Edmund Burke’s first important publication, A VINDICATION OF NATURAL SOCIETY, subtitled A VIEW OF THE MISERIES AND EVILS ARISING TO MANKIND FROM EVERY SPECIES OF CIVIL SOCIETY, IN A LETTER TO LORD-——, BY A LATE NOBLE WRITER, satirically attacked the views of Lord Bolingbroke (the late Noble Writer), whose philosophical works had been published posthumously in 1754. By adopting Bolingbroke’s manner, Burke hoped to give a tone of irony and satire to his own opinions on society. So well did he succeed in imitating his model’s polished style, however, that A VINDICATION OF NATURAL SOCIETY was generally received as Bolingbroke’s own, even by such critics as Chesterfield and Warburton.
Burke’s central point was to show that Bolingbroke’s arguments in favor of natural against revealed religion were equally applicable in favor of natural as against artificial society. Two years before A VINDICATION OF NATURAL SOCIETY appeared, Rousseau had in fact developed the thesis that a simple society close to nature was morally superior to the refined society of Europe. Burke understood the revolutionary nature of this doctrine and its threat to the established order, and he consistently maintained that any society was preferable to the hypothetical “state of nature.” To prove that he understood the implications of his opponents’ arguments better than they themselves did, he assumed their position with massive irony:...
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