Edmund Burke on the Reflections on the Revolutions of France

Some interesting analysis of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolutions of France: https://www.libertarianism.org/columns/edmund-burke-intellectuals-french-revolution-part-3

Burke on prejudice

In a very controversial manner, Burke defends the notion of prejudice, and speaks about how the English uphold their prejudices or “untaught feelings” of what is right or wrong based on prejudices passed through generations. It seems ludicrous initially as it seems that we as society try to strive towards justice by abandoning prejudice and unreasoned emotions and feelings towards another, and relying solely on rational principles and facts to determine what is right or wrong in order to govern a body. A government driven by emotion and prejudice in any way or form is what we would normally regard as a corrupted government. Yet, Burke defends prejudice by drawing upon the nature of human beings. Humans are emotionally driven beings that rely on their sentiments to make decisions. He condemns those who support the Revolution and preach of a completely just government that could rule solely on reason as one such perfectly rational entity could never exist since humans are driven by sentiments and humans make up the government. He continues his argument that our natural sentiments can be destructive or civilized, and it is through civilized sentiments that can uphold some degree of order or justice in a society. Yet, he does not believe that we can civilize our sentiments on ungrounded zealous deliverance of justice and righteousness like that of those part of the Revolution. Instead, it is civilized through adopting past values and customs, along with past prejudices. I think this idea is quite opposite of Smith’s idea of an impartial spectator in Theory of Moral Sentiments, because the impartial spectator is needed to remain impartial and not be swayed by previous bias in order to sympathize with someone, whereas Burke supports holding onto prejudices and sentiments to, ironically, civilize our sentiments to create order and justice.

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