Edmund Burke

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Burke, Edmund,

1729–97, British political writer and statesman, b. Dublin, Ireland.

Early Writings

After graduating (1748) from Trinity College, Dublin, he began the study of law in London but abandoned it to devote himself to writing. His satirical Vindication of Natural Society (1756) attacked the political rationalism and religious skepticism of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) was a study in aesthetics. In 1759 he founded the Annual Register, a periodical to which he contributed until 1788. Burke was a member of Samuel JohnsonJohnson, Samuel,
1709–84, English author, b. Lichfield. The leading literary scholar and critic of his time, Johnson helped to shape and define the Augustan Age. He was equally celebrated for his brilliant and witty conversation.
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's intimate circle.

Political Career and Later Writings

Burke's political career began in 1765 when he became private secretary to the marquess of RockinghamRockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2d marquess of
, 1730–82, British statesman. In the early years of the reign of George III he became a leading opponent of the "king's friends," held several offices, and
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, then prime minister, and formed a lifelong friendship with that leader. He also entered Parliament in 1765 and there strove for a wiser treatment of the American colonies. In 1766 he spoke in favor of the repeal of the Stamp Act, although he also supported the Declaratory Act, asserting Britain's constitutional right to tax the colonists. In his famous later speeches on American taxation (1774) and on conciliation with the colonies (1775), he did not abandon that position; rather he urged the imprudence of exercising such theoretical rights.

At a time when political allegiances were based largely on family connections and patronage and political opposition was generally regarded as factionalism, Burke, in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), became the first political philosopher to argue the value of political parties. He called for a limitation of crown patronage (so-called economical reform) and as paymaster of the forces (1782–83) in the second Rockingham ministry was able to enact some of his proposals.

He was also interested in reform of the East India Company and drafted the East India Bill presented (1783) by Charles James FoxFox, Charles James,
1749–1806, British statesman and orator, for many years the outstanding parliamentary proponent of liberal reform. He entered Parliament in 1768 and served as lord of the admiralty (1770–72) and as lord of the treasury (1772–74) under
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. Influenced by Sir Philip FrancisFrancis, Sir Philip,
1740–1818, British statesman and pamphleteer. He may have been the author known as Junius. He held several minor posts in government offices before being appointed to the council of Bengal in 1773.
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, he instigated the impeachment and long trial of Warren HastingsHastings, Warren,
1732–1818, first governor-general of British India. Employed (1750) as a clerk by the East India Company, he soon became manager of a trading post in Bengal.
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. Hastings was acquitted, but Burke's speeches created some new awareness of the responsibilities of empire and of the injustices perpetrated in India and previously unpublicized in England.

Although he championed many liberal and reform causes, Burke believed that political, social, and religious institutions represented the wisdom of the ages; he feared political reform beyond limitations on the power of the crown. Consequently, his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) made him the spokesman of European conservatives. His stand against the French Revolution—and, by implication, against parliamentary reform—caused him to break with Fox and his Whigs in 1791. Burke's Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) shows how closely he approached the Tory position of the younger William PittPitt, William,
1759–1806, British statesman; 2d son of William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham. Trained as a lawyer, he entered Parliament in 1781 and in 1782 at the age of 23 became chancellor of the exchequer under Lord Shelburne.
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. He withdrew from political life in 1795.

Influence

Burke left, in his many and diverse writings, a monumental construction of British political thought that had far-reaching influence in England, America, and France for many years. He held unrestricted rationalism in human affairs to be destructive. He affirmed the utility of habit and prejudice and the importance of continuity in political experience. The son of a Protestant father and a Roman Catholic mother and himself a Protestant, he never ceased to criticize the English administration in Ireland and the galling discrimination against Catholics.

Bibliography

See his correspondence (9 vol., 1958–70); selection writings ed. by W. J. Bate (1960); biographies by P. M. Magnus (1939, repr. 1973), S. Ayling (1988), and J. Norman (2013); intellectual biography by D. Bromwich (2014); studies by T. W. Copeland (1949, repr. 1970), C. Parkin (1956, repr. 1968), C. B. Cone (2 vol., 1957–64), P. J. Stanlis (1958, repr. 1986), G. W. Chapman (1967), R. Kirk (1967), B. T. Wilkins (1967), C. C. O'Brien (1992), Y. Levin (2013), and D. Maciag (2013).

Burke, Edmund

 

Born Jan. 12, 1729, in Dublin; died July 9,1797, in Beaconsfield. British political figure and publicist. One of the leaders of the Whigs.

Burke was a lawyer by education. Beginning in 1766 he was a member of Parliament. His earliest work, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757; Russian translation in the book A History of Aesthetics: Monuments of World Aesthetic Thought, vol. 2, Moscow, 1964), influenced G. E. Lessing and F. Schiller. Burke’s pamphlet Thought on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), which was directed against the policy of King George III and his ministers, reflected the attitudes of the strata of the English bourgeoisie who opposed the strengthening of royal power.

During the War of Independence in North America (1775–83), Burke advocated a compromise with the rebellious English colonies. However, he was hostile toward the Great French Revolution. Burke’s book Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) expressed the British ruling classes’ fear of the revolutionary events in France. Representing the state as a result of an “organic” development and the creative activity of many centuries, Burke asserted that no generation has the right to break by force the institutions created by the efforts of previous generations. Another work by Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796), also censured the Great French Revolution. These works by Burke anticipated the critique of the Enlightenment and French Revolution by reactionary romantics.

WORKS

The Works, vols. 1–12. Boston, 1865–67.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 11, p. 609; vol. 23, p. 770.
Parkin, C. The Moral Basis of Burke’s Political Thought. Cambridge, 1956.
Todd, W. B. A Bibliography of E. Burke. London, 1964.
Chapman, G. W. E. Burke: The Practical Imagination. Cambridge, 1967.

E. B. CHERNIAK