Edmund Burke (17291797). Reflections on the French Revolution. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE CHARACTERISTIC passion of Burkes life was his love of order. In spite of the varying relations held by him toward the different parties in England during his political career, one may easily find the key to his consistency in this central principle. When the Kings party sought to increase the royal prerogative, he resisted; when the old Whigs sought to make the government of the country a means to the enrichment of their class, he resisted; and when the sympathizers with the Revolution sought, as Burke thought, to abolish government, he resisted. Liberty he claimed that he loved, but a liberty connected with order; and in each of the political movements just mentioned he discerned an attack on either liberty or order. He had a profound veneration for the accumulated wisdom of centuries of experience, and held that the bounds of liberty should be enlarged with great caution and very gradually. That a political system had lasted a long time was to him an argument that it must to a large extent be fit for its purpose, and that therefore it should not be rashly changed.
With such views, Burke was bound to oppose the French Revolution. The sweeping away of the traditions of ages, the erection of new forms of government built on abstract theories, were abhorrent to him; and he threw himself with vehemence into opposition. Much that was hopeful in the Revolution he failed to see; and he could not in his passion discriminate carefully among men and motives. But his treatment of the situation in these Reflections, written before the Terror had begun to alienate sympathy, shows great insight and prophetic wisdom. This book led the reaction in England and made its author a European figure. In this country to-day, with our traditional sympathy with the great upheaval, it is in the highest degree valuable to see these momentous events through the eyes of a great contemporary conservative.