypocrite who was governed by his own prejudices. These claims of pretence stem from ambiguities and ostensible contradictions in Burke's writings, words, and actions.

Although Burke may appear hypocritical, a close examination of his works reveals a surprising consistence. Edmund Burke did not change his mind; the political circumstances around him changed. Though his opinions seem contradictory, they can be reconciled by examining both the historical and personal context in which Burke wrote. From his early works (specifically, A Vindication of Natural Society, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, and Conciliation with America) to his later writings (represented by Reflections on the Revolution in France, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, and A Letter to a Noble Lord), Burke maintains the same conservative principles: devotion to the constitution and Crown, reverence for tradition, and fear of irresponsible government. Burke cherished tradition, but championed reform-- careful reform. He supported the revolutionary efforts of the American colonists, but deplored those of the French-because the colonists sought rights within the existing system, while the French revolutionaries destroyed all vestiges of a system of government.

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