The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence

The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence

by David Bromwich


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David Bromwich’s portrait of statesman Edmund Burke (1730–1797) is the first biography to attend to the complexity of Burke’s thought as it emerges in both the major writings and private correspondence. The public and private writings cannot be easily dissociated, nor should they be. For Burke—a thinker, writer, and politician—the principles of politics were merely those of morality enlarged. Bromwich reads Burke’s career as an imperfect attempt to organize an honorable life in the dense medium he knew politics to be.

This intellectual biography examines the first three decades of Burke’s professional life. His protest against the cruelties of English society and his criticism of all unchecked power laid the groundwork for his later attacks on abuses of government in India, Ireland, and France. Bromwich allows us to see the youthful skeptic, wary of a social contract based on “nature”; the theorist of love and fear in relation to “the sublime and beautiful”; the advocate of civil liberty, even in the face of civil disorder; the architect of economic reform; and the agitator for peace with America. However multiple and various Burke’s campaigns, a single-mindedness of commitment always drove him.

Burke is commonly seen as the father of modern conservatism. Bromwich reveals the matter to be far more subtle and interesting. Burke was a defender of the rights of disfranchised minorities and an opponent of militarism. His politics diverge from those of any modern party, but all parties would be wiser for acquaintance with his writing and thoughts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674729704
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/06/2014
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University.

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction 1

I Early Ambition and the Theory of Society 27

II The Sublime and Beautiful 59

III The Wilkes Crisis and Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents 115

IV The American War 190

V The Loss of the Empire in the West 262

VI Democracy, Representation, and the Gordon Riots 321

VII In Defense of Politics 388

Conclusion 440

Appendix: Speech at Bristol on Declining the Poll 445

Notes 447

Chronology 491

Index 494

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