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REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN ENGLAND: EDMUND BURKE'S USES OF 1688

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Abstract:

This article highlights Edmund Burke's basic purposes in discussing the meaning and significance of the English Revolution of 1688 in his classic text Reflections on the Revolution in France. Previous assessments of this section of Reflections have been influenced by Burke's view of his own arguments; consequently, commentators have either been concerned to pass judgment on the validity of Burke's depiction of 1688, or stress that Burke offered a mainstream Whig reading of the event. By contrast, the article reveals what Burke was doing in presenting his interpretation of the English Revolution in the manner that he did. Situating his arguments in the prevailing contexts of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century representations of the English Revolution, the article highlights the particularity of Burke's use of certain terms and arguments to show that he was dissociating 1688 from notions of popular choice and government accountability, and rendering the Revolution passive rather than active history. To Burke's mind, these were important steps to take in order to counter the democratic threat posed to theWhig regime by radicals who used a dynamic interpretation of 1688 to legitimate their demands for political reform. Although illustrating this ideological retrenchment forces us to reconsider Burke's status as a political moderate, it ultimately enables us to fully appreciate the intricacies of his classic work.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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