Burke, Edmund (1729–97)

  • Tom Furniss


Edmund Burke is one of the most important and complex political figures of late-eighteenth-century Britain, and his influence on English Romanticism is still being discovered. Burke’s seminal place in the history of political thought in Britain has never been in question, but, as C. B. Macpherson shows, the exact nature of his political position and influence is still a matter of dispute. For, if — as the most eloquent proponent of the Whig principles of 1688–9 and of a free-market economics which closely resembles Adam Smith’s — Burke has been claimed as a founding father of British liberalism, his attack on the radical philosophy of the French Revolution and defence of the British constitution has also allowed him to be seen as a central figure in the development of British conservatism. As Macpherson puts it, ‘the central Burke problem which is still of considerable interest in our own time is the question of the coherence of his two seemingly opposite positions: the defender of a hierarchical establishment, and the market liberal’ (C. B. Macpherson, Burke, 1980). Macpherson tries to resolve this ‘inconsistency’ by arguing that the traditional order Burke defends had been a capitalist one since 1688 and that Burke employs natural-order rhetoric in order to disguise capitalism’s true nature.


Political Position French Revolution Political Thought Traditional Order Concrete Symbol 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • Tom Furniss

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