Edmund Burke
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Edmund Burke : The First Conservative

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Edmund Burke is both the greatest and the most underrated political thinker of the past three hundred years. A brilliant 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman, Burke was a fierce champion of human rights and the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, and a lifelong campaigner against arbitrary power. Revered by great Americans including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Burke has been almost forgotten in recent years. But as politician and political philosopher Jesse Norman argues in this penetrating biography, we cannot understand modern politics without him. As Norman reveals, Burke was often ahead of his time, anticipating the abolition of slavery and arguing for free markets, equality for Catholics in Ireland, and responsible government in India, among many other things. He was not always popular in his own lifetime, but his ideas about power, community, and civic virtue have endured long past his death. Indeed, Burke engaged with many of the same issues politicians face today, including the rise of ideological extremism, the loss of social cohesion, the dangers of the corporate state, and the effects of revolution on societies. He offers us now a compelling critique of liberal individualism, and a vision of society based not on a self-interested agreement among individuals, but rather on an enduring covenant between generations. Burke won admirers in the American colonies for recognizing their fierce spirit of liberty and for speaking out against British oppression, but his greatest triumph was seeing through the utopian aura of the French Revolution. In repudiating that revolution, Burke laid the basis for much of the robust conservative ideology that remains with us to this day: one that is adaptable and forward-thinking, but also mindful of the debt we owe to past generations and our duty to preserve and uphold the institutions we have inherited. He is the first conservative. A rich, accessible, and provocative biography, Edmund Burke describes Burke's life and achievements alongside his momentous legacy, showing how Burke's analytical mind and deep capacity for empathy made him such a vital thinker--both for his own age, and for ours.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 336 pages
  • 137.16 x 208.28 x 25.4mm | 204.12g
  • INGRAM PUBLISHER SERVICES US
  • BASIC BOOKS
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0465062938
  • 9780465062935
  • 696,254

About Jesse Norman

Jesse Norman is Member of Parliament for Hereford and South Herefordshire. Norman holds a BA from Oxford University and an MPhil and PhD from the University College London.Norman has taught philosophy at University College London and Birkbeck College, and is the author of several books and political treatises, including After Euclid, The Big Society, and Compassionate Conservatism. He has also written for The Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Spectator; has appeared on TV on BBC 1, BBC News 24 and Sky News; and has been profiled on BBC online and elsewhere. He lives in London.show more

Review quote

Daniel Hannan, Wall Street Journal "You won't find a more impressive political philosopher than the 18th-century MP who more or less invented Anglosphere conservatism. And you won't find a pithier, more readable treatise on his life and works than this one. I reckon any open-minded reader will finish the book as a conservative." Financial Times "A superb new biography. Norman aims to place Burke above Hume, Smith, Mill, Marx and Rawls in the pantheon. Not only that, he seeks to reclaim Burke as a conservative thinker-one who has much to teach today's politicians. Implicitly, this also requires Norman to answer the question, 'what is conservatism?' For if Burke is the father of conservatism, as Norman attests, then his children seem like runaways... Norman succeeds in elevating his subject, showing what is conservative about Burke, and why he matters today. Ironically, he makes such a strong case that it would seem perverse if only Tories took something from Burke's legacy. Burke may be a conservative but, as he would have explained better than anyone, his is an inheritance for all of society." Sunday Business Post, UK "A Conservative MP himself, Norman has been tipped as a future prime minister--but this stimulating book suggests that he may well have an alternative career as a writer instead." History New Network "Norman's book is far better as history than it is as contemporary prescription. And that is what it's meant to be. It provides a wonderful (re)introduction to the life and thought of an often neglected political thinker. Norman writes exceptionally well. His prose flows, he has an eye for the apposite anecdote, and he handles abstract arguments smoothly and precisely. If the political gig doesn't work out, this book shows that he has a future as a historian." The Economist "[A] succinct history of Edmund Burke's life and thought." E. J. Dionne, Washington Post "Norman's Burke biography ought to be one of the hot books for the right over the next year. Like Burke (1729-1797), Norman is a philosopher as well as a politician. He offers a brisk and engaging introduction to the iconic thinker's life and thought." Clive Crook, Bloomberg View "[A] fine new biography... Burke has a lot to teach us. Norman's splendid book is a good place to start." American Spectator "[A] superb new biography... Norman makes a strong case for Burke's continuing relevance... Norman succeeds in bringing Burke to life and championing his thought. The greatest of Irishmen has much to teach both liberals and conservatives, and a politics guided by his spirit would ennoble us all." Wall Street Journal "Well written and informative. In this history one discovers Burke's continuing importance, even if our age of hyper-individualism and headlong social experimentation seems ill-suited to his genius." National Review "An engaging, highly readable, and impressively comprehensive overview. It handles the intricacies of English history and politics with great mastery and conveys Burke's character and personality as few of his biographers have managed to do... In the biographical first section...Norman finds just the right balance between fast-paced storytelling and gripping historical detail, and he shines a light both on Burke's great strengths as a thinker, writer, and orator and on his great weaknesses." Los Angeles Times Review of Books "Norman has the knack for presenting in clear and cogent terms notions taken from political theory, philosophy, and the social sciences... The call for political prudence, the emphasis on provisional solutions, and the reminder that change, while it must be moderated, is necessary: our era's conservative activists are trampling these Burkean conservative ideals. At the very least, Jesse Norman's account of Edmund Burke's thought leads us to our own reflections on the current revolution in America." Michael Gerson, Washington Post "Conservatives would be well advised to listen to a Whig." David Frum, CNN.com "A distinguished book... As Norman tells it, Burke was a thinker and politician who rejected the demands of 'I want' in favor of the duties of 'you should.'... Here is a conservative who has much to say in the era of predatory finance and selective bailouts. A politician himself, Norman shrewdly appreciates that Burke's contributions emerged from an active career. Burke understood the limits of the possible because he himself had often bumped up against them -- hard." Commentary "[An] outstanding biography." Telegraph "Norman himself is a practicing, indeed a rising, politician, and so he is clear-sighted about Burke's practical failures. But he is also a subtle historian of ideas. He does an excellent job of extracting from his subject's speeches and writings why, in his view, Burke is the first and most important conservative thinker." New Criterion "Not since Cicero had a major political thinker been a practicing politician in the center of the arena. So it is refreshingly welcome to have Burke reassessed today by another politician... Norman boldly summarizes Burke's thought for our time." Matthew D'Ancona, Sunday Telegraph "A must-read for anyone interested in politics and history... Superb." Evening Standard (London) "[A] scintillating book... Norman's erudition and rebellious streak...has led to chatter about his potential as a Tory leader. He has something of Polonius about him. Just as with an earlier pamphlet called The Big Society, he has now, under the guise of history, articulated much of what our government stands for." Washington Times "[A] lucid and thrilling exposition of [Burke's] political philosophy... The second part of the book is pure brilliance, a refreshingly candid and discursive examination of Burke's philosophy, and how the West might be wise to readopt it... There are many, many original and excellent thoughts about Burke in this volume, too many to be discussed here... Any amateur or professional student of political philosophy should take Mr. Norman's book seriously." AC Grayling, Prospect "[A] lively new biography... [An] affectionate account of the life and thought of one of Norman's heroes... Norman's biography is an engaging attempt to show how the intellectual debates of the 18th century can be deployed in today's politics." Scotland on Sunday "[A] fluent and precise book." Sunday Business Post "This is a book about 18th century politics with a 21st century context... [A] heartfelt tribute to the great Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke... [An] impressive book." Pittsburgh Tribune Review "Contending that understanding Burke is necessary to understand politics today, this book is both a reminder of his importance and a refresher course on his outlook, bringing to the fore principles as relevant now as they were when Burke formulated them." Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review "[Norman] provides a fascinating picture of the political scene in England in the 18th century... A top-notch introduction to Burke and his paternity of political systems throughout the Western Hemisphere. Even better, the author points out where ignoring Burke's thoughts have caused unnecessary difficulties." Library Journal "Norman, himself a Conservative member of Parliament, first presents Burke's life, then examines the man's philosophy. The results serve as a solid, workmanlike introduction to the reformer and his time. The philosophical half of the book is clear, free of jargon, and accessible, painting Burke as a realist... A sound introduction to a thinker who remains important two centuries after his death. Very lightly footnoted and with a select bibliography, this will be a starting point for readers new to the study of Burke's life and ideas." Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government, Harvard University "An excellent book, which unites biographical and political insights. The best short biography of Burke for nearly 50 years, and a pleasure to read." Boris Johnson, Mayor of London "Jesse Norman has brought back Burke in triumph--and not before time. Are you fed up with the selfish individualism of our age? Are you sickened by the shallow cult of money and celebrity? It is time you had a new look at Burke, the 18th century giant who first understood that we are all in this together; that human beings are social animals, tied to institutions by love and instinct, and that those institutions are themselves a source of strength and comfort and a hidden wisdom that we ignore at our peril. This is an overdue reassessment of a politician who was not only one of the greatest orators of any epoch, but the father of the modern political party, a man who campaigned with equal brio and genius against British exploitation of India and the bloody tyranny of the French revolution. Anyone who cares about politics will pounce on this book and devour it, as I did, in a sitting. A stunning performance."show more

Rating details

232 ratings
3.81 out of 5 stars
5 23% (53)
4 44% (103)
3 25% (59)
2 6% (15)
1 1% (2)
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