Reflections on the Revolution in France "Politics And The Pulpit Are Terms That Have Little Agreement"

Edmund Burke

"Politics And The Pulpit Are Terms That Have Little Agreement"

Context: Burke was certainly one of the greatest political philosophers England has ever produced. Though he was for some time a member of the English Parliament and influenced extensively the political thinking of an entire era, he never rose to high political office. The American Revolution he lamented, but he considered it to be a justifiable defense of traditional liberties; the French Revolution, on the other hand, he regarded as a dangerous and vicious repudiation of all sane principles of liberty and just government. When a nonconforming minister preached a sermon in which he expressed sympathy for the revolution, he violated a principle of separation of function which Burke considered essential. In the opening pages of his Reflections on the Revolution in France he devotes himself to a repudiation of the various expressions of sympathy for the French Revolution which had been heard in England, this sermon among them:

For my part, I looked on that sermon as the public declaration of a man much connected with literary caballers, and intriguing philosophers; with political theologians, and theological politicians, both at home and abroad. I know they set him up as a sort of oracle; because, with the best intentions in the world, he naturally philippizes, and chaunts his prophetic song in exact unison with their designs. . . . Supposing, however, that something like moderation were visible in this political sermon; yet politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity. The cause of civil liberty and civil government gains as little as that of religion by this confusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character, to assume what does not belong to them, are, for the greater part, ignorant both of the character they leave, and of the character they assume. . . .