Edmund Burke: The First Conservative

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Overview

Edmund Burke is the greatest and perhaps also the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th century political theorist, philosopher, and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Burke’s enormous importance has been largely forgotten in recent years, but as Jesse Norman, MP and scholar of political theory, argues in this penetrating biography, we cannot ...

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Edmund Burke: The First Conservative

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Overview

Edmund Burke is the greatest and perhaps also the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th century political theorist, philosopher, and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Burke’s enormous importance has been largely forgotten in recent years, but as Jesse Norman, MP and scholar of political theory, argues in this penetrating biography, we cannot understand modern politics without him. Burke offered a compelling critique of liberal individualism, and laid the groundwork for contemporary conservatism by putting forth a vision of society based not on a self-interested agreement among individuals, but rather on an enduring covenant between generations.

In Edmund Burke, Norman explores Burke’s convictions about community, inherited institutions, and civic virtue, showing how his analytical mind and his deep capacity for empathy made Burke such a vital thinker—both for his own age, and for ours.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Edmund Burke (1729–97) is one of those illustrious political figures now hazily remembered by general readers. He was a member of the British Parliament and a successful writer. A reformer and classical liberal—today he'd be a conservative—he worked for free trade and ending the sinecures that drained the public purse, and he strove for better governance of India. He tried to stop the breach between Britain and its colonies, but was ignored. Norman, himself a Conservative member of Parliament, first presents Burke's life, then examines the man's philosophy. The results serve as a solid, workmanlike introduction to the reformer and his time. The philosophical half of the book is clear, free of jargon, and accessible, painting Burke as a realist; man is "imperfectable," he maintained; science and logic cannot rule; the individual is inescapably part of a society. VERDICT A sound introduction to a thinker who remains important two centuries after his death. Very lightly footnoted and with a select bibliography, this will be a starting point for readers new to the study of Burke's life and ideas.—Michael O. Eshleman, Hobbs, NM
Kirkus Reviews
Member of Parliament Norman (Compassionate Economics, 2008, etc.) comprehensively explains the history and the writings of the man whose thoughts have been quarried by politicians for hundreds of years. The author smartly divides his biography into sections on Edmund Burke's (1729–1797) life and his thought. The Dubliner arrived in London at age 20, and while he rarely returned, he strove throughout his 30-year parliamentary career for his countrymen and especially the Catholics in that land. Norman eases us into Burke's thinking, which was not a strict system of philosophy, but rather a flexible inconsistency dealing with the preservation of the social order and the essentials of political leadership. Where a philosopher searches for the proper ends of government, a politician searches for the means to that goal. Burke supported the cause of the American Revolution and vainly tried to prevent it, and he opposed the French Revolution because it focused on individuals and not so much liberty as license for the individual and his ethics of vanity--i.e., "what's in it for me?" Burke's writings were soundly rejected by Thomas Paine but extensively used in James Madison's institution of checks and balances. The author carefully clarifies the establishments of political parties (as opposed to factions), the relationship of representatives to voters, and the "Burkean imaginative engagement: a balance between ego and circumstance, between ambition and constraint, between individual and society." He also provides a fascinating picture of the political scene in England in the 18th century, where votes were bought with liquor or directed by landlords. A top-notch introduction to Burke and his paternity of political systems throughout the Western Hemisphere. Even better, the author points out where ignoring Burke's thoughts have caused unnecessary difficulties.
From the Publisher
"A top-notch introduction to Burke and his paternity of political systems throughout the Western Hemisphere. Even better, the author points out where ignoring Burke's thoughts have caused unnecessary difficulties." —-Kirkus Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465058976
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/21/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 179,540
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jesse Norman is member of Parliament for Hereford and South Herefordshire. He holds a PhD from the University College London, has taught philosophy at University College London and Birkbeck College, and is the author of several books and political treatises, including Compassionate Conservatism. He lives in London.

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