ESSAYFLORA DI VINCENZO PAINE /BURKE: FRENCH REVOLUTION CONTROVERSY Introduction During the French Revolution, two writers created an important controversy: Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. They represented two opposing ideologies: conservatism (Burke) and radical liberalism (Paine). The main idea of Burke was warning of the dangers of trying to shape society according to abstract concepts and ideals, and as a representative of traditional English Conservatism. For Paine, it was to foreseeing the welfare state.It was Edmund Burke who started the controversy. His Reflections on the Revolution in France was published in London on 1 November 1790, and created a sensation in the literary and political world.
Newspapers such as The Times and The St. James Chronicle published extracts from it. "Within our remembrance" wrote The London Chronicle on 2 November, "no publication has excited more anxious curiosity. " King George III was reported to have said that every gentleman should read it.
Seven thousand copies of the book were sold in the first week, and it was reprinted several times before the end of the year. Notice that, the pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals are the only evidence of public reaction to these two famous books: Burke Reflections, and Paine Rights of Man, Part I. But what exactly was the controversy about? The dispute might be considered as being primarily concerned with the merits and demerits of the French revolution. But it might also be interpreted as a discussion of rights and government.To understand this controversy, let’s take a look at the two authors and at their main ideas.
First, I’m going to introduce Edmund Burke, and then Thomas Paine. We are going to see a short biography of them and go trough their main thoughts about the human rights and the French revolution. The thoughts and quotes of each author are taken from their respective books. Comparison of Burke and Paine’s thoughts about French Revolution and Human Rights Edmund Burke was born in Ireland, and went to London in 1750. He was opposed to the French Revolution.In 1790 he published his book Reflections on the Revolution in France as a warning to many English reformers such as the Country Gentry, the Foxites and Wilkesites.
Edmund Burke said that the French were not having their own version of the Glorious Revolution but that events in France were something very different. He said that events in France would lead to conflict and blood, and that wars would result from the Revolution, ending in the establishment of a military dictatorship. Burke had been in France in 1773-1774 but had spent the time with the nobility and had been well-treated.He had not seen the oppression, the hard living and working conditions or the misery that existed in France.
He had practical political reasons for his attitude to events in France and commented: “I reprobate no form of government upon abstract principles”. Burke saw no need for the violent changes in France and said it would lead to disaster because all the foundations of government had been swept away leaving nothing on which to build. Regarding the French revolution, he’s not only opposed to it, but it was deeply shocked by it.He agreed that the political elite (aristocrats) had not been carrying out their responsibilities well, but thought it would be better to return to an order which did work than to bring in a new, untried system.
Plus Burke’s other objections to the French revolutionaries were that ideas of “natural rights” were dangerous, as they could be taken to extremes by anyone; they were too “abstract. “By having a right to everything they want everything. ” This idea of “natural right” is a point on where Burke and Paine have an incompatible opinion.In his book, Burke said that, the ideas of the “philosophes” and revolutionaries had no background, no tradition; but collective experience builds up tradition and we know what “works” because of this. These points are very much a part of conservative thinking: whatever has been developed and tried over a long period of time (custom, tradition) should not be abandoned. Also he thinks that the art of establishing the constitution of a state is complex and intricate, and requires “delicate complicated skill” and deep knowledge of human nature, and how to provide for human needs, etc.
The state is not an association for expediency (like a commercial organization) but it is an “overarching entity” that keeps historical continuity going. This is an organic model: all the parts in society are inter-dependent, and play their natural roles. For Burke, in complete contrast to Paine, it was “natural” to feel awe at monarchs, “reverence to priests” etc. The reverse of this is a tendency, which Burke shared, to view ordinary citizens as ignorant; each has only a little reason and cannot envisage the whole of society.We can only draw on experience, and “prejudice”, not on individual abstract “reason”.
Moreover, he thinks that our “natural” condition is dependency and the need for security and leadership. Our “natural rights” are derived from society – the natural rights the revolutionaries demanded were not derived from tradition or existing culture, and it was dangerous to try to impose them on society. He condemned their views as “ideology”. Burke identified “concrete” rights, derived from society and experience, to: - justice - the fruits of one’s industry; - continuity and inheritance; - education and religion.
Burke believed that religion was the most useful and powerful guide to how to run society. As regards who should govern, Edmund Burke said: “only those who have experience and background are able to govern “. Here, Burke makes a reference to the “aristocrats”. That means that the author think that they are the best persons capable of governing.
To him, their role is also more important because they have more “invested” in society. On the other hand, the people, on the other hand, should be “tractable and obedient” – if they do not get rewards in this life, they will in Heaven.The most important goal for society is good order and government can bring this provided it acts to restrain “human passions”. Burke is not opposed to change, but thinks that, the more radical a change is, the more difficult it is to control, and the more likelihood of violence. So, as we can see Edmund Burke had extreme and radical thoughts about how a country should be governed. Burke’s principal argument is that the wisdom of the ages is a better guide to good governance than some metaphysical thoughts by “doctors of philosophy” and he makes lots of sarcastic comments on the abilities of such people.
Now, we are going to see that Thomas Paine’s thoughts about Human Rights and French revolution are completely opposite to Edmund Burke’s. Thomas Paine was an Englishman, born in Thetford, on 29 January 1737. After a varied but unsuccessful career as teacher, shopkeeper and excise-man, he emigrated to the United States in 1774. During the American war of independence he earned some fame and some reward by his political writings.
He was one of the best defender of the French Revolution and that because he was a pure democrat who believed in the ability of the ordinary man to make decisions for himself.In the part I of his book, Thomas Paine deals with general principles of government, and argues in support of: popular sovereignty, universal suffrage, natural rights, and the French revolutionary slogan: “liberty, equality, fraternity”. His writing was very powerful: “we have it in our power to begin the world over again… and every opportunity to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth. ” Paine drew a distinction between society and government: “society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness. Society is natural, and government should simply do those “few” things which society cannot do for itself.
According to Thomas Paine, everyone has a common interest in pursuing safely their own interest, and a natural love of liberty. He said that we all have “inextinguishable feelings to do good, and the right to reason for ourselves. ” Therefore we all have natural rights to “act for our own comfort and happiness” which precede the establishment of government, so government has no right to interfere in them.The rights of man comprise both natural rights and civil rights: “Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess. ” Here Paine shows that, he is in favour of the freedom of opinion, religion, thinking, etc… Unlike Burke, Thomas Paine thought that hereditary monarchy is not natural: “all hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. ” “Monarchy is popery of government; a thing kept to amuse the ignorant, and quiet them into paying taxes.
” It is superstitious, and not rational.To him, whoever reveres kings has “given up the proper dignity of a man, [and] sunk himself beneath the rank of animals, and contemptibly crawls like a worm. ” Thomas Paine thought that revolutions are not exactly natural, but occur when a people’s feelings have been kept under for a long time, and their anger eventually raises their consciousness to do something about their condition. All have rights to self-government, therefore in small states, direct democracy could be practised, and otherwise representative democracy is the only legitimate form.
As Paine explained on his book, once government has been set up on the correct principles (the rights of man), there would be no war. An another point developed by Thomas Paine is that, without war there would be less poverty, because war is expensive, and more money would be available for such things as: maternity allowances, marriage grants, funeral grants, family allowances, unemployment relief and pensions. To sum-up we can say that Burke and Paine came from two different sides of the political world and different backgrounds.Paine was not educated and Burke went to Oxbridge university and later became a Member of Parliament in 1765.
Burke was a typical conservative who believed in history and tradition. Paine was a trouble- maker from the left and a Republican who believed in revolution and democracy. Parallels with the 2012 French Election: Sarkozy /Hollande What happened at that time can be compared to the recent presidential election in France, in May 2012. Two politicians from completely different political parties were in competition. Nicolas Sarkozy, who is a member of the Right and Francois Hollande who is a Socialist.
These two men represented opposite ways of how to run a country and of different beliefs. At that time, France citizen were cleary separated in two sides: the pro-Sarkozy and the pro-Hollande. Francois Hollande represented the man who believes in the power of the state and in the virtue of public spending. In the opposing Nicolas Sarkozy defended free markets and foreign interventionism.
He was more concerned by the commercial market than by the social aspect. The gap between Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy’ beliefs was not as big as Paine and Burke, but there were some important point that opposed the two politicians.For example, the rich people, Francois Hollande was an anti-rich, whereas Nicolas Sarkozy was on their side. Or also, regarding the immigrant, one is more indulgent than the other one. Sarkozy is an anti-immigrant whereas Hollande was in their favour and want to help them. We can say that Holland, as Thomas Paine, believed in the human rights and in the capacity of the people to govern itself.
On the contrary, Nicolas Sarkozy is more like Edmund Burke, in the sense, that he thought that a country should be ran by a strong person; a person “as a king” who will be in charge of the citizen.