Edmund Burke

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Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France was controversial at the time of its publication. But after his death, it was to become his best-known and most influential work. It is understood to be the manifesto in conservative thought. In the English-speaking world, Burke is regarded by most political experts as the father of modern anglo-conservatism. His 'liberal' conservatism, which opposed governing based on abstract ideas, and preferred 'organic' reform, can be contrasted with the autocratic conservatism of Continental figures such as Joseph de Maistre.

Burke's ideas placing property at the base of human development and the development of society were radical and new at the time. Burke believed that property was essential to human life. Because of his conviction that people desire to be ruled and controlled, the division of property formed the basis for social structure, helping develop control within a property-based hierarchy. He viewed the social changes brought on by property as the natural order of events that should be taking place as the human race progressed. With the division of property and the class system, he also believed that it kept the monarch in check to the needs of the classes beneath the monarch. Since property largely aligned or defined divisions of social class, class too was seen as natural - part of a social agreement that the setting of persons into different classes is the mutual benefit of all subjects.

His support for Irish Catholics and Indians often led him to be criticised by Tories.[126] His opposition to British imperialism in Ireland and India and his opposition to French imperialism and radicalism in Europe, made it difficult for Whig or Tory to wholly accept Burke as their own.[127] In the nineteenth century Burke was praised by both liberals and conservatives. Burke's friend Philip Francis wrote that Burke "was a man who truly & prophetically foresaw all the consequences which would rise from the adoption of the French principles" but because Burke wrote with so much passion people were doubtful of his arguments.[128] William Windham spoke from the same bench in the House of Commons as Burke had done when he had separated from Fox and an observer said Windham spoke "like the ghost of Burke" when he made a speech against peace with France in 1801.[129] William Hazlitt, a political opponent of Burke, regarded him as amongst his three favourite writers (the others being Junius and Rousseau), and made it "a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man".[130] William Wordsworth was originally a supporter of the French Revolution and attacked Burke in 'A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff' (1793) but by the early nineteenth century he had changed his mind and came to admire Burke. In his Two Addresses to the Freeholders of Westmorland Wordsworth called Burke "the most sagacious Politician of his age" whose predictions "time has verified".[131] He later revised his poem The Prelude to include praise of Burke ("Genius of Burke! forgive the pen seduced/By specious wonders") and portrayed him as an old oak.[131] Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to have a similar conversion: he had criticised Burke in The Watchman but in his Friend (1809–10) Coleridge defended Burke from charges of inconsistency.[132] Later, in his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge hails Burke as a prophet and praises Burke for referring "habitually to principles. He was a scientific statesman; and therefore a seer".[133] Henry Brougham wrote of Burke: "... all his predictions, save one momentary expression, had been more than fulfilled: anarchy and bloodshed had borne sway in France; conquest and convulsion had desolated Europe...the providence of mortals is not often able to penetrate so far as this into futurity".[134] George Canning believed that Burke's Reflections "has been justified by the course of subsequent events; and almost every prophecy has been strictly fulfilled".[134] In 1823 Canning wrote that he took Burke's "last works and words [as] the manual of my politics".[135] The Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli "was deeply penetrated with the spirit and sentiment of Burke's later writings".[136] The Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone considered Burke "a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America" and in his diary recorded: "Made many extracts from Burke—sometimes almost divine".[137] The Radical MP and anti-Corn Law activist Richard Cobden often praised Burke's Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.[138] The Liberal historian Lord Acton considered Burke one of the three greatest liberals, along with William Gladstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay.[139] Macaulay recorded in his diary: "I have now finished reading again most of Burke's works. Admirable! The greatest man since Milton".[140] The Gladstonian Liberal MP John Morley published two books on Burke (including a biography) and was influenced by Burke, including his views on prejudice.[141] The Cobdenite Radical Francis Hirst thought Burke deserved "a place among English libertarians, even though of all lovers of liberty and of all reformers he was the most conservative, the least abstract, always anxious to preserve and renovate rather than to innovate. In politics he resembled the modern architect who would restore an old house instead of pulling it down to construct a new one on the site".[142]

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