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Monday, March 17, 2014

Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern Conservatism (Cornell University Press), by Drew Maciag

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American conservatives celebrate Edmund Burke, but according to historian Drew Maciag, the British philosopher-politician might be uncomfortable with the company he’s posthumously been keeping. As with many profound writers, people “tend to find what they are seeking” in Burke. A contemporary of our Founding Fathers who sympathized with the American Revolution, Burke was for religious tolerance and curbing capital punishment and slavery. He was appalled by the violence of the French Revolution, which put him on the wrong side of leftists who favor bullets over ballots. Maciag finds Burke far more advanced in his thinking than previously credited. Like a Freudian a century too soon, Burke was skeptical of the power of reason, which he saw as the servant of unarticulated desires and impulses and the often-unacknowledged prejudices at the base of human psychology.