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19 May

The Wild Times of Oliver Goldsmith

At Trinity, Goldsmith was a poor student, in both senses of the word: he didn’t have the money for full fees and therefore had to carry out various menial duties in front of other students. He hated it, and was lucky not to be expelled after playing a role in one of the most infamous events in Trinity’s history, the Black Dog riot.

This was provoked by the arrest of a student. A group of fellow students, led by one Gallows Walsh, set the student free and captured the bailiff who had arrested him, dunking him in the college trough. They then decided to storm Newgate Prison (which was known as the Black Dog), and were joined in the process by a city mob. The prison guards fired on them and two of the mob were killed. For their troubles, four of the ringleaders were expelled from Trinity; Goldsmith was lucky merely to be disciplined.

From “The good die young: the wild times of Oliver Goldsmith” by Colin Murphy in the Irish Independent (18 May 2014).

The Black Dog riot took place on 21st May 1747. Goldsmith was disciplined for his part in it as the piece mentions. It has been suggested that Edmund Burke was also there and that a passage in Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757) refers to the experience of being in the riot and being drawn to identify with the emotions of the crowd:

The shouting of multitudes has a similar effect; and by the sole strength of the sound, so amazes and confounds the imagination, that in this staggering, and hurry of the mind, the best established tempers can scarcely forbear being bor[n]e down, and joining in the common cry, and common resolution of the croud.

25 Apr

Onora O’Neill on “What would Edmund Burke Think of Human Rights”

The inaugural Annual Edmund Burke Lecture delivered by Baroness Onora O’Neill as part of the President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative, 22 April 2014

22 Mar

Jesse Norman on Edmund Burke

From My Favourite Political Thinker series on Daily Politics. Giles Dilnot talks to Jesse Norman about Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who shaped the UK politics of today according to Norman. 

Source: BBC.

26 Jul

Burke and Sons: the legacy of the Father of Conservatism

Burke died in 1797. His legacy has been hotly contested. In Edmund Burke in America, the historian Drew Maciag charts the use of Burke by US intellectuals. “Burke will be heard to say whatever needs to be said,” he argues. This is especially true of the past few decades. Neo-conservatives have used his anti-Jacobinism to call for strong military action in the cold war and after 9/11. Religious conservatives have cited Burke’s belief in Providence. Others, foreshadowing the Tea Party, have sought to parallel his reverence for the unwritten English constitution and the Glorious Revolution with theirs for the US constitution and the wars of independence.

In Maciag’s telling, Burke has been abused by American rightwing thinkers. His conservatism ends up appearing kaleidoscopic. Maciag implies that if the father of modern conservatism has spawned such diverse offspring, it makes no sense to think of a single, identifiable “conservatism”.

Yes, another review of Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet along with Drew Maciag’s Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern Conservatism.

John McDermott’s “Burke & Sons” (Financial Times) goes further than a simple review however, briefly exploring to what extent Burke can be said to be the father of a thing called conservatism, touching on Maciag, Corey Robin and today’s UK politics on the way.

27 May

philosophybites: Richard Bourke on Edmund Burke on Politics

This episode of philosophybites features Richard Bourke of Queen Mary, London University, putting Edmund Burke into his historical context and outlining his key ideas. More here including abstracts of articles by Richard Bourke on Edmund Burke.

Particularly interesting are his comments towards the end of the nine minutes on where Burke was shown empirically to be wrong, and on where Burke is relevant today.

18 May

Roundup of Reviews for “Edmund Burke: Philosopher, politician, prophet” by Jesse Norman

Over the weekend there have been a number of reviews for this book.

In the Independent, it is reviewed by Jon Cruddas:

Burke (1729-1797) is celebrated as “both the greatest and most underrated political thinker of the past 300 years”. A hybrid of Protestant, Irish and Quaker ideals led him to fight against both Catholic and American oppression, and later in England against corporate power and an over-mighty state, while remaining a fierce opponent of the French Revolution and tyranny.

In The New Statesman, John Grey is reviewing.
Read More

16 May

If Laws Are Their Enemies, They Will Be Enemies to Laws

Surely the state of Ireland ought for ever to teach parties moderation in their victories. People crushed by law have no hopes but for power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous more or less.

Edmund Burke, Letter to Charles Fox, 8 Oct. 1777 (Corr., II, 387.), twenty-one years before 1798.

09 May

Yale: Moral Foundations of Politics: Edmund Burke

Yale: Moral Foundations of Politics (PLSC 118) Edmund Burke

This 48 minute lecture looks at Edmund Burke’s political thought, which as Professor Ian Shapiro points out, was more revolutionary in its time than Marx in his.

This lecture is part of the Open Yale Course PLSC 118: The Moral Foundations of Politics. Also see the version of the course on Coursera.

07 May

Edmund Burke: the Man in the Moon

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Not everyone disliked Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” as much as Paine did. Yet even the positive reviews suggested Burke’s position as regards the revolution in France was inconsistent with his previous support for the American Colonists. As “The Critical Review” (Vol 60, p. 529) puts it, “revolutions, or the calamities of kings, have not formerly been odious to Mr Burke”.

This argument is illustrated in the caricature above (from the Library of Congress). Edmund Burke is the Man in the Moon, writing a pamplet seated at a table placed on a crescent moon. The table is covered with a cloth, bearing the words “French Revolution” and a figure with a liberty cap in one hand and a crown in the other. The figure is trampling a man holding broken chains and torture implements.

Broken chains hang from Burkes wrists. He says, “By Vision Celestial and Fury Infernal I’ll give them a Crown Touch”. In each corner Burke’s (changing) principles are listed (based on speeches):
Continue reading

06 May

Reactionary Prophet

The astonishment Paine expresses in Rights of Man at Burke’s refusal to criticize or even to enumerate the crimes and cruelties of the ancien régime is clearly genuine. So is his scorn at Burke’s concept of the franchise as a reward for property and piety. (Until Paine tried to salvage it, the term “democracy”—like the words “Tory” and, later, “suffragette” and “impressionist”—had been deployed only as an insult.) Paine was a Newtonian and a believer in economic growth and modern technique; Burke was a prisoner of the feudal and the landed conception of society, who employed the words “innovation” and “despotism” as virtual twins. Notice, for example, how the word “economist” in the Marie Antoinette passage is used as a synonym for knavery. Paine was for a written constitution and a carefully designed welfare state (adumbrated in the second half of Rights of Man), whereas Burke was for the semi-mystical “unwritten constitution” of a Crowned Parliament, and spared few thoughts even for the deserving poor.

However often one awards the winning of the longer-term argument to Paine, the fact remains that he and Jefferson and Lafayette never even dreamed of the advent of Bonapartism. They all believed, at the time that the argument was actually taking place, that France would become a constitutional monarchy, or had actually become one already. It was Burke who took this romantic delusion—a delusion shared by Charles James Fox and the leaders of Burke’s own Whig party, and even for a time by William Pitt and the more pragmatic Tories—and mercilessly exploded it. He also showed that the outcome of the French Revolution would be war on a continental scale. The tremendous power of the Reflections lies in this, the first serious argument that revolutions devour their own children and turn into their own opposites.

From Reactionary Prophet, a 2004 book review of “Reflections on the French Revolution” by Christopher Hitchens in Atlantic.