The Review of Politics

Research Article

The Conservative Revolution of Edmund Burke

Bruce Mazlish

Edmund Burke enjoys the rather unusual distinction of having been both a revolutionary and a conservative at one and the same time. Before and after Burke, men have begun life as radical firebrands and ended it as reactionaries; but Burke combined the two attitudes, although in differing proportions, now one or the other predominating, almost throughout the course of his life. For example, Burke approved unreservedly of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, accepted the American Revolution of 1776, and called for a drastic change in the administration of British India; yet, he became the first thinker to propound a comprehensive statement of modern conservatism. He favored the Polish Reform of 1791, the freeing of Irish trade, the relief from religious disabilities of the Catholics, and the promotion of religious tolerance; yet, he lauded prescription and traditionalism. It is this ever-present dualism of thought in Burke which has so consistently disturbed scholars and historians of political theory and made it so difficult for them to place him in one camp or another.

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