Edmund Burke: The First Conservative

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Overview

Edmund Burke is both the greatest and the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Revered by great Americans including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Burke has been almost forgotten in recent years. But as politician and political philosopher Jesse Norman argues in this...
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Edmund Burke: The First Conservative

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Overview

Edmund Burke is both the greatest and the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Revered by great Americans including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Burke has been almost forgotten in recent years. But as politician and political philosopher Jesse Norman argues in this penetrating biography, we cannot understand modern politics without him.

As Norman reveals, Burke was often ahead of his time, anticipating the abolition of slavery and arguing for free markets, equality for Catholics in Ireland, and responsible government in India, among many other things. He was not always popular in his own lifetime, but his ideas about power, community, and civic virtue have endured long past his death. Indeed, Burke engaged with many of the same issues politicians face today, including the rise of ideological extremism, the loss of social cohesion, the dangers of the corporate state, and the effects of revolution on societies. He offers us now a compelling critique of liberal individualism, and a vision of society based not on a self-interested agreement among individuals, but rather on an enduring covenant between generations.

Burke won admirers in the American colonies for recognizing their fierce spirit of liberty and for speaking out against British oppression, but his greatest triumph was seeing through the utopian aura of the French Revolution. In repudiating that revolution, Burke laid the basis for much of the robust conservative ideology that remains with us to this day: one that is adaptable and forward-thinking, but also mindful of the debt we owe to past generations and our duty to preserve and uphold the institutions we have inherited. He is the first conservative.

A rich, accessible, and provocative biography, Edmund Burke describes Burke's life and achievements alongside his momentous legacy, showing how Burke's analytical mind and deep capacity for empathy made him such a vital thinker—both for his own age, and for ours.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452617329
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/18/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged CD
  • Sales rank: 828,936
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Jesse Norman is Member of Parliament for Hereford and South Herefordshire. Norman holds a BA from Oxford University and an MPhil and PhD from the University College London.Norman has taught philosophy at University College London and Birkbeck College, and is the author of several books and political treatises, including After Euclid, The Big Society, and Compassionate Conservatism. He has also written for The Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Spectator; has appeared on TV on BBC 1, BBC News 24 and Sky News; and has been profiled on BBC online and elsewhere. He lives in London.
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