Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France...

Before starting the long pamphlet--crash course on the French Revolution.

...also, how dope was the 1789 French Women's March!

Yale is one-click away

Burke agrees that freedom and rights are always good and are human rights for all men, but these values are not the bases of what makes a good and just government, and by rights he means the rights we are born with and can practice in an UNcivil society (like deciding to rob someone after they've robbed you). In a civil society, we must give up these natural rights of freedom and of defending our own causes, since we have the state to take care of these things. 

"Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet
could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without inquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer who has broke prison upon the recovery of his natural rights?...
The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men, but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power" (pg 7-8). 

"...Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he
has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all
which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his
favor. In this partnership all men have equal rights, but not to equal
things. He that has but five shillings in the partnership has as good a
right to it as he that has five hundred pounds has to his larger proportion.
But he has not a right to an equal dividend in the product of the
joint stock; and as to the share of power, authority, and direction which
each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must
deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for
I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a
thing to be settled by convention.

If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must
be its law. ....

One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is that no man should be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his own governor. He inclusively, in a great measure, abandons the right of self-defense, the first law of nature. Men cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it" (pg 50).

Supposedly a letter to a man in Paris, written before the terror, a year later after the Revolution, Irish, White, Elitist, Privileged Burke essentially explains why he does not support the Revolution, while also discussing his thoughts on England's politics. He states he would rather remain cautious about jumping in excitement over the new power, since he has yet to see how the new power will be used, and if England is to be an example, he holds that political inequality will still continue with the new powers.

"All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about, in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous, in the most ridiculous modes, and apparently by the most contemptible instruments. Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies. In viewing this monstrous tragicomic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed and sometimes mix with each other in the mind: alternate contempt and indignation, alternate laughter and tears, alternate scorn and horror" (pg 9).
Burke did not like the chaos! He liked order, hence, liked the government, monarchy and tradition, and found it to be the most sound and safe form of government. He does not like the idea of radical changes that are brought by radical rational thought. He is, as the partiallyexaminedlife crew put it, an "anti-enlightenment." He'd rather the state control means of production and distribution, without listening to the grievances of the people. He believes in being pragmatic. And if said complains are extreme, the government should handle it and take even more control.
"The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state and the due distribution of its powers a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to its strength, and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician rather than the professor of metaphysics" (pg 51).

"These gentlemen value themselves on being systematic, and not
without reason. They must therefore look on this gross and palpable
defect of representation, this fundamental grievance (so they call it) as a
thing not only vicious in itself, but as rendering our whole government
absolutely illegitimate, and not at all better than a downright usurpation.
Another revolution, to get rid of this illegitimate and usurped government,
would of course be perfectly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary.
Indeed, their principle, if you observe it with any attention, goes
much further than to an alteration in the election of the House of Commons;
for, if popular representation, or choice, is necessary to the legitimacy
of all government, the House of Lords is, at one stroke, bastardized
and corrupted in blood. That House is no representative of the
people at all, even in “semblance or in form.” The case of the crown is
altogether as bad. In vain the crown may endeavor to screen itself against
these gentlemen by the authority of the establishment made on the Revolution.
The Revolution which is resorted to for a title, on their system,
wants a title itself. The Revolution is built, according to their theory,
upon a basis not more solid than our present formalities, as it was made
by a House of Lords, not representing any one but themselves, and by a
House of Commons exactly such as the present, that is, as they term it,
by a mere “shadow and mockery” of representation" (pg 48).

Burke does not believe that you should simply destroy the government and the law for the sake of it's inequality, especially if you do not actually have any solutions to solve the problems. He believes hierarchies are natural and inequality will always exist. 


He states that we are born into a societal agreement--"Society is indeed a contract. ...partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. ..." (pg 80).


Burke does not seem to call for action or change--he feeds into laws, religion, and tradition, merely because it is "our,"  (who is "our") supposedly, conventional history, and has practically worked over time. It is deterministic, patriarchal, and bullshit.

Background picture by Sterling Bartlett.