12 December 2012
PUBLICATION: The Cambridge Companion to Edmund Burke
Cambridge University Press has recently published D Dwan and C Insole (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Edmund Burke:
Edmund Burke prided himself on being a practical statesman, not an armchair philosopher. Yet his responses to specific problems – rebellion in America, the abuse of power in India and Ireland, or revolution in France – incorporated theoretical debates within jurisprudence, economics, religion, moral philosophy and political science. Moreover, the extraordinary rhetorical force of Burke's speeches and writings quickly secured his reputation as a gifted orator and literary stylist. This Companion provides a comprehensive assessment of Burke's thought, exploring all his major writings from his early treatise on aesthetics to his famous polemic, Reflections on the Revolution in France. It also examines the vexed question of Burke's Irishness and seeks to determine how his cultural origins may have influenced his political views. Finally, it aims both to explain and to challenge interpretations of Burke as a romantic, a utilitarian, a natural law thinker and founding father of modern conservatism.
The Companion includes my ‘Burke on law and legal theory’. The introduction notes that:
Burke’s frequent recourse to legal arguments and principles gleaned from traditions of common law and natural law jurisprudence also need to be interpreted within a broader historical and intellectual context. As Seán Donlan argues, Burke could sing the praises of England’s ‘ancient constitution’ as well as any other Whig, but he could also challenge parochial views of English legal history and was especially critical of the insularity of popular common law histories associated with William Blackstone. Instead, he chose to emphasise the degree to which English law was the result of frequent and constructive communication with the continent. Throughout his life he expressed impatience at narrow or excessively positivist constructions of law and insisted that all legal schemes must accommodate the particular manners and morals of nations as well as ethical constraints imposed by human nature. Of course, critics have disputed the meaning and importance of these ethical constraints, and it is an issue that Christopher Insole addresses in his chapter on Burke’s use of natural law.
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