Edmund Burke’s 1791 Reflections on the Revolution in France is a strong example of how the thinking skills of analysis and reasoning can support even the most rhetorical of arguments. Often cited as the foundational work of modern conservative political thought, Burke’s Reflections is a sustained argument against the French Revolution. Though Burke is in many ways not interested in rational close analysis of the arguments in favour of the revolution, he points out a crucial flaw in revolutionary thought, upon which he builds his argument. For Burke, that flaw was the sheer threat that revolution poses to life, property and society.
Sceptical about the utopian urge to utterly reconstruct society in line with rational principles, Burke argued strongly for conservative progress: a continual slow refinement of government and political theory, which could move forward without completely overturning the old structures of state and society. Old state institutions, he reasoned, might not be perfect, but they work well enough to keep things ticking along. Any change made to improve them, therefore, should be slow, not revolutionary.
While Burke’s arguments are deliberately not reasoned in the ‘rational’ style of those who supported the revolution, they show persuasive reasoning at its very best.
Table of Contents
Ways in to the Text
Who was Edmund Burke?
What does Reflections on the Revolution in France Say?
Why does Reflections on the Revolution in France Matter?
Section 1: Influences
Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context
Module 2: Academic Context
Module 3: The Problem
Module 4: The Author's Contribution
Section 2: Ideas
Module 5: Main Ideas
Module 6: Secondary Ideas
Module 7: Achievement
Module 8: Place in the Author's Work
Section 3: Impact
Module 9: The First Responses
Module 10: The Evolving Debate
Module 11: Impact and Influence Today
Module 12: Where Next?
Glossary of Terms
People Mentioned in the Text
Riley Quinn holds master’s degrees in Politics and International Relations from both LSE and the University of Oxford.