November 12, 2007

RATIONAL NOT RADICAL:

Tories and Radicals: a review of THOMAS PAINE’S ‘RIGHTS OF MAN’: A Biography By Christopher Hitchens (RICHARD BROOKHISER, 11/11/07, NY Times Book Review)

The French Revolution alarmed European conservatives, who soon got a powerful champion. Edmund Burke, a Whig member of Parliament, had spoken out for underdogs, including Americans, Irish Catholics and slaves. But in 1790 he published “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” a blistering analysis of French events and a defense of traditional institutions as humanizing forces. Paine answered with “Rights of Man,” published in two parts in 1791 and 1792. Apparently warned by William Blake that the English government was about to arrest him for sedition, Paine fled to France, where he was elected to the revolutionary legislature.

Hitchens’s discussion of Paine’s book is really a discussion of two books, Paine’s and Burke’s. “This classic exchange between two masters of polemic,” he says, “is rightly considered to be the ancestor of all modern arguments between Tories and radicals.” Hitchens is in Paine’s corner, but like a good trainer, he knows the other fighter’s strengths.


Even the French now concede that Burke was right, but for Mr. Hitchens to renounce the French Revolution will require renouncing the Soviet Union, which he long defended against Reagan, Thatcher and company. He's not ready yet for that psychic break.


Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2007 7:17 AM
Comments

Dollars to donuts, though, that even if the Lord works in mysterious ways, Hitchens'll renounce the USSR long before he ever becomes a Catholic.

(Um, French crullers, if you don't mind...)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at November 12, 2007 7:48 AM

The crucial difference is not that between Burke and Paine -- who of course was imprisoned by his French heroes, and likely only escaped execution because of the Thermidorian fall of Robespierre --but between the Maistre's reactionary authoritarian Church and King conservatism, and Burke's more moderate conservatism founded on the Glorious Revolution.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 12, 2007 10:41 AM
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