Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet

Jesse Norman

Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet

Both conservative and subversive, Burke’s beliefs have never been more relevant than in today’s ‘Big Society’, as MP Jesse Norman explains. Philosopher, statesman, and founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke is both the greatest and most under-rated political thinker of the past three-hundred years. Born in Ireland in 1729, and greatly affected by its bigotry and extremes, his career constituted a lifelong struggle against the abuse of power. Amid the 18th century’s golden generation that included his companions Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon, Burke’s controversial mixture of conservative and subversive theories made him first a marginal figure, and finally a revered theorist – a hero of the Romantics. He warned of the effects of British rule in Ireland, the loss of the American colonies, and most famously, he foresaw the disastrous consequences of revolution in France. This he predicted, would trigger extremism, terror and the atomisation of society – a profound analysis that continues to resonate today. In this biography Conservative MP Jesse Norman gives us Burke anew. Burke’s wisdom, Norman shows, applies well beyond the times of empire to the conventional democratic politics practised in Britain and America today. 4.1 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication May 2013
ISBN 978-0007489626
Publisher HarperPress
 

Both conservative and subversive, Burke’s beliefs have never been more relevant than in today’s ‘Big Society’, as MP Jesse Norman explains. Philosopher, statesman, and founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke is both the greatest and most under-rated political thinker of the past three-hundred years. Born in Ireland in 1729, and greatly affected by its bigotry and extremes, his career constituted a lifelong struggle against the abuse of power. Amid the 18th century’s golden generation that included his companions Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon, Burke’s controversial mixture of conservative and subversive theories made him first a marginal figure, and finally a revered theorist – a hero of the Romantics. He warned of the effects of British rule in Ireland, the loss of the American colonies, and most famously, he foresaw the disastrous consequences of revolution in France. This he predicted, would trigger extremism, terror and the atomisation of society – a profound analysis that continues to resonate today. In this biography Conservative MP Jesse Norman gives us Burke anew. Burke’s wisdom, Norman shows, applies well beyond the times of empire to the conventional democratic politics practised in Britain and America today.

Edmund Burke's prose is underrated | Jesse Norman | Daily Telegraph

Reviews

The Independent

Jon Cruddas

It is an immense critique of the present: a political contribution by Norman — refracted through Burke — driven by a deep sense of personal obligation. It is a patriotic tract and an act of great leadership. This is a very significant book.

17/05/2013

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The Daily Telegraph

Charles Moore

Norman himself is a practising, indeed a rising politician, and so he is clear-sighted about Burke’s practical failures. But he is also a subtle historian of ideas. He does an excellent job of extracting from his subject’s speeches and writings why, in his view, Burke is the first and most important conservative thinker.

05/05/2013

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The Sunday Times

David Goodhart

This is a good biography based on a false premise. That premise is that Edmund Burke, the great political thinker of the late 18th century, has been forgotten … Nevertheless it is true that many who drop [Burke's] phrases tend to know little of Burke’s wider achievements, and Tory MP Jesse Norman’s book admirably fills that gap. It is usefully divided into the life and the ideas, and concludes with a section on the meaning of Burke today and why he is regarded as the father of conservatism. Oddly, this last section is the least convincing and made me wonder why Burke is not claimed as much by the moderate left (especially of a Blue Labour kind). For there is nothing very conservative about his career, at least until his battle after 1789 with the radical thinker Thomas Paine over the French revolution.

19/05/2013

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The Observer

John Kampfner

This absorbing book gathers pace, and relevance, as it goes along — an important contribution to the annals of conservative thought. While the first half is a more conventional historical/chronological account, it is in the second section that the author breaks new ground, as he focuses on Burke's place as a thinker. Navigating through Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau and more, Norman is adept at locating his subject.

19/05/2013

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The Spectator

Douglas Murray

Norman is undoubtedly a fluent and deep thinker, but he takes a little time to find his style. There is an early lapse into a sub-Churchillian tone (‘It is not given to us to predict the course of our own existence on earth’). However, this settles down, and his account of Burke’s life and career is as good as any of equal length on the subject. The second section takes a stylistic leap into the register of the lecture hall (‘We shall see in the next chapter’, ‘To this we now turn’.) But this keeps the pace moving and makes for an interesting and enviably wide-ranging survey of what can be learned from Burke.

18/05/2013

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The New Statesman

John Gray

Intriguing and illuminating … Curiously, religion is almost absent from Norman’s account of Burke’s thinking ... Thatcher is not mentioned in Norman’s book, even though, more than any other 20th-century prime minister, she promoted the liberal individualist philosophy whose corrosive impact on society Burke presciently diagnosed.

16/05/2013

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The Literary Review

Kenneth Minogue

In short, Norman is better on Burke in his own time than on Burke as our contemporary ... The problem in advancing Burkean politics as a model for the present lies in having some sense of how the abstractions of the 18th century refer to the problems of today. There is one major difference between then and now that makes this almost impossible: Burke's milieu was essentially Christian and ours is not.

01/05/2013

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