Reflections on the Revolution in France "A Manly, Moral, Regulated Liberty"

Edmund Burke

"A Manly, Moral, Regulated Liberty"

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 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. Because of extensive sympathy in England for the revolution in France he was led to the publication of these Reflections. The immediate quotation is from a discussion concerning an unsigned defense of the revolution in highly general and abstract terms issued by a society of English sympathizers:

I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society, be he who he will; and perhaps I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that cause, in the whole course of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. . . .