Edmund Burke’s Onanistic Fantasy
In a previous posting I discussed Edmund Burke’s and various other’s views of the French Revolution. While examining Edmund Burke’s opinions I quoted from his A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, 1791. This document deserves further analysis so here I will give the entire document along with my comments.1
Now the chief value of this document is not what it tells us about the French Revolution or about the motivations of the French Revolutionaries; about those things it tells us little or nothing of value, given that Burke substitutes fantasy for analysis. Instead what this letter tells us is most revealing about Edmund Burke and his state of masturbatory hysteria.
In the following I will interpose Burke’s letter with my comments. Burke’s letter will be in italics my comments will be non-italic.
I had the honour to receive your letter of the 17th of November last; in which, with some exceptions, you are pleased to consider favourably the letter I have written on the affairs of France. I shall ever accept any mark of approbation attended with instruction with more pleasure than general and unqualified praises. The latter can serve only to flatter our vanity; the former, whilst it encourages us to proceed, may help to improve us in our progress.
Some of the errors you point out to me in my printed letter are really such. One only I find to be material. It is corrected in the edition which I take the liberty of sending to you. As to the cavils which may be made on some part of my remarks, with regard to the gradations in your new constitution, you observe justly that they do not affect the substance of my objections. Whether there be a round more or less in the ladder of representation, by which your workmen ascend from their parochial tyranny to their federal anarchy, when the whole scale is false, appears to me of little or no importance.
I published my thoughts on that constitution, that my countrymen might be enabled to estimate the wisdom of the plans which were held out to their imitation. I conceived that the true character of those plans would be best collected from the committee appointed to prepare them. I thought that the scheme of their building would be better comprehended in the design of the architects than in the execution of the masons. It was not worth my reader's while to occupy himself with the alterations by which bungling practice corrects absurd theory. Such an investigation would be endless: because every day's past experience of impracticability has driven, and every day's future experience will drive, those men to new devices as exceptionable as the old; and which are no otherwise worthy of observation than as they give a daily proof of the delusion of their promises, and the falsehood of their professions. Had I followed all these changes, my letter would have been only a gazette of their wanderings; a journal of their march from error to error, through a dry, dreary desert, unguided by the lights of heaven, or by the contrivance which wisdom has invented to supply their place.
The French Revolutionaries are deluded and their statements of their motives are lies and of course everything that they try to do is by definition false. Thus right away Burke sets forth his Manichean view of the Revolution.
I am unalterably persuaded that the attempt to oppress, degrade, impoverish, confiscate and extinguish the original gentlemen and landed property of a whole nation, cannot be justified under any form it may assume. I am satisfied beyond a doubt that the project of turning a great empire into a vestry, or into a collection of vestries, and of governing it in the spirit of a parochial administration, is senseless and absurd, in any mode, or with any qualifications. I can never be convinced that the scheme of placing the highest powers of the state in churchwardens and constables, and other such officers, guided by the prudence of litigious attorneys, and Jew brokers, and set in action by shameless women of the lowest condition, by keepers of hotels, taverns and brothels, by pert apprentices, by clerks, shop-boys, hair-dressers, fiddlers, and dancers on the stage, (who, in such a commonwealth as yours, will in future overbear, as already they have over-borne, the sober incapacity of dull, uninstructed men, of useful but laborious occupations,) can never be put into any shape, that must not be both disgraceful and destructive. The whole of this project, even if it were what it pretends to be, and was not, in reality, the dominion, through that disgraceful medium, of half a dozen, or perhaps fewer, intriguing politicians, in so mean, so low-minded, so stupid a contrivance, in point of wisdom as well as so perfectly detestable for its wickedness, that I must always consider the correctives, which might make it in any degree practicable, to be so many new objections to it.
Burke demonstrates his inveterate snobbery. Certain classes of people by virtue of their occupations are so contemptible that they have no business receiving respect much less any say in how they are governed. Burke doesn’t forget to add an anti-semetic comment about “Jew-brokers”. Further “Gentlemen” have the right to govern. Any effort to allow the inferior masses to have any say in government is a disaster and will result in nothing but evil. The success of “popular government in America and yes France in the 19th century to say nothing of other places will of course give the lie to Burke’s predictions. Burke’s further comment that this is nothing more than a conspiracy of a few politicians to rule is simply false and a species of agitation propaganda.
In that wretched state of things, some are afraid that the authors of your miseries may be led to precipitate their further designs, by the hints they may receive from the very arguments used to expose the absurdity of their system, to mark the incongruity of its parts, and its inconsistency with their own principles; and that your masters may be led to render their schemes more consistent, by rendering them more mischievous. Excuse the liberty which your indulgence authorizes me to take, when I observe to you, that such apprehensions as these would prevent all exertion of our faculties in this great cause of mankind.
A rash recourse to force is not to be justified in a state of real weakness. Such attempts bring on disgrace; and, in their failure, discountenance and discourage more rational endeavours. But reason is to be hazarded, though it may be perverted by craft and sophistry; for reason can suffer no loss nor shame, nor can it impede any useful plan of future policy. In the unavoidable uncertainty, as to the effect, which attends on every measure of human prudence, nothing seems a surer antidote to the poison of fraud than its detection. It is true the fraud may be swallowed after this discovery; and perhaps even swallowed the more greedily for being a detected fraud. Men sometimes make a point of honour not to be disabused; and they had rather fall into a hundred errors than confess one. But after all,—when neither our principles nor our dispositions nor, perhaps, our talents, enable us to encounter delusion with delusion, we must use our best reason to those that ought to be reasonable creatures, and to take our chance for the event. We cannot act on these anomalies in the minds of men. I do not conceive that the persons who have contrived these things can be made much the better or the worse for anything which can be said to them. They are reason proof. Here and there some men, who were at first carried away by wild, good intentions may be led, when their first fervours are abated, to join in a sober survey of the schemes into which they had been deluded. To those only (and I am sorry to say they are not likely to make a large description) we apply with any hope. I may speak it upon an assurance almost approaching to absolute knowledge that nothing has been done that has not been contrived from the beginning, even before the states had assembled. 'Nulla nova mihi res inopinave surgit'. They are the same men and the same designs that they were from the first, though varied in their appearance. It was the very same animal that at first crawled about in the shape of a caterpillar, that you now see rise into the air and expand his wings to the sun.
Burke assembles his conspiracy theory by alleging that evil men planned the whole conflagration of the Revolution right from even before the Estates General was assembled, nay elected. That the Revolution was the result of an evil conspiracy of evil men going back who knows how far. Thus does Burke’s manicheanistic vision take flight. Of course Burke is engaged here in wishful thinking, no such conspiracy existed and Burke is erecting a conspiracy that bears as much reality as the Elders of Zion.
Proceeding therefore, as we are obliged to proceed, that is upon an hypothesis that we address rational men, can false political principles be more effectually exposed, than by demonstrating that they lead to consequences directly inconsistent with, and subversive of, the arrangements grounded upon them? If this kind of demonstration is not permitted, the process of reasoning called 'deductio ad absurdum', which even the severity of geometry does not reject, could not be employed at all in legislative discussions. One of our strongest weapons against folly acting with authority would be lost.
You know, sir, that even the virtuous efforts of your patriots to prevent the ruin of your country have had this very turn given to them. It has been said here, and in France too, that the reigning usurpers would not have carried their tyranny to such destructive lengths, if they had not been stimulated and provoked to it by the acrimony of your opposition. There is a dilemma to which every opposition to successful iniquity must, in the nature of things, be liable. If you lie still, you are considered as an accomplice in the measures in which you silently acquiesce. If you resist, you are accused of provoking irritable power to new excesses. The conduct of a losing party never appears right: at least it never can possess the only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar judgments - success.
The indulgence of a sort of undefined hope, an obscure confidence, that some lurking remains of virtue, some degree of shame, might exist in the breasts of the oppressors of France, has been among the causes which have helped to bring on the common ruin of king and people. There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men, and by acting with promptitude, decision, and steadiness on that belief. I well remember, at every epocha of this wonderful history, in every scene of this tragic business, that when your sophistic usurpers were laying down mischievous principles, and even applying them in direct resolutions, it was the fashion to say that they never intended to execute those declarations in their rigour. This made men careless in their opposition, and remiss in early precaution. By holding out this fallacious hope, the impostors deluded sometimes one description of men, and sometimes another, so that no means of resistance were provided against them, when they came to execute in cruelty what they had planned in fraud.
Burke’s conspiracy goes a little nuts. The Revolutionaries are so devious that they told the opposition that their principles would not be carried out rigorously so has to make them let down their guard. Of course this assumes a vast conspiracy and the delusional notion that the Revolutionaries were united. Burke would feel at home with the conspiracy nuts of today.
There are cases in which a man would be ashamed not to have been imposed on. There is a confidence necessary to human intercourse, and without which men are often more injured by their own suspicions than they would be by the perfidy of others. But when men whom we know to be wicked impose upon us, we are something worse than dupes. When we know them, their fair pretences become new motives for distrust. There is one case indeed, in which it would be madness not to give the fullest credit to the most deceitful of men, that is, when they make declarations of hostility against us.
I find that some persons entertain other hopes, which I confess appear more specious than those by which at first so many were deluded and disarmed. They flatter themselves that the extreme misery brought upon the people by their folly will at last open the eyes of the multitude, if not of their leaders. Much the contrary, I fear. As to the leaders in this system of imposture,- you know that cheats and deceivers never can repent. The fraudulent have no resource but in fraud. They have no other goods in their magazine. They have no virtue or wisdom in their minds, to which, in a disappointment concerning the profitable effects of fraud and cunning, they can retreat. The wearing out of an old serves only to put them upon the invention of a new delusion. Unluckily too, the credulity of dupes is as inexhaustible as the invention of knaves. They never give people possession; but they always keep them in hope. Your state doctors do not so much as pretend that any good whatsoever has hitherto been derived from their operations, or that the public has prospered in any one instance, under their management. The nation is sick, very sick, by their medicines. But the charlatan tells them that what is passed cannot be helped; — they have taken the draught, and they must wait its operation with patience; — that the first effects indeed are unpleasant, but that the very sickness is a proof that the dose is of no sluggish operation;—that sickness is inevitable in all constitutional revolutions; - that the body must pass through pain to ease;—that the prescriber is not an empiric who proceeds by vulgar experience, but one who grounds his practice on the sure rules of art, which cannot possibly fail. You have read, sir, the last manifesto, or mountebank's bill, of the National Assembly. You see their presumption in their promises is not lessened by all their failures in the performance. Compare this last address of the assembly and the present state of your affairs with the early engagements of that body; engagements which, not content with declaring, they solemnly deposed upon oath; swearing lustily, that if they were supported they would make their country glorious and happy; and then judge whether those who can write such things, or those who can bear to read them, are of themselves to be brought to any reasonable course of thought or action.
The wickedness of the Revolutionaries knows no bounds, they are fraudulent and the miseries they have brought to France massive and of course the reforms are almost total failures. Of course it is correct that France in 1791 was experiencing severe problems but the Revolution was not a total failure, and in many respects it was / is a success. Burke of course ignores that much of the Revolutionary measures, for example the abolition of the remnants of Feudalism had overwhelming popular support.
As to the people at large, when once these miserable sheep have broken the fold, and have got themselves loose, not from the restraint, but from the protection of all the principles of natural authority and legitimate subordination, they become the natural prey of impostors. When they have once tasted of the flattery of knaves, they can no longer endure reason, which appears to them only in the form of censure and reproach. Great distress has never hitherto taught, and whilst the world lasts it never will teach, wise lessons to any part of mankind. Men are as much blinded by the extremes of misery as by the extremes of prosperity. Desperate situations produce desperate councils and desperate measures. The people of France, almost generally, have been taught to look for other resources than those which can be derived from order, frugality, and industry. They are generally armed; and they are made to expect much from the use of arms. 'Nihil non arrogant armis'. Besides this, the retrograde order of society has something flattering to the dispositions of mankind. The life of adventurers, gamesters, gipsies, beggars, and robbers is not unpleasant. It requires restraint to keep men from falling into that habit. The shifting tides of fear and hope, the flight and the pursuit, the peril and escape, the alternate famine and feasts of the savage and the thief, after a time, render all course of slow, steady, progressive, unvaried occupation, and the prospect only of a limited mediocrity at the end of long labour, to the last degree tame, languid, and insipid. Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief. When did distress ever oblige a prince to abdicate his authority? And what effect will it have upon those who are made to believe themselves a people of princes?
Burke lets the cat out of the bag “legitimate subordination” is required for the lower orders otherwise disorder and chaos spills out and overwhelms society. Order can only be maintained by proper subordination of the masses and subordination must be learned and a life free from it is the life of a robber. To Burke order is required and that can only exist when the lower orders are properly subordinate. Since a life free from subordination is “not unpleasant”, they, the lower orders, must be taught subordination and make it a habit. Once the masses enjoy power they will not willingly give it up and revert to lives, “tame and languid and insipid”, which is their proper life.
Of course the Revolutionaries are knaves who have told the masses the lie that they deserve a share of power and that subordination need not be their lot. Burke once again shows his Manichean hysteria.
The more active and stirring part of the lower orders having got government and the distribution of plunder into their hands, they will use its resources in each municipality to form a body of adherents. These rulers and their adherents will be strong enough to overpower the discontents of those who have not been able to assert their share of the spoil. The unfortunate adventurers in the cheating lottery of plunder will probably be the least sagacious, or the most inactive and irresolute of the gang. If, on disappointment, they should dare to stir, they will soon be suppressed as rebels and mutineers by their brother rebels. Scantily fed for a while with the offal of plunder, they will drop off by degrees; they will be driven out of sight and out of thought: and they will be left to perish obscurely, like rats, in holes and corners.
The “lottery of plunder” that Burke refers to is Church Land, various lands in the hands of the government and land confiscated from exiles and others considered to be traitors. Of course Burke does not for a moment consider that any of this might be even remotely excusable or try to explain it it at all. Instead Burke’s Manichaeism come to the fore. As per usual the people and revolutionaries are motivated by the desire for plunder and material gain not from anything positive.
From the forced repentance of invalid mutineers and disbanded thieves, you can hope for no resource. Government itself, which ought to constrain the more bold and dexterous of these robbers, is their accomplice. Its arms, its treasures, its all are in their hands. Judicature, which above all things should awe them, is their creature and their instrument. Nothing seems to me to render your internal situation more desperate than this one circumstance of the state of your judicature. Many days are not passed since we have seen a set of men brought forth by your rulers for a most critical function. Your rulers brought forth a set of men, steaming from the sweat and drudgery, and all black with the smoke and soot of the forge of confiscation and robbery- 'ardentis massae fuligine lippos', a set of men brought forth from the trade of hammering arms of proof, offensive and defensive, in aid of the enterprises, and for the subsequent protection of housebreakers, murderers, traitors, and malefactors; men, who had their minds seasoned with theories perfectly conformable to their practice, and who had always laughed at possession and prescription, and defied all the fundamental maxims of jurisprudence. To the horror and stupefaction of all the honest part of this nation, and indeed of all nations who are spectators, we have seen, on the credit of those very practices and principles, and to carry them further into effect, these very men placed on the sacred seat of justice in the capital city of your late kingdom. We see that in future you are to be destroyed with more form and regularity. This is not peace; it is only the introduction of a sort of discipline in their hostility. Their tyranny is complete in their justice; and their lanterne is not half so dreadful as their court.
Burke screams his hysteria while writhing on the floor while froth and spittle pour out of his mouth. Yep the revolutionaries are all “mutineers” ‘disbanded thieves” “robbers” “traitors” etc., etc. The froth and spittle pour out of Edmund Burke like the gyrations of a maddened dog. Given the time this letter was written I suspect what Burke is referring to is in fact the abolition of Feudal rights. The land confiscations and sales are a few years away. Yep the rights of Burke’s “Gentlemen” to have property rights in other human beings is of course sacred.
One would think that out of common decency they would have given you men who had not been in the habit of trampling upon law and justice in the assembly, neutral men, or men apparently neutral, for judges who are to dispose of your lives and fortunes.
I suppose the French Revolutionaries were trampling justice when they proclaimed and legally enacted equality before the law and ended the legal privileges of the nobility.
Cromwell, when he attempted to legalize his power, and to settle his conquered country in a state of order, did not look for dispensers of justice in the instruments of his usurpation. Quite the contrary. He sought out, with great solicitude and selection, and even from the party most opposite to his designs, men of weight and decorum of character; men unstained with the violence of the times, and with hands not fouled with confiscation and sacrilege: for he chose an Hale for his chief justice though he absolutely refused to take his civic oaths, or to make any acknowledgment whatsoever of the legality of his government. Cromwell told this great lawyer that since he did not approve his title, all he required of him was to administer, in a manner agreeable to his pure sentiments and unspotted character, that justice without which human society cannot subsist: that it was not his particular government, but civil order itself, which, as a judge, he wished him to support. Cromwell knew how to separate the institutions expedient to his usurpation from the administration of the public justice of his country. For Cromwell was a man in whom ambition had not wholly suppressed, but only suspended the sentiments of religion, and the love (as far as it could consist with his designs) of fair and honourable reputation. Accordingly, we are indebted to this act of his for the preservation of our laws, which some senseless assertors of the rights of men were then on the point of entirely erasing, as relics of feudality and barbarism. Besides, he gave in the appointment of that man, to that age and to all posterity the most brilliant example of sincere and fervent piety exact justice, and profound jurisprudence. But these are not the things in which your philosophic usurpers choose to follow Cromwell.
Faced with the fact that England had its own violent revolution, complete with mass confiscations, killings, terror, especially in Ireland, that served to create the system which Burke now defends in England, Burke must equivocate and suppress by omission and commission what actually happened. His fantasy about Cromwell serves as a excellent example.
One would think that after an honest and necessary revolution (if they had a mind that theirs should pass for such) your masters would have imitated the virtuous policy of those who have been at the head of revolutions of that glorious character. Burnet tells us, that nothing ended to reconcile the English nation to the government of King William so much as the care he took to fill the vacant bishoprics with men who had attracted the public esteem by their learning, eloquence, and piety, and, above all, by their known moderation in the state. With you, in your purifying revolution, whom have you chosen to regulate the church? Mr. Mirabeau is a fine speaker—and a fine writer, and a fine — a very fine man; but really nothing gave more surprise to everybody here, than to find him the supreme head of your ecclesiastical affairs. The rest is of course. Your assembly addresses a manifesto to France, in which they tell the people, with an insulting irony, that they have brought the church to its primitive condition. In one respect their declaration is undoubtedly true; for they have brought it to a state of poverty and persecution. What can be hoped for after this? Have not men, (if they deserve the name,) under this new hope and head of the church, been made bishops for no other merit than having acted as instruments of atheists; for no other merit than having thrown the children's bread to dogs; and, in order to gorge the whole gang of usurers, pedlers, and itinerant Jew-discounters at the corners of streets, starved the poor of their Christian flocks, and their own brother pastors? Have not such men been made bishops to administer in temples, in which (if the patriotic donations have not already stripped them of their vessels) the churchwardens ought to take security for the altar plate, and not so much as to trust the chalice in their sacrilegious hands, so long as Jews have assignats on ecclesiastical plunder, to exchange for the silver stolen from churches?
Once again Burke makes a gratuitous anti-semitic statement. He further whines about the confiscation of Church property, ignoring that the French Church was in many respects part of the government. His statement concerning King William III and his appointment of Bishops ignores that William III overthrew the legitimate sovereign in a foreign invasion and that he in fact purged the church of those who opposed it. The periodic mass confiscations of Church property in England, under Henry VIII, the English Revolution and the Glorious revolution are suppressed from Burke’s knowledge. Such is the revisionist rewriting of history.
I am told, that the very sons of such Jew-jobbers have been made bishops; persons not to be suspected of any sort of Christian superstition, fit colleagues to the holy prelate of Autun, and bred at the feet of that Gamaliel. We know who it was that drove the money-changers out of the temple. We see, too, who it is that brings them in again. We have in London very respectable persons of the Jewish nation, whom we will keep; but we have of the same tribe others of a very different description, house-breakers, and receivers of stolen goods, and forgers of paper currency, more than we can conveniently hang. These we can spare to France, to fill the new episcopal thrones: men well versed in swearing; and who will scruple no oath which the fertile genius of any of your reformers can devise.
Burke’s revolting anti-Semitic fantasizing bursts forth full in the light of day like a tumor.
In matters so ridiculous, it is hard to be grave. On a view of their consequences, it is almost inhuman to treat them lightly. To what a state of savage, stupid, servile insensibility must your people be reduced, who can endure such proceedings in their church, their state, and their judicature, even for a moment! But the deluded people of France are like other madmen, who, to a miracle, bear hunger, and thirst, and cold, and confinement, and the chains and lash of their keeper, whilst all the while they support themselves by the imagination that they are generals of armies, prophets, kings, and emperors. As to a change of mind in these men, who consider infamy as honour, degradation as preferment, bondage to low tyrants as liberty, and the practical scorn and contumely of their upstart masters as marks of respect and homage, I look upon it as absolutely impracticable. These madmen, to be cured, must first, like other madmen, be subdued. The sound part of the community, which I believe to be large, but by no means the largest part, has been taken by surprise, and is disjointed, terrified, and disarmed. That sound part of the community must first be put into a better condition, before it can do anything in the way of deliberation or persuasion. This must be an act of power, as well as of wisdom of power, in the hands of firm, determined patriots, who can distinguish the misled from traitors, who will regulate the state (if such should be their fortune) with a discriminating, manly, and provident mercy; men who are purged of the surfeit and indigestion of systems, if ever they have been admitted into the habit of their minds—men who will lay the foundation of a real reform, in effacing every vestige of that philosophy which pretends to have made discoveries in the 'terra australis' of morality—men who will fix the state upon these bases of morals and politics, which are our old and immemorial and, I hope, will be our eternal possession.
More manichaeism from Burke. The agitation propaganda is in full flower. Burke sputters “these men, who consider infamy as honour, degradation as preferment, bondage to low tyrants as liberty”. This is pure propaganda and of course can be best described as hysteria and lies. Burke doesn’t hesitate to say that these “traitors” must be violently suppressed and that every aspect of the philosophy of the revolutionaries must be effaced and suppressed by violence if necessary. Just like Burke’s friends and those sympathetic to his point of view secured the suppression in England of Thomas Paine’s defence of the Revolution, The Rights of Man. But then in this manichean struggle against the forces of darkness any and all means must be used.
This power, to such men, must come from without. It may be given to you in pity; for surely no nation ever called so pathetically on the compassion of all its neighbours. It may be given by those neighbours on motives of safety to themselves. Never shall I think any country in Europe to be secure, whilst there is established, in the very centre of it, a state (if so it may be called) founded on principles of anarchy, and which is, in reality, a college of armed fanatics, for the propagation of the principles of assassination, robbery, rebellion, fraud, faction, oppression, and impiety. Mahomet, hid, as for a time he was, in the bottom of the sands of Arabia, had his spirit and character been discovered, would have been an object of precaution to provident minds. What if he had erected his fanatic standard for the destruction of the Christian religion in 'luce Asiæ', in the midst of the then noon-day splendour of the then civilized world? The princes of Europe, in the beginning of this century, did well not to suffer the monarchy of France to swallow up the others. They ought not now, in my opinion, to suffer all the monarchies and commonwealths to be swallowed up in the gulf of this polluted anarchy. They may be tolerably safe at present, because the comparative power of France for the present is little. But times and occasions make dangers. Intestine troubles may rise in other countries. There is a power always on the watch, qualified and disposed to profit of every conjuncture, to establish its own principles and modes of mischief, wherever it can hope for success. What mercy would these usurpers have on other sovereigns, and on other nations, when they treat their own king with such unparalleled indignities, and so cruelly oppress their own countrymen?
The suppression of the Revolution is required to save Europe. More hysteria from Burke. All the nations of Europe must join together to suppress the revolution and crush it. The revolution is a mortal threat to the “gentlemen” of other countries and their right to rule the stupid masses. The victory of the revolution will mean the annihilation of civilization.
The King of Prussia, in concurrence with us, nobly interfered to save Holland from confusion. The same power, joined with the rescued Holland and with Great Britain, has put the emperor in the possession of the Netherlands; and secured, under that prince, from all arbitrary innovation, the ancient, hereditary constitution of those provinces. The chamber of Wetzlar has restored the Bishop of Liege, unjustly dispossessed by the rebellion of his subjects. The King of Prussia was bound by no treaty, nor alliance of blood, nor had any particular reason for thinking the emperor's government would be more mischievous or more oppressive to human nature than that of the Turk; yet on mere motives of policy that prince has interposed with the threat of all his force, to snatch even the Turk from the pounces of the imperial eagle. If this is done in favour of a barbarous nation, with a barbarous neglect of police, fatal to the human race, in favour of a nation, by principle in eternal enmity with the Christian name; a nation which will not so much as give the salutation of peace (Salam) to any of us; nor make any pact with any Christian nation beyond a truce; — if this be done in favour of the Turk, shall it be thought either impolitic, or unjust, or uncharitable, to employ the same power to rescue from captivity a virtuous monarch (by the courtesy of Europe considered as Most Christian), who, after an intermission of one hundred and seventy-five years, had called together the states of his kingdom to reform abuses, to establish a free government, and to strengthen his throne; a monarch, who, at the very outset, without force, even without solicitation, had given to his people such a Magna Charta of privileges as never was given by any king to any subjects?—Is it to be tamely borne by kings who love their subjects, or by subjects who love their kings, that this monarch, in the midst of these gracious acts, was insolently and cruelly torn from his palace, by a gang of traitors and assassins, and kept in close prison to this very hour, whilst his royal name and sacred character were used for the total ruin of those whom the laws had appointed him to protect?
Burke is referring here to the attempted “Revolution” in the Netherlands. Burke’s description of what happened is self serving. The Stadtholder was forced to grant this “Magna-Charta”, a fact Burke ignores. Burke further neglects to tell us that the Netherlandic regime was corrupt, incompetent and ossified, also that the re-imposition of “order” was accompanied by considerable repression and violence. Burke then neglects to inform his readers that the Revolutionaries, calling themselves Patriots, had majority popular support. In 1795 when the French overran the Netherlands and overthrew the old regime in the Netherlands they were greeted as liberators by most of the population. Burke is obviously desiring that the French Revolutionaries be similarly be dealt with and the old regime imposed by force if necessary. What the people want is of course irrelevant because only “gentlemen” count.
The only offence of this unhappy monarch towards his people was his attempt, under a monarchy, to give them a free constitution. For this, by an example hitherto unheard-of in the world, he has been deposed. It might well disgrace sovereigns to take part with a deposed tyrant. It would suppose in them a vicious sympathy. But not to make a common cause with a just prince, dethroned by traitors and rebels, who proscribe, plunder, confiscate, and in every way cruelly oppress their fellow-citizens, in my opinion is to forget what is due to the honour and to the rights of all virtuous and legal government.
Burke is again engaging in agitation propaganda. At this time Louis XVI had not been overthrown he was still king and his powers were still real. Of course at this time he was working against the revolution and thus undermining those revolutionaries who wanted the constitutional monarchy to work. In a short time Louis would be engaging in out right treason, by actively aiding Frances enemies in invading it.
I think the King of France to be as much an object both of policy and compassion as the Grand Seignior or his states. I do not conceive that the total annihilation of France (if that could be effected) is a desirable thing to Europe; or even to this its rival nation. Provident patriots did not think it good for Rome that even Carthage should be quite destroyed; and he was a wise Greek, wise for the general Grecian interests, as well as a brave Lacedemonian enemy and generous conqueror, who did not wish, by the destruction of Athens, to pluck out the other eye of Greece.
However, sir, what I have here said of the interference of foreign princes is only the opinion of a private individual; who is neither the representative of any state, nor the organ of any party; but who thinks himself bound to express his own sentiments with freedom and energy in a crisis of such importance to the whole human race.
How nice Burke doesn’t think that France should be wholly destroyed. How nice!? Isn’t it also nice to know that Burke’s opinion, or more acturately insinuation, that France should be invaded by foreign princes is a mere private opinion of a very important and powerful figure in the British political establishment?!
I am not apprehensive that in speaking freely on the subject of the King and Queen of France, I shall accelerate (as you fear) the execution of traitorous designs against them. You are of opinion, sir, that the usurpers may, and that they will, gladly lay hold of any pretext to throw off the very name of a king: assuredly I do not wish ill to your king; but better for him not to live (he does not reign) than to live the passive instrument of tyranny and usurpation.
It is always easy to tell other people that their lives are not worth living. Burke speak for yourself! Of course Burke lumps again all revolutionaries together. Burke forgets, or should I say deliberately ignores for his propaganda purposes, that many if not most of the revolutionaries at this time (1791) wanted a constitutional monarchy similar to England's!
I certainly mean to show, to the best of my power, that the existence of such an executive officer, in such a system of republic as theirs, is absurd in the highest degree. But in demonstrating this— to them, at least, I can have made no discovery. They only held out the royal name to catch those Frenchmen to whom the name of king is still venerable. They calculate the duration of that sentiment; and when they find it nearly expiring, they will not trouble themselves with excuses for extinguishing the name, as they have the thing. They used it as a sort of navel-string to nourish their unnatural offspring from the bowels of royalty itself. Now that the monster can purvey for its own subsistence, it will only carry the mark about it, as a token of its having torn the womb it came from. Tyrants seldom want pretexts. Fraud is the ready minister of injustice; and whilst the currency of false pretence and sophistic reasoning was expedient to their designs, they were under no necessity of drawing upon me to furnish them with that coin. But pretexts and sophisms have had their day, and have done their work. The usurpation no longer seeks plausibility. It trusts to power.
Ah the evil Revolutionaries are merely using the monarch temporarily before getting rid of him and they are tyrants. Calling the French Revolutionaries at this time “Tyrants” is simply absurd and agitation propaganda.
Nothing that I can say, or that you can say, will hasten them, by a single hour, in the execution of a design which they have long since entertained. In spite of their solemn declarations, their soothing addresses, and the multiplied oaths which they have taken and forced others to take, they will assassinate the king when his name will no longer be necessary to their designs; but not a moment sooner. They will probably first assassinate the queen, whenever the renewed menace of such an assassination loses its effect upon the anxious mind of an affectionate husband. At present, the advantage which they derive from the daily threats against her life is her only security for preserving it. They keep their sovereign alive for the purpose of exhibiting him, like some wild beast at a fair—as if they had a Bajazet in a cage. They choose to make monarchy contemptible by exposing it to derision in the person of the most benevolent of their kings.
No doubt Burke here is conscious of his lying. At the time (1791) very few Frenchmen including revolutionaries were contemplating getting rid of the monarchy much less killing the King and Queen. Of course Burke enthusiasts will contemplate how accurate Burke’s prediction was. Of Course one must take into account how both the King and Queen not only tried to subvert the revolution but were involved in what can only be described as treason. Of course Burke neglects to refer to the execution of Charles I in England.
In my opinion their insolence appears more odious even than their crimes. The horrors of the 5th and 6th of October were less detestable than the festival of the 14th of July. There are situations (God forbid I should think that of the 5th and 6th of October one of them) in which the best men may be confounded with the worst, and in the darkness and confusion, in the press and medley of such extremities, it may not be so easy to discriminate the one from the other. The necessities created, even by ill designs, have their excuse. They may be forgotten by others, when the guilty themselves do not choose to cherish their recollection, and by ruminating their offences, nourish themselves through the example of their past, to the perpetration of future crimes. It is in the relaxation of security, it is in the expansion of prosperity, it is in the hour of dilatation of the heart, and of its softening into festivity and pleasure, that the real character of men is discerned. If there is any good in them, it appears then or never. Even wolves and tigers, when gorged with their prey, are safe and gentle. It is at such times that noble minds give all the reins to their good nature. They indulge their genius even to intemperance, in kindness to the afflicted, in generosity to the conquered; forbearing insults, forgiving injuries, overpaying benefits. Full of dignity themselves, they respect dignity in all, but they feel it sacred in the unhappy. But it is then, and basking in the sunshine of unmerited fortune, that low, sordid, ungenerous, and reptile souls swell with their hoarded poisons; it is then that they display their odious splendour, and shine out in full lustre of their native villainy and baseness. It is in that season that no man of sense or honour can be mistaken for one of them. It was in such a season, for them of political ease and security, though their people were but just emerged from actual famine, and were ready to be plunged into the gulf of penury and beggary, that your philosophic lords chose, with an ostentatious pomp and luxury, to feast an incredible number of idle and thoughtless people, collected, with art and pains, from all quarters of the world. They constructed a vast amphitheatre in which they raised a species of pillory. On this pillory they set their lawful king and queen, with an insulting figure over their heads. There they exposed these objects of pity and respect to all good minds to the derision of an unthinking and unprincipled multitude, degenerated even from the versatile tenderness which marks the irregular and capricious feelings of the populace. That their cruel insult might have nothing wanting to complete it, they chose the anniversary of that day in which they exposed the life of their prince to the most imminent dangers, and the vilest indignities, just following the instant when the assassins, whom they had hired without owning, first openly took up arms against their king, corrupted his guards, surprised his castle, butchered some of the poor invalids of his garrison, murdered his governor, and, like wild beasts, tore to pieces the chief magistrate of his capital city, on account of his fidelity to his service.
The agitation propaganda continues. That Burke so characterizes the events of July 14, 1790, which was probably the moment when the revolution could have been stabilized early in such a way says more about his hysteria than anything else. Read any description by a participant of this event and fail to be moved by the hope and amity that characterized it requires considerable effort. Burke also ignores that the event clearly shows that the revolution up to that point had overwhelming support in France.
Till the justice of the world is awakened, such as these will go on, without admonition, and without provocation, to every extremity. Those who have made the exhibition of the 14th of July are capable of every evil. They do not commit crimes for their designs; but they form designs that they may commit crimes. It is not their necessity, but their nature, which impels them. They are modern philosophers; which when you say of them you express everything that is ignoble, savage, and hard-hearted.
Burke’s simple minded manichaeism continues. His characterization of the events of July 14, 1790 is perverse.
Besides the sure tokens which are given by the spirit of their particular arrangements, there are some characteristic lineaments in the general policy of your tumultuous despotism, which, in my opinion, indicate, beyond a doubt, that no revolution whatsoever in their disposition is to be expected. I mean their scheme of educating the rising generation, the principles which they intend to instil, and the sympathies which they wish to form in the mind at the season in which it is the most susceptible. Instead of forming their young minds to that docility, to that modesty, which are the grace and charm of youth, to an admiration of famous examples, and to an averseness to anything which approaches to pride, petulance, and self-conceit, (distempers to which that time of life is of itself sufficiently liable,) they artificially foment these evil dispositions, and even form them into springs of action. Nothing ought to be more weighed than the nature of books recommended by public authority. So recommended, they soon form the character of the age. Uncertain indeed is the efficacy, limited indeed is the extent of a virtuous institution. But if education takes in vice as any part of its system, there is no doubt but that it will operate with abundant energy, and to an extent indefinite. The magistrate, who in favour of freedom thinks himself obliged to suffer all sorts of publications, is under a stricter duty than any other well to consider what sort of writers he shall authorize, and shall recommend by the strongest of all sanctions, that is, by public honours and rewards. He ought to be cautioned how he recommends authors of mixed or ambiguous morality. He ought to be fearful of putting into the hands of youth writers indulgent to the peculiarities of their own complexion, lest they should teach the humours of the professor, rather than the principles of the science. He ought, above all, to be cautious in recommending any writer who has carried marks of a deranged understanding; for where there is no sound reason there can be no real virtue; and madness is ever vicious and malignant.
Burke once again shows his true colours. So youth must be docile and modest and thus obedient to “Gentlemen”. The young generation must be educated to subordination and hierarchy, like the masses. And of course Burke shows his true attitude towards freedom of speech. The Magistrate must shield youth and the public from bad views, thoughts and opinions and education must be indoctrination in “virtue”. That is subordination to the “natural” rule of “Gentlemen”.
The assembly proceeds on maxims the very reverse of these. The assembly recommends to its youth a study of the bold experimenters in morality. Everybody knows that there is a great dispute amongst their leaders, which of them is the best resemblance of Rousseau. In truth, they all resemble him. His blood they transfuse into their minds and into their manners. Him they study; him they meditate; him they turn over in all the time they can spare from the laborious mischief of the day, or the debauches of the night. Rousseau is their canon of holy writ; in his life he is their canon of Polycletus; he is their standard figure of perfection. To this man and this writer, as a pattern to authors and to Frenchmen, the foundries of Paris are now running for statues, with the kettles of their poor and the bells of their churches. If an author had written like a great genius on geometry, though his practical and speculative morals were vicious in the extreme, it might appear, that in voting the statue, they honoured only the geometrician. But Rousseau is a moralist, or he is nothing. It is impossible, therefore, putting the circumstances together, to mistake their design in choosing the author with whom they have begun to recommend a course of studies.
It is so dreadful that youth and of course the stupid masses be allowed to think for themselves and read authors that we "Gentlemen" think of are depraved and wicked. Rousseau is of course wicked and evil and impressionable youth and the masses must not be exposed to him.
Their great problem is to find a substitute for all the principles which hitherto have been employed to regulate the human will and action. They find dispositions in the mind of such force and quality as may fit men, far better than the old morality, for the purposes of such a state as theirs, and may go much further in supporting their power, and destroying their enemies. They have therefore chosen a selfish, flattering, seductive, ostentatious vice, in the place of plain duty. True the basis of the Christian system, humility, is the low, but deep and firm foundation of all real virtue. But this, as very painful in the practice, and little imposing in the appearance, they have totally discarded. Their object is to merge all natural and all social sentiment in inordinate vanity. In a small degree, and conversant in little things, vanity is of little moment. When full grown, it is the worst of vices, and the occasional mimic of them all. It makes the whole man false. It leaves nothing sincere or trustworthy about him. His best qualities are poisoned and perverted by it, and operate exactly as the worst. When your lords had many writers as immoral as the object of their statue (such as Voltaire and others) they chose Rousseau; because in him that peculiar vice, which they wished to erect into ruling virtue, was by far the most conspicuous.
Burke shrieking about the wickedness of a lack of humility is ironic, given Burke’s stunning arrogance and conceit. Of course it is ironic that Burke calls Voltaire immoral given the causes that Voltaire supported. I guess Voltaire didn’t suck up enough to established authority. Burke is apparently trashing the entire Enlightenment.
We have had the great professor and founder of the philosophy of vanity in England. As I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost from day to day, he left no doubt on my mind that he entertained no principle either to influence his heart, or to guide his understanding but vanity. With this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of madness. It is from the same deranged, eccentric vanity, that this, the insane Socrates of the National Assembly, was impelled to publish a mad confession of his mad faults, and to attempt a new sort of glory from bringing hardily to light the obscure and vulgar vices, which we know may sometimes be blended with eminent talents. He has not observed on the nature of vanity who does not know that it is omnivorous; that it has no choice in its food; that it is fond to talk even of its own faults and vices, as what will excite surprise and draw attention, and what will pass at worst for openness and candour.
Burke now foams at the mouth about Rousseau. His attack on Rousseau being motivated by vanity is mere petty ridiculous character assassination and a contemptible ad-hominum. Given what Burke will state later in this letter of a sexual nature, it is risible that Burke condemns Rousseau for his revelations of his faults and vices. Of course it can be easily argued that Rousseau’s public revelations of his vices indicates a degree of humility that Burke is quite incapable of understanding in the slightest.
It was this abuse and perversion, which vanity makes even of hypocrisy, that has driven Rousseau to record a life not so much as chequered, or spotted here and there, with virtues, or even distinguished by a single good action. It is such a life he chooses to offer to the attention of mankind. It is such a life that, with a wild defiance, he flings in the face of his Creator, whom he acknowledges only to brave. Your assembly, knowing how much more powerful example is found than precept, has chosen this man (by his own account without a single virtue) for a model. To him they erect their first statue. From him they commence their series of honours and distinctions.
Burke can’t let go of the ad-hominum. Burke forgets that Rousseau’s personal faults are of no relevance in terms of discussing Rousseau’s political philosophy, etc. By resorting to this sort of argument Burke is simply making himself contemptible.
It is that new invented virtue, which your masters canonize, that led their moral hero constantly to exhaust the stores of his powerful rhetoric in the expression of universal benevolence; whilst his heart was incapable of harbouring one spark of common parental affection. Benevolence to the whole species, and want of feeling for every individual with whom the professors come in contact, form the character of the new philosophy. Setting up for an unsocial independence, this their hero of vanity refuses the just price of common labour, as well as the tribute which opulence owes to genius, and which, when paid, honours the giver and the receiver; and then he pleads his beggary as an excuse for his crimes. He melts with tenderness for those only who touch him by the remotest relation, and then, without one natural pang, casts away, as a sort of offal and excrement, the spawn of his disgustful amours, and sends his children to the hospital of foundlings. The bear loves, licks, and forms her young; but bears are not philosophers. Vanity, however, finds its account in reversing the train of our natural feelings. Thousands admire the sentimental writer; the affectionate father is hardly known in his parish.
No need to take Rousseau’s philosophy seriously or analyze it in its own terms. Just bring up the irrelevant “facts” about what a not nice human being Rousseau was. Of course Burke’s picture of Rousseau is one sided, but that suits the agitation propaganda purposes of Burke.
Under this philosophic instructor in the ethics of vanity, they have attempted in France a regeneration of the moral constitution of man. Statesmen, like your present rulers, exist by everything which is spurious, fictitious, and false; by everything which takes the man from his house, and sets him on a stage — which makes him up an artificial creature, with painted, theatric sentiments, fit to be seen by the glare of candlelight, and formed to be contemplated at a due distance. Vanity is too apt to prevail in all of us, and in all countries. To the improvement of Frenchmen it seems not absolutely necessary that it should be taught upon system. But it is plain that the present rebellion was its legitimate offspring, and it is piously fed by that rebellion with a daily dole.
Vanity serves as a catch phrase for Burke. It is rather fitting given how given to intellectual vanity Burkes was. The agitation propaganda rhetoric is also clear here.
If the system of instruction recommended by the assembly be false and theatric, it is because their system of government is of the same character. To that, and to that alone, it is strictly conformable. To understand either, we must connect the morals with the politics of the legislators. Your practical philosophers, systematic in everything, have wisely begun at the source. As the relation between parents and children is the first amongst the elements of vulgar, natural morality; they erect statues to a wild, ferocious, low-minded, hard-hearted father, of fine general feelings: a lover of his kind, but a hater of his kindred. Your masters reject the duties of his vulgar relation, as contrary to liberty; as not founded in the social compact; and not binding according to the rights of men; because the relation is not, of course, the result of free election; never so on the side of the children, not always on the part of the parents.
Thus begins another of Burke’s eye rolling exercise in hysteria. The revolutionaries, beginning with Rousseau, are attacking the family. Since Burke so many “conservative” hysterics have attacked people / movements for subverting the family. From Jews to Feminists the legion of those out to destroy, allegedly, the family has been huge. Of course it actually boils down to sex. It is pure agitation propaganda and proof positive that someone is becoming deranged when this sort of argument comes forth.
The next relation which they regenerate by their statues to Rousseau is that which is next in sanctity to that of a father. They differ from those old-fashioned thinkers, who considered pedagogues as sober and venerable characters, and allied to the parental. The moralists of the dark times, 'preceptorem sancti voluere parentis esse loco'. In this age of light, they teach the people that preceptors ought to be in the place of gallants. They systematically corrupt a very corruptible race (for some time a growing nuisance amongst you), a set of pert, petulant literators, to whom instead of their proper, but severe unostentatious duties, they assign the brilliant part of men of wit and pleasure, of gay, young, military sparks, and danglers at toilets. They call on the rising generation in France to take a sympathy in the adventures and fortunes, and they endeavour to engage their sensibility on the side of pedagogues who betray the most awful family trusts, and vitiate their female pupils. They teach the people that the debauchers of virgins, almost in the arms of their parents, may be safe inmates in their houses, and even fit guardians of the honour of those husbands who succeed legally to the office which the young literators had pre-occupied, without asking leave of law or conscience.
Burke lies about Rousseau, neglecting to mention the easily ascertainable fact that Rousseau was a through going believer that women should be subordinate to men and that his conception of the family was bluntly patriarchal. Burke instead constructs the fantasy of a group of teachers out to subvert the family through education as tutors etc. These people insinuate themselves into the family and subvert godly paternal authority and even worst they sexually debauche young women. This is a sexual fantasy on Burke’s part. That there exists a vast conspiracy of Rousseau corrupted tutors etc., who ingratiate themselves into noble families and take advantage of them to sexually enjoy the daughters of their victims. The Nazi’s accused Jews of sexual depravity and corrupting Aryan womanhood. In the 1960’s in the United States some opponents of the Civil Rights movement accused the movement of wanting to sleep with their daughters and corrupt “white purity”. This is the lowest form of propaganda. Does Burke provide any sort of evidence for this? Of course not, and if he doesn’t know it’s a lie than he is a hysteric.
Thus they dispose of all the family relations of parents and children, husbands and wives. Through this same instructor, by whom they corrupt the morals, they corrupt the taste. Taste and elegance, though they are reckoned only among the smaller and secondary morals, yet are of no mean importance in the regulation of life. A moral taste is not of force to turn vice into virtue; but it recommends virtue with something like the blandishments of pleasure; and it infinitely abates the evils of vice. Rousseau, a writer of great force and vivacity, is totally destitute of taste in any sense of the word. Your masters, who are his scholars, conceive that all refinement has an aristocratic character. The last age had exhausted all its powers in giving a grace and nobleness to our mutual appetites, and in raising them into a higher class and order than seemed justly to belong to them. Through Rousseau, your masters are resolved to destroy these aristocratic prejudices. The passion called love has so general and powerful an influence; it makes so much of the entertainment, and indeed so much of the occupation of that part of life which decides the character for ever, that the mode and the principles on which it engages the sympathy, and strikes the imagination, become of the utmost importance to the morals and manners of every society. Your rulers are well aware of this; and in their system of changing your manners to accommodate them to their politics, they found nothing so convenient as Rousseau. Through him they teach men to love after the fashion of philosophers; that is, they teach to men, to Frenchmen, a love without gallantry; a love without anything of that fine flower of youthfulness and gentility, which places it, if not among the virtues, among the ornaments of life. Instead of this passion, naturally allied to grace and manners, they infuse into their youth an unfashioned, indelicate, sour, gloomy, ferocious medley of pedantry and lewdness; of metaphysical speculations blended with the coarsest sensuality. Such is the general morality of the passions to be found in their famous philosopher, in his famous work of philosophic gallantry the 'Nouvelle Éloise'.
Yep the “tutors” inspired by Rousseau are out to destroy the family also they are destroying love etc. This is of the same level has Hitler’s hysterical diatribes in Mein Kampf concerning Jews and sex / prostitution. It also deserves as much respect as the hysteria in Mein Kampf. Of course like Mein Kampf this sort of diatribe tells us much more about the writer than it does about who he is describing. Its nice to know that Burke had a rich if perverted sex fantasy life.
When the fence from the gallantry of preceptors is broken down, and your families are no longer protected by decent pride, and salutary domestic prejudice, there is but one step to a frightful corruption. The rulers in the National Assembly are in good hopes that the females of the first families in France may become an easy prey to dancing-masters, fiddlers, pattern-drawers, friseurs, and valets de chambre, and other active citizens of that description, who having the entry into your houses, and being half domesticated by their situation, may be blended with you by regular and irregular relations. By a law they have made these people their equals. By adopting the sentiments of Rousseau they have made them your rivals. In this manner these great legislators complete their plan of levelling, and establish their rights of men on a sure foundation.
Just like Hitler who alleged that the Jews in order top corrupt and conquer the human race had to have secure access to the vulvas to pure Aryan women, Burke alleges that the National Assembly was plotting so that “inferior” types would have access to the vulvas of aristocrats and thus corrupt the families and destroy them and establish the evil “Rights of Men”. The purpose of all this being the generation of “blended” individuals thus corrupting the purity of “Gentlemen” with inferior stock. Just like Hitler alleging that Jews intended to corrupt Aryan purity. The purpose being to level the population to the same low level just like what Hitler alleged was the aim of the “Jew”. The “racialist” and sexual hysteria of Burke are here full blown. I wonder if Burke wrote this “climax” of his letter one handed?
I am certain that the writings of Rousseau lead directly to this kind of shameful evil. I have often wondered how he comes to be so much more admired and followed on the Continent than he is here. Perhaps a secret charm in the language may have its share in this extraordinary difference. We certainly perceive, and to a degree we feel, in this writer, a style glowing, animated, enthusiastic; at the same time that we find it lax, diffuse, and not in the best taste of composition; all the members of the piece being pretty equally laboured and expanded, without any due selection or subordination of parts. He is generally too much on the stretch, and his manner has little variety. We cannot rest upon any of his works, though they contain observations which occasionally discover a considerable insight into human nature. But his doctrines, on the whole, are so inapplicable to real life and manners, that we never dream of drawing from them any rule for laws or conduct, or for fortifying or illustrating anything by a reference to his opinions. They have with us the fate of older paradoxes,
Cum ventum 'ad verum est sensus moresque' repugnant, Atque ipsa utilitas justi prope mater et aequi.
Perhaps bold speculations are more acceptable because more new to you than to us, who have been long since satiated with them. We continue, as in the two last ages to read, more generally than I believe is now done on the Continent, the authors of sound antiquity. These occupy our minds. They give us another taste and turn; and will not suffer us to be more than transiently amused with paradoxical morality. It is not that I consider this writer as wholly destitute of just notions. Amongst his irregularities, it must be reckoned that he is sometimes moral, and moral in a very sublime strain. But the general spirit and tendency of his works is mischievous; and the more mischievous for this mixture: for perfect depravity of sentiment is not reconcilable with eloquence; and the mind (though corruptible, not complexionally vicious) would reject, and throw off with disgust, a lesson of pure and unmixed evil. These writers make even virtue a pander to vice.
Perhaps realizing that he as let the cat out of the bag, Burke is here actually reasonable. Of course perhaps he felt more relaxed after his “climax”.
However, I less consider the author than the system of the assembly in perverting morality through his means. This I confess makes me nearly despair of any attempt upon the minds of their followers, through reason, honour, or conscience. The great object of your tyrants is to destroy the gentlemen of France; and for that purpose they destroy, to the best of their power, all the effect of those relations which may render considerable men powerful or even safe. To destroy that order, they vitiate the whole community. That no means may exist of confederating against their tyranny, by the false sympathies of the 'Nouvelle Éloise' they endeavour to subvert those principles of domestic trust and fidelity, which form the discipline of social life. They propagate principles by which every servant may think it, if not his duty, at least his privilege to betray his master. By these principles every considerable father of a family loses the sanctuary of his house. 'Debet sua cuique domus esse perfugium tutissimum', says the law, which your legislators have taken so much pains first to decry, then to repeal. They destroy all the tranquillity and security of domestic life; turning the asylum of the house into a gloomy prison, where the father of the family must drag out a miserable existence, endangered in proportion to the apparent means of his safety; where he is worse than solitary in a crowd of domestics, and more apprehensive from his servants and inmates, than from the hired, bloodthirsty mob without doors, who are ready to pull him to the lanterne.
Of course Burke now begins to renew the hysteria that marks the general trend of this letter. We learn that Burke is aghast at any sign of insubordination by a servant towards his master. Since of course a servant must be subordinate to his master, just as the masses are naturally subordinate to the “Gentlemen”. And again we read that the Revolutionaries are threatening the family.
It is thus, and for the same end, that they endeavour to destroy that tribunal of conscience which exists independently of edicts and decrees. Your despots govern by terror. They know that he who fears God fears nothing else: and therefore they eradicate from the mind, through their Voltaire, their Helvetius, and the rest of that infamous gang, that only sort of fear which generates true courage. Their object is, that their fellow-citizens may be under the dominion of no awe, but that of their committee of research, and of their lanterne.
In service of his goal justifying a crusade against the French Revolution, he insults Voltaire, who he falsely and lyingly accuses of not having a conscience. Of course Burke is lying when he accuses the revolutionaries of attempting to destroy conscience. Of course, in part, the fear that Burke feels is necessary for “true courage” is the fear of the “Gentlemen” which Burke believes is necessary for a functioning society. Oh and at the time that Burke wrote this the Revolutionaries were not governing by terror.
Having found the advantage of assassination in the formation of their tyranny, it is the grand resource in which they trust for the support of it. Whoever opposes any of their proceedings, or is suspected of a design to oppose them, is to answer it with his life, or the lives of his wife and children. This infamous, cruel, and cowardly practice of assassination they have the impudence to call merciful. They boast that they operated their usurpation rather by terror than by force; and that a few seasonable murders have prevented the bloodshed of many battles. There is no doubt they will extend these acts of mercy whenever they see an occasion. Dreadful, however, will be the consequences of their attempt to avoid the evils of war by the merciful policy of murder. If, by effectual punishment of the guilty, they do not wholly disavow that practice, and the threat of it too, as any part of their policy; if ever a foreign prince enters into France, he must enter it as into a country of assassins. The mode of civilized war will not be practised; nor are the French who act on the present system entitled to expect it. They, whose known policy is to assassinate every citizen whom they suspect to be discontented by their tyranny, and to corrupt the soldiery of every open enemy, must look for no modified hostility. All war, which is not battle, will be military execution. This will beget acts of retaliation from you; and every retaliation will beget a new revenge. The hell-hounds of war, on all sides, will be uncoupled and unmuzzled. The new school of murder and barbarism, set up in Paris, having destroyed (so far as in it lies) all the other manners and principles which have hitherto civilized Europe, will destroy also the mode of civilized war which, more than anything else, has distinguished the Christian world. Such is the approaching golden age, which the Virgil of your assembly has sung to his Pollios!
Burke is at the time he is writing this wildly exaggerating the situation in France in terms of violence and “Terror”. It is of interest to record that after insinuating strongly that a foreign invasion may be necessary to preserve order and restore the old regime, despite the fact that virtually all Frenchmen didn’t want it back, Burke argues that the invasion should not be in any sense bound by civilized rules of war. Burke seems to look forward to this war to the death. It is of interest to note that although in many ways the wars of the French Revolution although breaking many of the constraints on war of the old regime did keep or a least try to keep some of them including those regarding treatment of prisoners of war. Burke shrieks that the revolution has destroyed civilized principles of Europe. Of course like so many of Burke’s statements in this letter it is a lie.
In such a situation of your political, your civil, and your social morals and manners, how can you be hurt by the freedom of any discussion? Caution is for those who have something to lose. What I have said, to justify myself in not apprehending any ill consequence from a free discussion of the absurd consequences which flow from the relation of the lawful king to the usurped constitution, will apply to my vindication with regard to the exposure I have made of the state of the army under the same sophistic usurpation. The present tyrants want no arguments to prove, what they must daily feel, that no good army can exist on their principles. They are in no want of a monitor to suggest to them the policy of getting rid of the army, as well as of the king, whenever they are in a condition to effect that measure. What hopes may be entertained of your army for the restoration of your liberties, I know not. At present, yielding obedience to the pretended orders of a king, who, they are perfectly apprized, has no will, and who never can issue a mandate which is not intended, in the first operation, or in its certain consequences, for his own destruction, your army seems to make one of the principal links in the chain of that servitude of anarchy, by which a cruel usurpation holds an undone people at once in bondage and confusion.
Aside from the lie of alleging that the French people had less liberty (in 1791) than under the old regime. Of course Burke could mean that French people who really count, i.e., "Gentlemen" had less liberty in 1791 than in 1788. Burke is here fondly hoping for a military coup to restore the old regime. This indicates Burke’s utter divorce from reality. The army by in large supported the revolution in fact this was necessary for the Revolutions success.
You ask me what I think of the conduct of General Monk. How this affects your case I cannot tell. I doubt whether you possess, in France, any persons of a capacity to serve the French monarchy in the same manner in which Monk served the monarchy of England. The army which Monk commanded had been formed by Cromwell to a perfection of discipline which perhaps has never been exceeded. That army was besides of an excellent composition. The soldiers were men of extraordinary piety after their mode, of the greatest regularity, and even severity of manners; brave in the field, but modest, quiet, and orderly in their quarters; men who abhorred the idea of assassinating their officers or any other persons; and who (they at least who served in this island) were firmly attached to those generals by whom they were well treated and ably commanded. Such an army, once gained, might be depended on. I doubt much, if you could now find a Monk, whether a Monk could find in France such an army.
Let’s see Burke is openly suggesting a “General Monk” to restore the powers of the monarchy in France. General Monk was the general who played a very important role in restoring the monarchy in England in 1660. In fact General Monkl engaged in a coup. Even worst in a openly published letter Burke is stating that a member of the French National assembly seems to look with favour on such an idea. Burke then mouths some bromides about how “modest” etc., the soldiers of General Monk were. It is stomach turning.
I certainly agree with you that in all probability we owe our whole constitution to the restoration of the English monarchy. The state of things from which Monk relieved England was however by no means, at that time, so deplorable in any sense as yours is now, and under the present sway is likely to continue. Cromwell had delivered England from anarchy. His government, though military and despotic, had been regular and orderly. Under the iron, and under the yoke, the soil yielded its produce. After his death the evils of anarchy were rather dreaded than felt. Every man was yet safe in his house and in his property. But it must be admitted that Monk freed this nation from great and just apprehensions both of future anarchy and of probable tyranny in some form or other. The king whom he gave us was indeed the very reverse of your benignant sovereign, who, in reward for his attempt to bestow liberty on his subjects, languishes himself in prison. The person given to us by Monk was a man without any sense of his duty as a prince; without any regard to the dignity of his crown; without any love to his people; dissolute, false, venal, and destitute of any positive good quality whatsoever, except a pleasant temper and the manners of a gentleman. Yet the restoration of our monarchy, even in the person of such a prince, was everything to us; for without monarchy in England, most certainly we never can enjoy either peace or liberty. It was under this conviction that the very first regular step, which we took on the Revolution of 1688, was to fill the throne with a real king; and even before it could be done in due form, the chiefs of the nation did not attempt themselves to exercise authority so much as by interim. They instantly requested the Prince of Orange to take the government on himself. The throne was not effectively vacant for an hour.
Burke embarks on some more excuse mongering. Aside from ignoring and seriously downplaying the violent nature of the English Revolution. Burke further ignores that the Revolution of 1688 was a foreign invasion, that the whole nation did not support it. Of course Burke ignores that compared to 1688, 1789 had far more massive and universal support within their respective countries. That the Prince of Orange was in command of a invading army that had just successfully overthrown the legitimate king, James II, is ignored here. Burke’s characterization of Charles II is simply contemptible.
Your fundamental laws, as well as ours, suppose a monarchy. Your zeal, sir, in standing so firmly for it as you have done, shows not only a sacred respect for your honour and fidelity, but a well informed attachment to the real welfare and true liberties of your country. I have expressed myself ill, if I have given you cause to imagine that I prefer the conduct of those who have retired from this warfare to your behaviour, who, with a courage and constancy almost supernatural, have struggled against tyranny, and kept the field to the last. You see I have corrected the exceptionable part in the edition which I now send you. Indeed, in such terrible extremities as yours, it is not easy to say, in a political view, what line of conduct is the most advisable. In that state of things, I cannot bring myself severely to condemn persons who are wholly unable to bear so much as the sight of those men in the throne of legislation, who are only fit to be the objects of criminal justice. If fatigue, if disgust, if unsurmountable nausea drive them away from such spectacles, 'ubi miseriarum pars non minima erat, videre et aspici', I cannot blame them. He must have a heart of adamant who could hear a set of traitors puffed up with unexpected and undeserved power, obtained by an ignoble, unmanly, and perfidious rebellion, treating their honest fellow-citizens as rebels, because they refused to bind themselves, through their conscience, against the dictates of conscience itself, and had declined to swear an active compliance with their own ruin. How could a man of common flesh and blood endure that those, who but the other day had skulked unobserved in their antechambers, scornfully insulting men, illustrious in their rank, sacred in their function, and venerable in their character, now in decline of life, and swimming on the wrecks of their fortunes, that those miscreants should tell such men scornfully and outrageously, after they had robbed them of all their property, that it is more than enough if they are allowed what will keep them from absolute famine, and that for the rest, they must let their grey hairs fall over the plough, to make out a scanty subsistence, with the labour of their hands! Last, and worst, who could endure to hear this unnatural, insolent, and savage despotism called liberty? If, at this distance, sitting quietly by my fire, I cannot read their decrees and speeches without indignation, shall I condemn those who have fled from the actual sight and hearing of all these horrors? No, no! mankind has no title to demand that we should be slaves to their guilt and insolence; or that we should serve them in spite of themselves. Minds, sore with the poignant sense of insulted virtue, filled with high disdain against the pride of triumphant baseness, often have it not in their choice to stand their ground. Their complexion (which might defy the rack) cannot go through such a trial. Something very high must fortify men to that proof. But when I am driven to comparison, surely I cannot hesitate for a moment to prefer to such men as are common those heroes, who, in the midst of despair, perform all the tasks of hope; who subdue their feelings to their duties; who, in the cause of humanity, liberty, and honour, abandon all the satisfactions of life, and every day incur a fresh risk of life itself. Do me the justice to believe that I never can prefer any fastidious virtue (virtue still) to the unconquered perseverance, to the affectionate patience of those who watch day and night, by the bed-side of their delirious country, who, for their love to that dear and venerable name, bear all the disgusts, and all the buffets they receive from their frantic mother. Sir, I do look on you as true martyrs; I regard you as soldiers who act far more in the spirit of our Commander-in-chief, and the Captain of our salvation, than those who have left you; though I must first bolt myself very thoroughly, and know that I could do better, before I can censure them. I assure you, sir, that, when I consider your unconquerable fidelity to your sovereign and to your country; the courage, fortitude, magnanimity, and long suffering of yourself, and the Abbe Maury, and of Mr. Cazales, and of many worthy persons of all orders, in your assembly, I forget, in the lustre of these great qualities, that on your side has been displayed an eloquence so rational, manly, and convincing, that no time or country, perhaps, has ever excelled. But your talents disappear in my admiration of your virtues.
Burke’s praise of the person he is writing to is of course over the top and hysterical and quite wrong in a public letter. If the Revolutionaries are as bad as Burke says they are why publicly point out to the revolutionaries the anti-revolutionaries? With friends like this who needs enemies. Especially since in this letter Burke is publicly indicating that the person he is corresponding with may view sympathetically an attempt by foreign invasion or military coup to restore the old regime! The characterization of the revolutionaries is the same hysteria we have seen in the letter before.
As to Mr. Mounier and Mr. Lally, I have always wished to do justice to their parts and their eloquence, and the general purity of their motives. Indeed I saw very well from the beginning, the mischiefs which, with all these talents and good intentions, they would do their country, through their confidence in systems. But their distemper was an epidemic malady. They were young and inexperienced; and when will young and inexperienced men learn caution and distrust of themselves? And when will men, young or old, if suddenly raised to far higher power than that which absolute kings and emperors commonly enjoy, learn anything like moderation? Monarchs, in general respect some settled order of things, which they find it difficult to move from its basis, and to which they are obliged to conform, even when there are no positive limitations to their power. These gentlemen conceived that they were chosen to new-model the state, and even the whole order of society itself. No wonder that they entertained dangerous visions, when the king's ministers, trustees for the sacred deposit of the monarchy, were so infected with the contagion of project and system (I can hardly think it black premeditated treachery) that they publicly advertised for plans and schemes of government, as if they were to provide for the rebuilding of a hospital that had been burned down. What was this, but to unchain the fury of rash speculation amongst a people of itself but too apt to be guided by a heated imagination and a wild spirit of adventure?
Changing the system or regarding it as in need of reform is a crime! Of course these poor deluded fools will soon realize they should have nothing. Of course Burke is ignoring how the situation more or less forced the consideration of fundamental reform.
The fault of Mr. Mounier and Mr. Lally was very great; but it was very general. If those gentlemen stopped when they came to the brink of the gulf of guilt and public misery, that yawned before them in the abyss of these dark and bottomless speculations, I forgive their first error; in that they were involved with many. Their repentance was their own.
They who consider Mounier and Lally as deserters, must regard themselves as murderers and as traitors; for from what else than murder and treason did they desert? For my part, I honour them for not having carried mistake into crime. If, indeed, I thought they were not cured by experience; that they were not made sensible that those who would reform a state ought to assume some actual constitution of government which is to be reformed; if they are not at length satisfied that it is become a necessary preliminary to liberty in France, to commence by the re-establishment of order and property of every kind, and, through the re-establishment of their monarchy, of every one of the old habitual distinctions and classes of the state; if they do not see that these classes are not to be confounded in order to be afterwards revived and separated; if they are not convinced that the scheme of parochial and club governments takes up the state at the wrong end, and is a low and senseless contrivance (as making the sole constitution of a supreme power), I should then allow that their early rashness ought to be remembered to the last moment of their lives.
Thus Burke sets himself the agreeable task of sitting in judgment. Of course it is of interest that Burke mentions the classes being confounded when of course they should be separated, especially sexually, and the “Gentlemen” on top; in all senses.
You gently reprehend me, because, in holding out the picture of your disastrous situation, I suggest no plan for a remedy. Alas! sir, the proposition of plans, without an attention to circumstances, is the very cause of all your misfortunes; and never shall you find me aggravating, by the infusion of any speculations of mine, the evils which have arisen from the speculations of others. Your malady, in this respect, is a disorder of repletion. You seem to think that my keeping back my poor ideas may arise from an indifference to the welfare of a foreign, and, sometimes, a hostile nation. No, sir, I faithfully assure you, my reserve is owing to no such causes. Is this letter, swelled to a second book, a mark of national antipathy, or even of national indifference? I should act altogether in the spirit of the same caution in a similar state of our own domestic affairs. If I were to venture any advice in any case it would be my best. The sacred duty of an adviser (one of the most inviolable that exists) would lead me, towards a real enemy, to act as if my best friend were the party concerned. But I dare not risk a speculation with no better view of your affairs than at present I can command; my caution is not from disregard, but from solicitude for your welfare. It is suggested solely from my dread of becoming the author of inconsiderate counsel.
Burke is being disingenuous. He has proposed “solutions” a military coup and or a foreign invasion, without the rules of “civilized” warfare because war against the evil revolution must be a total war and the revolution utterly crushed.
It is not that, as this strange series of actions has passed before my eyes, I have not indulged my mind in a great variety of political speculations concerning them. But compelled by no such positive duty as does not permit me to evade an opinion: called upon by no ruling power without authority as I am and without confidence, I should ill answer my own ideas of what would become myself or what would be serviceable to others, if I were, as a volunteer, to obtrude any project of mine upon a nation, to whose circumstances I could not be sure it might be applicable.
Permit me to say that, if I were as confident, as I ought to be diffident in my own loose, general ideas, I never should venture to broach them, if but at twenty leagues' distance from the centre of your affairs. I must see with my own eyes, I must, in a manner, touch with my own hands, not only the fixed, but the momentary circumstances, before I could venture to suggest any political project whatsoever. I must know the power and disposition to accept, to execute, to persevere. I must see all the aids and all the obstacles. I must see the means of correcting the plan, where correctives would be wanted. I must see the things; I must see the men. Without a concurrence and adaptation of these to the design, the very best speculative projects might become not only useless but mischievous. Plans must be made for men. We cannot think of making men, and binding nature to our designs. People at a distance must judge ill of men. They do not always answer to their reputation when you approach them. Nay, the perspective varies, and shows them quite otherwise than you thought them. At a distance, if we judge uncertainly of men, we must judge worse of opportunities, which continually vary their shapes and colours, and pass away like clouds. The eastern politicians never do anything without the opinion of the astrologers on the fortunate moment. They are in the right if they can do no better; for the opinion of fortune is something towards commanding it. Statesmen of a more judicious prescience look for the fortunate moment too; but they seek it, not in the conjunctions and oppositions of planets, but in the conjunctions and oppositions of men and things. These form their almanac.
Burke engages in some bromides and airy-fairy generalizations blithely ignoring the very concrete possibilities he stated earlier.
To illustrate the mischief of a wise plan, without any attention to means and circumstances, it is not necessary to go farther than to your recent history. In the condition in which France-was found three years ago, what better system could be proposed, what less, even savouring of wild theory, what fitter to provide for all the exigencies whilst it reformed all the abuses of government, than the convention of the states-general? I think nothing better could be imagined. But I have censured, and do still presume to censure your parliament of Paris for not having suggested to the king, that this proper measure was of all measures the most critical and arduous; one in which the utmost circumspection and the greatest number of precautions were the most absolutely necessary. The very confession that a government wants either amendment in its conformation, or relief to great distress, causes it to lose half its reputation, and as great a proportion of its strength as depends upon that reputation. It was therefore necessary, first to put government out of danger, whilst at its own desire it suffered such an operation, as a general reform at the hands of those who were much more filled with a sense of the disease, than provided with rational means of a cure.
It may be said that this care, and these precautions, were more naturally the duty of the king's ministers, than that of the parliament. They were so; but every man must answer in his estimation for the advice he gives, when he puts the conduct of his measure into hands who he does not know will execute his plans according to his ideas. Three or four ministers were not to be trusted with the being of the French monarchy of all the orders, and of all the distinctions, and all the property of the kingdom. What must be the prudence of those who could think, in the then known temper of the people of Paris, of assembling the states at a place situated as Versailles?
Burke, Blah, Blah, Blah! Of course Burke must not give specific advice because it might involve compromising with the revolution, or temporalizing with it. The Revolution must, has indicated above, be fought to the death and destroyed root and branch. So of course any suggestion involving working with any of the Revolutionaries must be rejected tout court.
The parliament of Paris did worse than to inspire this blind confidence into the king. For, as if names were things, they took no notice of (indeed they rather countenanced) the deviations which were manifest in the execution, from the true ancient principles of the plan which they recommended. These deviations (as guardians of the ancient laws, usages, and constitution of the kingdom) the parliament of Paris ought not to have suffered, without the strongest remonstrances to the throne. It ought to have sounded the alarm to the whole nation, as it had often done on things of infinitely less importance. Under pretence of resuscitating the ancient constitution, the parliament saw one of the strongest acts of innovation, and the most leading in its consequences, carried into effect before their eves; and an innovation through the medium of despotism; that is, they suffered the king's ministers to new-model the whole representation of the 'tiers êtat' and, in a great measure, that of the clergy too, and to destroy the ancient proportions of the orders. These changes, unquestionably, the king had no right to make; and here the parliaments failed in their duty, and, along with their country, have perished by this failure.
Burke again lets the cat out of the bag. Here Burke is referring to the tradition of the Etats General in the form of three Estates. One representing the Nobility, one the clergy and one everyone else. The everyone else was the Tiers Etat, or third estate. Aside from the fact the Etats General had not met since 1614 and therefore had some problems has a precedent. Burke ignores that the doubling of the Third Estate enjoyed overwhelming public support. Further the King indisputably had the right to double the Third Estate. Burke also ignores that the Parliament of Paris originally rejected the doubling of the Third Estate but backed down in the face of near universal condemnation. Burke is simply ignorant here. Burke simply can’t be bothered to understand why so many people might think that giving over 90% of the voters 1/3rd the number of seats might be seen to be unfair. By this Burke reveals himself to be a inveterate reactionary and in no little part absurd.
What a number of faults have led to this multitude of misfortunes, and almost all from this one source, — that of considering certain general maxims, without attending to circumstances, to times, to places, to conjunctures, and to actors; if we do not attend scrupulously to all these, the medicine of to-day becomes the poison of to-morrow. If any measure was in the abstract better than another, it was to call the states—'ea visa salus morientibus una. —Certainly it had the appearance.—But see the consequences of not attending to critical moments, of not regarding the symptoms which discriminate diseases, and which distinguish constitutions, complexions, and humours:
Mox erat hoc ipsum exitio; furiisque refecti, Ardebant; ipsique suos, jam morte sub aegra,Discissos nudis laniabant dentibus artus.
Thus the potion which was given to strengthen the constitution, to heal divisions, and to compose the minds of men, became the source of debility, frenzy, discord, and utter dissolution.
Of course Burke, whose knowledge of French government is weak. Ignores that the changes that were made in the establishment of the Etats General in 1789 were taken in direct response to current conditions. It was decided that slavishly following the precedents of 1614 was simply absurd.
In this, perhaps, I have answered, I think, another of your questions—Whether the British constitution is adapted to your circumstances? When I praised the British constitution, and wished it to be well studied, I did not mean that its exterior form and positive arrangement should become a model for you, or for any people servilely to copy. I meant to recommend the principles from which it has grown, and the policy on which it has been progressively improved out of elements common to you and to us. I am sure it is no visionary theory of mine. It is not an advice that subjects you to the hazard of any experiment. I believed the ancient principles to be wise in all cases of a large empire that would be free. I thought you possessed our principles in your old forms, in as great a perfection as we did originally. If your states agreed (as I think they did) with your circumstances, they were best for you. As you had a constitution formed upon principles similar to ours, my idea was that you might have improved them as we have done, conforming them to the state and exigencies of the times, and the condition of property in your country; having the conservation of that property, and the substantial basis of your monarchy, as principal objects in all your reforms.
Of course Burke must admit that overtime the British government changes and that many of these changes are the result of changes in custom. Of course Burke does not grant that custom may change in France. Burke here studiously ignores that many of the French Revolutionaries thought the British system great and sought to copy it to a large extent. So of course Burke can’t “recommend” the British system because that may provide food and comfort to the evil Revolutionaries and prevent the full restoration of the old regime.
I do not advise a House of Lords to you. Your ancient course by representatives of the noblesse (in your circumstances) appears to me rather a better institution. I know that, with you, a set of men of rank have betrayed their constituents, their honour, their trust, their king, and their country, and levelled themselves with their footmen, that through this degradation they might afterwards put themselves above their natural equals. Some of these persons have entertained a project that, in reward of this their black perfidy and corruption, they may be chosen to give rise to a new order, and to establish themselves into a House of Lords. Do you think that, under the name of a British constitution, I mean to recommend to you such lords, made of such kind of stuff? I do not, however, include in this description all of those who are fond of this scheme.
More snobbery on Burke’s part. No house of Lords because those sympathetic to the revolution may gain a foothold. They are evil and corrupt and must be excluded and so the old regime must be fully restored.
If you were now to form such a House of Peers, it would bear, in my opinion, but little resemblance to ours in its origin, character, or the purposes which it might answer, at the same time that it would destroy your true natural nobility; but if you are not in a condition to frame a House of Lords, still less are you capable, in my opinion, of framing anything which virtually and substantially could be answerable (for the purposes of a stable, regular government) to our House of Commons. That House is, within itself, a much more subtle and artificial combination of parts and powers, than people are generally aware of. What knits it to the other members of the constitution; what fits it to be at once the great support, and the great control of government; what makes it of such admirable service to that monarchy which, if it limits, it secures and strengthens, would require a long discourse, belonging to the leisure of a contemplative man, not to one whose duty it is to join in communicating practically to the people the blessings of such a constitution.
Well I can’t explain it to you its just too difficult. Besides you might want it rather than restore the old regime fully. Of course your Nobility is “natural” when it rules according to the old regime and doesn’t try to be like us English.
Your tiers êtat was not in effect and substance a House of Commons. You stood in absolute need of something else to supply the manifest defects in such a body as your tiers êtat. On a sober and dispassionate view of your old constitution, as connected with all the present circumstances, I was fully persuaded, that the crown, standing as things have stood (and are likely to stand, if you are to have any monarchy at all) was and is incapable, alone and by itself, of holding a just balance between the two orders, and at the same time of effecting the interior and exterior purposes of a protecting government. I, whose leading principle it is, in a reformation of the state, to make use of existing materials, am of opinion that the representation of the clergy, as a separate order, was an institution which touched all the orders more nearly than any of them touched the other; that it was well fitted to connect them, and to hold a place in any wise, monarchical commonwealth. If I refer you to your original constitution, and think it, as I do, substantially a good one, I do not amuse you in this, more than in other things, with any inventions of mine. A certain intemperance of intellect is the disease of the time, and the source of all its other diseases. I will keep myself as untainted by it as I can. Your architects build without a foundation. I would readily lend a helping hand to any superstructure, when once this is effectually secured—but first I would say
Thus the Third Estate should not be a House of Commons, despite representing the overwhelming majority of voters, it must have the same powers and size of the Third Estate as of 1614. Any attempt to create a English style system of government must be firmly rejected and the old regime restored least it give comfort to the Revolutionaries.
You think, sir, and you might think rightly, upon the first view of the theory, that to provide for the exigencies of an empire, so situated and so related as that of France, its king ought to be invested with powers very much superior to those which the King of England possesses under the letter of our constitution. Every degree of power necessary to the state, and not destructive to the rational and moral freedom of individuals, to that personal liberty, and personal security, which contribute so much to the vigour, the prosperity, the happiness, and the dignity of a nation - every degree of power which does not suppose the total absence of all control, and all responsibility on the part of ministers,— a king of France, in common sense, ought to possess. But whether the exact measure of authority, assigned by the letter of the law to the King of Great Britain, can answer to the exterior or interior purposes of the French monarchy, is a point which I cannot venture to judge upon. Here, both in the power given, and its limitations, we have always cautiously felt our way. The parts of our constitution have gradually, and almost insensibly, in a long course of time, accommodated themselves to each other, and to their common, as well as to their separate purposes. But this adaptation of contending parts, as it has not been in ours, so it can never be in yours, or in any country, the effect of a single instantaneous regulation, and no sound heads could ever think of doing it in that manner.
I believe, sir, that many on the Continent altogether mistake the condition of a king of Great Britain. He is a real king and not an executive officer. If he will not trouble himself with contemptible details, nor wish to degrade himself by becoming a party in little squabbles, I am far from sure that a king of Great Britain, in whatever concerns him as a king, or indeed as a rational man, who combines his public interest with his personal satisfaction, does not possess a more real, solid, extensive power, than the King of France was possessed of before this miserable revolution. The direct power of the King of England is considerable. His indirect, and far more certain power, is great indeed. He stands in need of nothing towards dignity; of nothing towards splendour; of nothing towards authority; of nothing at all towards consideration abroad. When was it that a king of England wanted wherewithal to make him respected, courted, or perhaps even feared in every state of Europe?
I am constantly of opinion that your states, in three orders, on the footing on which they stood in 1614, were capable of being brought into a proper and harmonious combination with royal authority. This constitution by estates, was the natural and only just representation of France. It grew out of the habitual conditions, relations, and reciprocal claims of men. It grew out of the circumstances of the country, and out of the state of property. The wretched scheme of your present masters is not to fit the constitution to the people, but wholly to destroy conditions, to dissolve relations, to change the state of the nation, and to subvert property, in order to fit their country to their theory of a constitution.
Burke’s bromides about the English monarchy ignore how violence and revolution reduced the power of the Monarch and further that in 1791 Britain was basically a Republic with a Monarch. Further Burke ignores that according to the Constitution of the French state in 1791 the Monarch had, at least on the face of it, more real power than the English Monarch. But in the end Burke, although he judiciously avoids saying that he wants the French Monarch to have the same powers as under the old regime, admits it when he says he wants a restoration of the situation of things as of 1614.
Until you make out practically that great work, a combination of opposing forces, "a work of labour long, and endless praise," the utmost caution ought to have been used in the reduction of the royal power, which alone was capable of holding together the comparatively heterogeneous mass of your states. But, at this day, all these considerations are unseasonable. To what end should we discuss the limitations of royal power? Your king is in prison. Why speculate on the measure and standard of liberty? I doubt much, very much, indeed, whether France is at all ripe for liberty on any standard. Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity —in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Another cat let out of the bag. France is not ready for liberty. Liberty requires that men accept subordination and the need for a controlling power, presumably held by “Gentlemen” to overawe the intemperate and inferior. Thus the old regime must be fully restored.
This sentence the prevalent part of your countrymen execute on themselves. They possessed not long since, what was next to freedom, a mild paternal monarchy. They despised it for its weakness. They were offered a well-poised, free constitution. It did not suit their taste nor their temper. They carved for themselves; they flew out, murdered, robbed, and rebelled. They have succeeded, and put over their country an insolent tyranny made up of cruel and inexorable masters, and that too of a description hitherto not known in the world. The powers and policies by which they have succeeded are not those of great statesmen, or great military commanders, but the practices of incendiaries, assassins, housebreakers, robbers, spreaders of false news, forgers of false orders from authority, and other delinquencies, of which ordinary justice takes cognizance. Accordingly the spirit of their rule is exactly correspondent to the means by which they obtained it. They act more in the manner of thieves who have got possession of a house, than of conquerors who have subdued a nation.
Once again Burke vilifies the Revolutionaries of 1791. He is at least a year too early. They are tyrants, thieves etc. The agitation propaganda goes on and on.
Opposed to these, in appearance, but in appearance only, is another band, who call themselves the moderate. These, if I conceive rightly of their conduct, are a set of men who approve heartily of the whole new constitution, but wish to lay heavily on the most atrocious of those crimes, by which this fine constitution of theirs has been obtained. They are a sort of people who affect to proceed as if they thought that men may deceive without fraud, rob without injustice, and overturn everything without violence. They are men who would usurp the government of their country with decency and moderation. In fact, they are nothing more or better, than men engaged in desperate designs, with feeble minds. They are not honest; they are only ineffectual and unsystematic in their iniquity. They are persons who want not the dispositions but the energy and vigour, that is necessary for great evil machinations. They find that in such designs they fall at best into a secondary rank, and others take the place and lead in usurpation, which they are not qualified to obtain or to hold. They envy to their companions the natural fruit of their crimes; they join to run them down with the hue and cry of mankind, which pursues their common offences; and then hope to mount into their places on the credit of the sobriety with which they show themselves disposed to carry on what may seem most plausible in the mischievous projects they pursue in common. But these men are naturally despised by those who have heads to know, and hearts that are able to go through the necessary demands of bold wicked enterprises. They are naturally classed below the latter description, and will only be used by them as inferior instruments. They will be only the Fairfaxes of your Cromwells. If they mean honestly, why do they not strengthen the arms of honest men, to support their ancient, legal, wise, and free government, given to them in the spring of 1788, against the inventions of craft, and the theories of ignorance and folly? If they do not, they must continue the scorn of both parties; sometimes the tool, sometimes the incumbrance of that whose views they approve, whose conduct they decry. These people are only made to be the sport of tyrants. They never can obtain or communicate freedom.
Thus Burke damns even the moderate Revolutionaries as beyond the pale. They are evil and despicable and must be opposed no less than the radicals. Thus does Burke’s mancheanistic dualistic hysteria manifest itself again. The moderates are not even potential allies against the extremists but equally evil and must be utterly destroyed along with the extremists. Thus the moderate constitution they support must be opposed tooth and nail. That Burke and his allies are playing into the hands of the Revolutionary extremists is clear. Thus Burke in his holy war lumps them all together and helps them to unite against their enemies. Burke thus helps to further isolate and render impotent the men he professes to support.
You ask me, too, whether we have a committee of research. No, sir,— God forbid! It is the necessary instrument of tyranny and usurpation; and, therefore, I do not wonder that it has had an early establishment under your present lords. We do not want it.
Research is bad!? Burke should take a tranquilizer.
Excuse my length. I have been somewhat occupied since I was honoured with your letter; and I should not have been able to answer it at all, but for the holidays which have given me means of enjoying the leisure of the country. I am called to duties which I am neither able nor willing to evade. I must soon return to my old conflict with the corruptions and oppressions which have prevailed in our eastern dominions. I must turn myself wholly from those of France.
In England we cannot work so hard as Frenchmen. Frequent relaxation is necessary to us. You are naturally more intense in your application. I did not know this part of your national character, until I went into France in 1773. At present, this your disposition to labour is rather increased than lessened. In your assembly you do not allow yourselves a recess even on Sundays. We have two days in the week, besides the festivals; and besides five or six months of the summer and autumn. This continued, unremitted effort of the members of your assembly, I take to be one among the causes of the mischief they have done. They who always labour can have no true judgment. You never give yourselves time to cool. You can never survey, from its proper point of sight, the work you have finished, before you decree its final execution. You can never plan the future by the past. You never go into the country, soberly and dispassionately to observe the effect of your measures on their objects. You cannot feel distinctly how far the people are rendered better and improved, or more miserable and depraved, by what you have done. You cannot see with your own eyes the sufferings and afflictions you cause. You know them but at a distance, on the statements of those who always flatter the reigning power, and who, amidst their representations of the grievances, inflame your minds against those who are oppressed. These are amongst the effects of unremitted labour, when men exhaust their attention, burn out their candles, and are left in the dark.—Malo meorum negligentiam, quam istorum obscuram diligentiam.
I have the honour, etc.
Burke, Blah, blah, blah, condenscion., blah, blah.
The main point of this long letter by Burke is how it illustrates, clearly the unhinged state of Burke’s mind. It is full of, lies, agitation, propaganda, hysteria and a not inconsiderable measure of sexual fixation. That this letter tells us far more about Edmund Burke than about the French Revolutionaries is also clear.
That Edmund Burke was in some respects a serious reactionary and engaged in what amounts to black propaganda is obvious. It is also obvious that his understanding of the French Revolution, especially its causes, is seriously flawed and distorted by hatred and a belief in wild conspiracy theories. What is also clear is that many of modern day acolytes practice the fine art of not reading Burke when they read Burke.2
1. I have copied the document from A Letter From Mr. Burke To A Member Of The National Assembly In Answer To Some Objections To His Book On French Affairs 1791, Here.
2. A good overview of Burke’s hysterical state of mind regarding the French Revolution is O”Neill, Daniel I, The Burke – Wollstonecraft Debate, The Pennsylvannia State University Press, University Park PENN, 2007.