Political argument in Edmund Burke's Reflections: a contextual study

Taylor, Ben James (2011). Political argument in Edmund Burke's Reflections: a contextual study. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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The present thesis offers a historical interpretation of Edmund Burke‟s classic text, Reflections on the Revolution in France. By contrast to the existing literature, it studies Burke‟s work as a purposive intervention in a domestic problem complex that turned upon the ways in which the French Revolution was refracted in various British contexts of argument. In short, British radicals put the principles and the very idea of the French Revolution to unique uses, employing them to increase the legitimacy and potency of their own arguments. To this end, they appealed to the authority of the French Revolution to augment their dynamic reading of the English Revolution of 1688, and denounced the lack of liberty in Britain by holding the French system of representation up as a model which would provide a genuinely accountable and participatory government. The thesis illustrates Burke‟s alarm at these developments, which he perceived as constituting a democratic threat to Britain‟s mixed constitution; such fears were compounded by the political behaviour of his moderate contemporaries, many of whom embraced natural rights arguments that were at odds with their aristocratic conceptions of politics. Guided by a critical acceptance of Quentin Skinner‟s interpretative injunctions, the thesis investigates Burke‟s response to these dilemmas by situating his utterances on the English Revolution of 1688, representation, and the French army in prevailing intellectual and political contexts. Adopting this approach, it highlights the complexity and originality of Burke‟s political argument by demonstrating that, in each case, Burke was manipulating the ideological conventions of Whiggism. Most significantly however, it stresses the anti-democratic character of his illocutionary intentions, for, in countering the democratic danger, Burke was stripping Whiggism of its populist potential and recommending increasingly conservative forms of political action.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Department of Political Science and International Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/1664


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