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Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire

Un ouvrage (en anglais) qui éclaire les notions de révolution, de démocratie et d’empire, dans une perspective comparée France-Angleterre, à la fin du XVIIIe siècle.


Daniel I. O’Neill, Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire, Oakland (Ca), University of California Press, Berkeley Series in British Studies (n° 10), 2016, 251 p. ISBN : 978-05-202878-22. 30 €. Bibliographie, index nominal et thématique.


One of the basic reasons to ask where (and if so how) Burke’s writings and speeches on empire are theoretically consonant with his work on the French Revolution is that Burke himself was steadfast and passionate in claiming that he was an internally coherent and consistent thinker. In fact, charges that he was either completely self contradictory or deeply hypocritical (or both) were among those most fervently pressed by Burke’s contemporaneous critics subsequent to the publication of the Reflections on the Revolution in France. Wollstonecraft, Paine, Price and even members of his own Whig party excoriated Burke for his unwillingness to support the French Revolution when he had been so sympathetic to the American colonists before their own revolt, even acting at one point as London agent for the colony of New York. In addition, Burke ultimately paid a tremendous political price for his opposition to the French Revolution, because it precipitated a break with his closest political ally, Charles James Fox, and the rest of the “new Whig” faction that supported the Revolution, effectively sending Burke into political exile for the rest of his parliamentary career.
The obvious point is that Burke regarded intellectual consistency as a fundamental value worth paying the price of his own political career to defend, at length, in print. In 1791, in the immediate aftermath of charges of inconsistency regarding the Reflections, Burke wrote his famous Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (its subtitle is In Consequence of some Late Discussions in Parliament Relative to the Reflections on the French Revolution). In that pamphlet, Burke angrily declared that he could “justify to consistency everything he has said and done during the course of a political life just touching to its close”. Indeed, the pamphlet itself is Burke’s extended attempt to demonstrate that his views on the French Revolution were a piece with everything else he had said, written, or done throughout that career. Burke made this assertion after the majority of what he had to say about India, and even Ireland – not to mention America), had been set forth, and he continued to defend his consistency until his dying day.

Table des matières

Introduction. Edmund Burke’s Conservative Logic of Empire

1. Burke and Empire in Context

2. The New World

3. India

4. Ireland

Conclusion. Ornementalism, Orientalism and the Legacy of Burke’s Conservative logic of Empire


Works cited


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