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Edmund Burke

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Essay title: Edmund Burke

This paper views the significance and role that Edmund Burke ascribed to religion in his political philosophy and how this emphasis on religion allowed him to foresee the future events. While analyzing his writings ā€“ the "Reflections on the Revolution in France", "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful", "A Letter to the Noble Lord", and the quotations by other authors as well as his biography, the focus of this paper has been kept only on what Burke wrote about religion, its power over men and society and the relations of the Church and the state, while the other aspects in his many writings were consciously ignored.

Being born into a family with a specific religious setting, religion could not be merely a convenient myth for him to keep popular appetites within bounds; his belief in reality revealing itself in history and history manifesting the presence of God foreshadowed aspects of later philosophies of history. He looked at public issues with almost matchless penetration, given that the mundane order was derived from the divine and remaining a part of it. Mansfield considers among observers of modern politics only Tocqueville and perhaps Churchill as his rivals in seeing the meaning of events. Burke perceived the French revolution as a threat for European civilization in its attempt to throw off Christian religion. Viewing prejudices and traditions as representing God's mind and will, Burke had to confront it, since limiting politics and ethics to a puny "reason" would be an act of folly. I argue that Burke's view of societies as complicated partnerships of generations interwoven by religion and his perception of the essence of the French Revolution as religious enabled him to foresee the host of violent controversies along doctrinal lines which agitated social and ethical thinking in Europe after the revolution.

Years of formation

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was born to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother and was always tolerant of the other faith. It was customary in that period for the partners of a mixed marriage to rear boys in their father's faith, girls in that of their mother. Accordingly, Edmund grew up in the Anglican Church but with the sympathy for the plight of Roman Catholics. His dislike of religious intolerance came in part from his family background. At the age of six, for the sake of his health, Edmund was sent away from Dublin and during the next five years he spent off and on with his mother's people in a more healthful rural atmosphere at Ballyduff in County Cork, where the Catholic environment strengthened his innately strong religious sentiments. When Edmund was twelve, he and his brothers went off to school at Ballitore in County Kildare, where Abraham Shackleton, a Yorkshire Quaker, had opened his school.

His letters to Shackleton after Ballitore school years reveal Burke as a religious person who makes efforts to live according to the Gospel and describes the difficulties one meets in the city where temptations lay on every side. He admitted to his former teacher: "All persons should be penitent, for the best of men were sinners." At the end of his letter Burke spoke of attending evening prayers at Trinity College, which speaks of personal involvement and not just of a formal facade. He deplored the needless diversity of sects in his letter and called the destruction of the unity of the Anglican Church "a crime".

Burke's views on religion

Already in his very first published works one can recognize clearly established views on religion. Burke, for example, was confident that morality was given directly by God. He wrote in ā€˜A Vindication of Natural Society', published in 1756: "It is a Misfortune, that in no Part of the Globe natural Liberty and natural Religion are to be found pure, and free from the Mixture of political Adulterations. Yet we have implanted in us by the Providence Ideas, Axioms, Rules, of what is pious, just, fair, honest, which no political Craft, nor learned Sophistry, can entirely expel from our Breasts. By these we judge of the several artificial Modes of Religion and Society, and determine of them as they approach to, or recede from this Standard."

He projected a vision where religion and government were closely connected: "Civil Government borrows a Strength from ecclesiastical; and artificial Laws receive a Sanction from artificial Revelations. The Ideas of Religion and Government are closely connected; and whilst we receive Government as a thing necessary, or even useful to our Wellbeing, we shall in spite of us draw in, as necessary, tho' undesirable Consequence, an artificial Religion of some kind or other."

Burke thus did not approve religion because it was a bulwark of order; instead,

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