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Order and Change

The question of what held communities and their states together - and what could destroy them, was forced upon the philosophers of Europe with the outbreak of the French Revolution and the subsequent descent into the Terror. There were models for thinking about the rise and fall of states, but many of these sat uncomfortably with the optimism of the enlightenment and the growing confidence in progress. At the heart of Edmund Burke's attack on the revolution lies a powerful conception of the fragility of the socio-political order, the importance of religion, hierarchy and authority as the basis for order. But that vision, while it has some room for change and progress, alllows this only very tentatively. And, following the French Revolution, many thought Burke right. Only gradually did a new analysis emerge in which societies came to be seen as going through alternate periods of change and consolidation, and that conception came to exercise an important influence on the further reform of European states in the early to mid-nineteenth centuries.

Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France -

The Reflections... are in Vol 2 - at the start: Read [39-49] [89-119] [125-129] [141-151]; [159-176]; [189-196]; [204-215]; [235-47] (in the electronic text there are 2 set of page numbers- one using single square brackets [35], the other using double [[35]] - the page numbers above refer to those in the former style).

John Stuart Mill, The Spirit of the Age - (click on the pdf to read an excerpt)

And, if you have time, try to take a look at Mill's essay entitled Civilisation in -

You can also find in the Liberty Fund collection his Principles of Political Economy - where Appendix SD is his @probable Futurity of the labouring classes.

And his Logic - where the essay on Ethology is in Chapter 5 of Book 6. (This is attached to a short extract from Burke's Reflections in the attached documentLink opens in a new window)

Questions to consider

What criticisms does Burke make of events in France - both empirically and theoretically? Why does he reject the parallel, drawn by some of his contemporaries, between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution of 1789?

What weight does Burke give to: tradition; reason; experience; feeling and sentiment?

What in particular grounds British stability?

What distinctions does Mill draw in reflecting on the character of his own age and the nature of civilisation?

What does Mill argue is the most appropriate source of authority in any given age?

Can we see in these essays any precursors of Mill's developing interest in socialism?

Can we make any sense of Mill's belief in a science of ethology?

Secondary reading

David Dwan and Christopher Insole (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Edmund Burke - ebook

Dennis O'Keefe, Edmund Burke (2011) - ebook. Especially good on the reception of Burke.

Drew Maciag, Edmund Burke in America: the contested career of the father of modern conservatism (2013) - ebook. Intesting study of the 'afterlife' of Burke in American politics (with a good early chapter 'Burke in brief' that offers an overview of his life and works).

Nicholas Robinson, Edmund Burke: a life in caricature (1996) - at DA.506.B9. Looks at Burke through the lens of the (many!) caricatures he is depicted in; an interesting alternative angle on his life and work.