Burkes Semi-serious Anarchism, Part 2

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In a recent post I described the problem posed, for the prevailing interpretation of Burke’s Vindication of Natural Society as satirical, by similarly radical passages occurring in Burke’s nonsatirical writings.

Edmund Burke Most of the writings I cited in that post are on the web (and I provided the relevant links), but one – a brief editorial on Irish poverty from Burke’s 1748 journal The Reformer – has not thus far been available online. Now it is.

As you’ll see, there’s nothing anarchistic on offer here; and real radicals will find Burke’s explanations of poverty too vague and his proposed remedies too modest, especially by comparison with, say, Spooner’s Revolution the Only Remedy for the Oppressed Classes of Ireland.

Nevertheless, in its sympathy for the poor, indignation against the rich, and affirmation of the “natural equality of mankind,” Burke’s editorial certainly resembles the Vindication more than it does the Reflections on the Revolution in France. The same applies to the editorial’s endorsement of such classical liberal doctrines as that the function of government is to “secure the lives and properties of those who live under it” (which had been a central theme of Locke’s Second Treatise) and that the “riches of a nation” consist in the “uniform plenty diffused through a people” rather than in the “luxurious lives of its gentry” (which was to be a central theme of Smith’s Wealth of Nations).

In short, the existence of this early editorial is indeed awkward for those who insist that the radicalism of the Vindication could only have been intended ironically.

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