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Burke and Paine on the French Revolution

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A lecture give to Arts One, a first-year, interdisciplinary course at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver

A lecture give to Arts One, a first-year, interdisciplinary course at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver

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  • 1. Burke & Paine on legitimate gov’t & French revolution Or: Who is more “manly”? CC-BY
  • 2. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine Burke, 17291797 Wikimedia Commons, public domain Paine, 17371809 Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  • 3. What can make governmental authority legitimate? Why should we obey political authorities such as those who make and enforce the laws? A common answer over the last few centuries: -- what legitimizes governmental authority is the consent of the people -- and that the government upholds the natural rights of humans Hobbes and Locke: start with state of nature w/natural rights, then consent to set up commonwealth
  • 4. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) State of nature consent commonwealth • Natural equality among humans (at least in terms of vulnerability to attack (Chpt. XIII.1-2) • Right of nature: “the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature, that is to say, of his own life, and consequently of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto” (Chpt. XIV.1)
  • 5. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) State of nature consent commonwealth Commonwealth created by “a covenant of every man with every man, in such manner, as if every man should say to every man, I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner” (XVII.13) People obliged to obey the sovereign b/c voluntarily transferred some of their rights to it: “there [is] no obligation on any man which ariseth not from some act of
  • 6. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) State of nature consent commonwealth • Sovereign authority can be in one person, a small group, or the people (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy) (XIX) • Once established, can’t overthrow or change it -- unless it fails to protect the people (XXI.21) • So though a people’s consent is the ground of authority, can’t (usually) change rule by popular choice
  • 7. The Glorious Revolution, England 1688 An example of Hobbesian process of establishing sovereign? King James II: pro-Catholic policies, dispensing with laws passed by parliament, dismissing parliament entirely…led to anger Then birth of Catholic son and heir led to fear James II of England, Wikimedia commons, public domain
  • 8. The Glorious Revolution, England, 1688 Daughter of James II, Mary married to William of Orange; William invited to invade England by aristocrats; James does not fight back & tries to flee for France Interim parliament declares William & Mary monarchs; Bill of Rights (1689) submits the people to their rule & that of their heirs “forever” King William, Wikimedia, public domain Queen Mary, Wikimedia, public domain
  • 9. Dr. Richard Price, Glorious Revolution rested on Sermon on Glorious several principles & Revolution (1789) rights, including: • • • Right to resist power when abused Right to choose own governors Right to frame a gov’t for ourselves (see Paine p. 8) Monarch was chosen by the people, so is a servant of the people more than a sovereign Richard Price, by Benjamin West, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  • 10. Burke on Glorious Revolution From Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790 Glorious Revolution provided for a hereditary monarchy, “forever” (Paine p. 8) The people thereby rejected the idea of choosing their own governors The people chose the gov’t, but after that are not the seat of authority Burke looking over the shoulder of Price (1790), Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  • 11. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1690) State of nature consent commonwealth • Adult humans naturally free and equal (all the same creatures of God) • Natural rights: life, health, liberty, property; right to punish violations of these; God gives “law of nature” not to harm each other in these
  • 12. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1690) State of nature • consent commonwealth Commonwealth justified by consent: “Man being … by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be … subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.” (Chpt VIII)
  • 13. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1690) State of nature consent commonwealth • Should protect our natural rights; we give up to it our right to punish violations of them • Main source of power in commonwealth, the legislative, can be in hands of one, a few, or many persons
  • 14. commonwealth State of nature consent Dissolving the commonwealth possible for several reasons, including: • Gov’t attempts to violate the natural rights of the people to life, health, liberty, property, taking arbitrary power over them • Executive doesn’t enforce the laws, but acts on other rules When commonwealth dissolved, people return to state of nature & can choose new gov’t again
  • 15. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1791, 1792) 1. All men are of the same kind, all created by God, and so all equal in natural rights (though the Bible does make a distinction between men and women) (29) 1. Natural rights: “those that pertain to man in right of his existence” (30) • Including rights of thinking and acting as we choose so long as we don’t harm others (30) 2. Always retain natural rights that can execute on one’s own; give up to society those that can’t (such as right to judge violations of one’s rights, some of the rights to protect oneself & others, which state can do better) (31)
  • 16. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1791, 1792) 4. A government can only legitimately arise based on consent: when “individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, enter[s] into a compact with each other to produce a government” (32). 5. Forms of government • Aim of government: the good of the people (including protection of natural rights); this is called “Republicanism” (119, 136) • Problems with hereditary monarchy, aristocracy, (direct) democracy; representative government is best (9-12, 111-120)
  • 17. The Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) See Paine, 65-67 1. Starts with claiming freedom & equality of all 2. Purpose of governments is to protect natural rights -- including those of free opinion & speech (#10, 11) and property (#27) 3. Sovereign power rests with the people 4. The legislative power must Declaration of the Rights of Man & Citizen, be democratic (#6) Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  • 18. But has all this really gone far enough? 1. If the sovereignty is in the nation, why not make the whole nation, the whole people, more a part of the ruling power? • Why not make the legislative body the whole people, all the citizens? • Rousseau suggests this in the Social Contract (1762): The whole citizenry is both sovereign and subject, making laws as the people for the people 2. If the people should have a say in creating laws (“Rights of Man and Citizen”), why not a direct say rather than a mediated one? 3. If gov’t should aim at public good, and the more people involved the better knowledge we could have of this (Paine’s view), why not direct democracy best?
  • 19. 4. Impractical except for small states like Athens? • Two words: telephone and internet 5. Would need more time to learn about laws/policies? • Yes, and should Ancient Delphi Temple Site, Flickr, shared by Benjamin Vander Steen, licensed CCanyway with BY • representative system Spend less time on useless “Reality TV” and more time on learning about issues • Rousseau: once people start paying others to run the legislative power for them, the state is already starting to go to ruin
  • 20. A call to action! Tremble all ye oppressors of the world! Take warning all ye supporters of slavish governments and slavish hierarchies! Call no more (absurdly and wickedly) reformation, innovation. You cannot now hold the world in darkness. Struggle no longer against increasing light and liberality. Restore to mankind their rights and consent to the correction of abuses, before they and you are destroyed together. (Dr. Price, Sermon to Revolutionary Society, Nov. 1789)
  • 21. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Some of his concerns with the revolution 1. Was a radical overthrow instead of piecemeal reform • Should engage in both conservation and correction; use existing materials in the state rather than starting over from scratch 2. Need to rely at least partially on principles, institutions and practices that have stood the test of time • “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” (Burke) • in this way, incorporate the reason and wisdom of multiple generations, rather than just those living now
  • 22. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) 3. The “rights of man” are too abstract to guide governments; need wisdom to determine how to apply them in specific ways and run gov’t for the benefit of the people • This comes best through experience of the past as to what works, the likely effects of certain actions, etc. • “… it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or building it up again without having models and patterns of approved
  • 23. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) 4. The National Assembly has too much power • They don’t have a stable form of law, convention, or constitution to restrain them; they can create their own constitution however they like • “Nothing in heaven or upon earth can serve as a control on them” (Burke)
  • 24. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) 5. Violence of the events of the revolution E.g., storming of the Bastille: see Paine, 18-23 Prise de la Bastille, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain
  • 25. Burke and Paine on antiquity & the new 1. Burke -- need to respect the wisdom coming from long experience in earlier institutions, principles & practices; still, reform where necessary -- what is entirely new is untried, speculation, uncertain 2. Paine -- those who look to antiquity don’t look far enough back; need to look all the way to the origin of humans, their equality and their rights from God (28-29) -- relying on precedents means having “superstitious reverence for ancient things” (134)
  • 26. Burke and Paine on antiquity & the new Paine, cont’d -- American and French revolutions are sign of the future (78, 94) -- the future is morning, spring, light of reason against darkness, superstition, ignorance (72, 143, 195-196, 89, 115, 117) -- current generation is like “the Adam of the new world” (191) “How strangely is antiquity treated! To answer some purposes it is spoken of as the times of darkness and ignorance, and to answer others, it is put for the light of the world” (Paine 134) –true of Paine himself too?
  • 27. Burke & Paine on childishness & manliness Burke -- those who praise the revolution have a “juvenile warmth” for it -- we look with horror at the children who would hack their parents to piece -- we base our freedom on an “austere and masculine morality” -- our form of gov’t produces “a rational and manly freedom” Paine -- aristocracy is childish (40) -- monarchy is childish (122, 139)
  • 28. Where only men can be citizens, the maturity and rationality of citizens would then, I suppose, be “manliness”…