CC Study Guide
Edmund Burke: Selections from
Reflections on the Revolution in France
From class on Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The basic argument:
A stable state produces a good society because it guarantees order, liberty, and the continuation of that
This stability is produced by important institutions, such as universal prejudices (including
sentiments supporting religion, order, and submission), heredity, and prudence.
The French Revolution
is bad because it has unjustly and illegally disregarded and/or upset these institutions, thereby putting
the society and its people in danger.
The essay basically repeats that throughout, so I’ve organized some key points and quotes according to
topic, rather than the chronology of the essay.
Note that this separation is not nearly as distinct in
Burke’s writing as it is in these bulleted lists: the ideas of liberty, heredity, stability, religion, order, and
his opinion of revolutions all depend on and inform each other as part of the theory above.
In speaking of freedom, Burke refers to “rational liberty” and “a manly, moral, regulated
Liberty is a tangible entity, “an entailed inheritance derived to us form our forefathers and
transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people” (line 304).
Burke believes that the goodness of any thing (in this case, liberty) is dependent on the
circumstances in which it exists.
(His major discussion of circumstances begins around line 110).
The stability of the government, the ruler, and the method of succession of the ruler is indicative of the
stability of the society, therefore a strong system of hereditary rule will secure liberty.
Burke equates the heredity of the crown to family inheritance: