Member of Parliament Norman (Compassionate Economics, 2008, etc.) comprehensively explains the history and the writings of the man whose thoughts have been quarried by politicians for hundreds of years.
The author smartly divides his biography into sections on Edmund Burke’s (1729–1797) life and his thought. The Dubliner arrived in London at age 20, and while he rarely returned, he strove throughout his 30-year parliamentary career for his countrymen and especially the Catholics in that land. Norman eases us into Burke’s thinking, which was not a strict system of philosophy, but rather a flexible inconsistency dealing with the preservation of the social order and the essentials of political leadership. Where a philosopher searches for the proper ends of government, a politician searches for the means to that goal. Burke supported the cause of the American Revolution and vainly tried to prevent it, and he opposed the French Revolution because it focused on individuals and not so much liberty as license for the individual and his ethics of vanity—i.e., “what’s in it for me?” Burke’s writings were soundly rejected by Thomas Paine but extensively used in James Madison’s institution of checks and balances. The author carefully clarifies the establishments of political parties (as opposed to factions), the relationship of representatives to voters, and the “Burkean imaginative engagement: a balance between ego and circumstance, between ambition and constraint, between individual and society.” He also provides a fascinating picture of the political scene in England in the 18th century, where votes were bought with liquor or directed by landlords.
A top-notch introduction to Burke and his paternity of political systems throughout the Western Hemisphere. Even better, the author points out where ignoring Burke’s thoughts have caused unnecessary difficulties.