Edmund Burke: Reflection on Liberty and the French Revolution Essay (Critical Writing)

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 2nd, 2019

Liberty is a concept that every independent nation has to embrace. As countries transfer from the era of colonialism to freedom, both personal and public liberties are among the first things every constitution addresses.

However, many times these liberties remain a constitutional matter when they are supposed to become realities.

The important question, as far as this aspect is concerned, is whether there is a cause for celebration for a newly born nation that has just won its independence or should the citizens rejoice only when the independence becomes an apparent thing in their lives.

Burke in the work Reflections on the Revolution in France appears to be skeptical about the first celebration more specifically.

When writing a critique, norm dictates that the writer should avoid predispositions, which might affect the arguments as opposed to rational reasoning and evidence.

One of the most important characteristics of a critique is that the writer must not present personal ideas and feelings, but rather absolute truth.

Thus, in the work under analysis, Burke vigorously criticizes the French Revolution during which the fight for liberty has turned out into a tyranny and ferocity against humans.

Specifically, the author argues that the French Revolution defended abstracted notions of freedoms and rights instead of introducing practical application of these views.

Burke appears to be skeptic about congratulating France on its freedom. This comes out when he wonders whether he could really congratulate a nation because it has a government without enquiring what kind of a government it is.

He compares congratulating this achievement to congratulating a mad man who has escaped from the protecting and restraining wholesome darkness of his cell on his restoration to enjoy light and liberty (Burke 502).

One of the things that Burke seems not to appreciate is the fact that freedom and liberty are not a one-time achievement. The step of France having a government, however autocratic it seemed, is the first and most important step towards achieving freedom.

One of the most important things that one has to appreciate when thinking about liberty is the process of attaining it. Burke in this argument represents his thinking about liberty as an instant gift in the laps of a person.

Burke perceives liberty as the ultimate result of the combination of the government with the public force, well-disciplined and obedient army, the collection and effective distribution of revenue, religion and morality, property rights, peace, order and good civil manners (Burke 502).

He further claims that the absence of any of these can be summed as lack of liberty in the nation in question. In this argument, Burke creates the mental picture of a perfect society, which in the real sense never exists.

Additionally, he expects a newly acquired freedom to give birth to a perfectly liberal state. In doing this, he fails to acknowledge the fact that societies evolve with time and through experience towards perfection. His ideology shows just how under-evaluated his thought was, leading to half-baked conclusions.

When considering posterity, Burke criticizes France for beginning anew. He describes the idea of noble liberty, which results from respecting the inherited values.

Moreover, he claims it is in line with conformity with nature. In his opinion, conformity is an important aspect in regulating the governance through philosophic analogy (Burke 503).

He offers a comparison between France and England, which applies this kind of philosophic analogy. One grave mistake that Burke makes is comparing two nations since they have completely contrasting histories.

First, England has never been a colony. In this sense, the country had much to demonstrate in its history as compared to France, which experienced the pain of autocracy in the times when liberty was what many nations enjoyed in the world.

Burke believes that posterity is an aspect that any nation would be take pride in it. A new beginning is best for countries that have nothing to be proud of and we should not blame them for that.

In this matter, France had a dark history before the revolution characterized by economic recession and moral decay. As much as posterity is an important aspect for a nation, France was justified in its conditions to begin a new and appreciated posterity from a brighter side rather than dark side-embracing change.

While deliberating on the main provisions fought during the French Revolution, Burke underscore’s false perspectives and ideas that have been defended.

In this respect, the author places an emphasis on the need to introduce practical representations of human rights to free medicine and food, for example.

Hence, while deliberating on the established values during those times, Burke states that the French Revolution is primarily founded on abstract values that have nothing in common with reality and human nature.

Hence, the author criticizes the revolution because the movement defended nothing but metaphysical abreactions that are more beneficial for political authorities striving to establish new regimes.

As a result, the French Revolution did overthrow the monarchy, but failed to elucidate the corrupted government. As a proof, Burke writes, “…I should, therefore, suspend my congratulation on the new liberty of France until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies,…with morality and religion” (502).

In this respect, the politician as if criticizes the freedoms and values protected by the Revolution because they do not refer to the original values they were to protect.

Regarding the above accusations, Burke is more concerned with practical application of the Revolution. He believes that human rights and freedoms should be confined to real existing needs and concerns.

In particular, protecting constitutional rights of humans, the author sees no power and institutions supporting freedom and objectivity of judgment.

In this respect, people involved into the Revolution are not guided by virtue, but by power principles and interest of governmental authorities.

In this respect, the work emphasizes that “virtue and wisdom may be the objects of their choice, but their choice confers neither the one nor the other on those upon whom they lay their ordaining hands” (Burke 506). In this respect, the Revolution manipulated human rights rather than fighting for their protection.

While reflecting on the abstract principles upheld by the French, Burke disagrees with the idea of protecting the revolution underpinnings because they do not only represent abstracted foundations, but also distort the overall notion of human liberty.

Specifically, he believes that the attention to the domestic laws is significantly distracted and, as a result, human rights are rigorously violated.

Hence, the French Revolution is nothing more but as fraudulent and false representation of freedom, initiated by the corrupted government.

Specifically, Burke writes, that the governmental authorities “look upon the legal hereditary success of their own crown as among their rights, not as among their wrongs…as a security for their liberty, not as a badge of servitude” (508).

In this respect, the French Revolution is disguised under the false mask of liberty and equality. In reality, it significantly thresholds the boundaries and violated the desired equality of human relations.

While shedding the light on the liberty, the author introduces the concept of humanity as the basic principles of governing the society.

Burkes mentions the main features of human natures and provides correlation with religious and moral values as the basis for protecting human liberties. At the same time, he refers to the liberty as a constitutional right that should be protected as well.

In conclusion, it can be stated that Burke has a more practical vision on the concept of liberty, but not the abstracted one, as it was represented during the French Revolution.

The members of the movement managed to overthrow the monarchy, but failed to revive human rights and liberties and represent a new “human” form of government.

Moreover, the author is more concerned with the abstracted and metaphysical fundamentals of the Revolution that fail to consider the true principles and norms of freedom.

Specifically, Burke refers to true human virtue and wisdom that should withdraw personal interests and highlight the essentials of human rights.

However, the French Revolution is more premised on corrupted principles that failed to introduce justice. In such a manner, Burke attempts to introduce original outlooks on liberty.

Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the French Revolution. London: M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1790. Print.

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