Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Evils of Revolution

- What is Liberty without Wisdom and without Virtue?
It is the Greatest of all Possible Evils.
by Edmund Burke

In one of the world class bookstores in the area of Tottenham Court Road I recently discovered the third volume of the Penguin Books Great Ideas series. Not only was it a range of some rather interesting titles which should be proving a stimulating read, but the cover design of parts of the series itself was from out of this world. The one my eyes at once captured was a jacket designed by a gentleman named Alistair Hall, which is composed of the title in white capital letters with debossed print, making up the entire front on a grey background.

Penguin has published a 85 page selection of Reflections on the Revolution in France, which is Edmund Burke's both cerebral and emotional attack on the French Revolution. It was published in 1790, id est in the midst of the upheavals, where at least Burke himself would imagine having a bird's eye view upon the occurrences on the other side of the English Channel. It has been seen as a charge on the Enlightenment and analytical thought, and while that of course partly is true and deplorable, Burke's legacy is also one of a good reminder of reflection. A theory or ideology is not something that can be implemented without regard to the context, and any attempt of doing it in a hurry, Edmund Burke rightly predicted, risks leading to tyranny. As the father of conservatism he was not regressive, many would argue the opposite, but he argued the case of gradual change. A wisdom important to understand for all political animals.

Consider "you chose to act as if you had never been molded into civil society and had everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you": Learning appreciation for the giants upon whose shoulders we stand on is an essential part of growing up, even more so if one argues the case of political change. We owe this man quite some intellectual debt.