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Title: The British debate on the French Revolution : Edmund Burke and his critics
Author: Yang, Suxian
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1990
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This study seeks to explore the British response to the French Revolution through an investigation of the debate between Burke and his critics on the subject. The dissertation is divided into two major parts: first, a comprehensive analysis of Burke's critique of the French Revolution and, secondly, an extensive examination of the reaction of his critics to his arguments. Edmund Burke approached the French Revolution with a shrewd discernment. He took up his pen against France because he was aware that her Revolution, since, in his opinion, it was of a universal nature, would prove dangerous to the old order of the whole of Europe. But how did the Revolution happen? What had made it so formidable? Burke traced the origins of the French Revolution to the economic, social and intellectual changes that had previously taken place in French society. It was a revolution led by the militant middle class and propelled by Jacobinism. To prevent Jaobinism from undermining European civilisation, Burke devoted himself to a long crusade against the French Revolution. At the same time, Burke, who had previously been regarded as a reformer, was obliged to defend his own political consistency which was challenged because of his attack on the French Revolution. He endeavoured to relate his politics to the tradition of the 1688 Revolution and he defended the integrity of his present action on the principles of the old Whigs whose politics, in his opinion, had always been to assert Britain's mixed and balanced constitution. Burke's critics, on the other hand, generally welcomed the Revolution in France as a great triumph of liberty over despotism. Most of those who opposed Burke were ideologically inclined to embrace the doctrine of popular sovereignty based on the radical theory of the natural rights of man; and their acceptance of this doctrine had rendered them politically hostile to the old order. From such an intellectual framework, these radicals ventured, from various aspects, to vindicate the French Revolution. This dissertation undertakes to explore their perception of its universal implication, their interpretation of its origins, their justification of its necessity, their apologia for its defects, their defence of its leaders, and their conviction of its ability to achieve perfection in the future. The whole seems to form both a vigorous answer to Burke and an active justification of the French Revolution. The critics of Burke, in vindicating the French Revolution, were also defending their own radical politics at home. The establishment of freedom in France encouraged them to press for change in Britain. Parliament and the established church formed the main objects in their programme of reform. The British reformers, generally speaking, did not argue in support of a violent revolution at home. It was their opinion, however, that without a timely reform, Britain could be heading in that direction.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available