Edmund Burke - Reflections on the Revolution in France

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When one reads this excerpt from Burke’s Reflection of Revolution in France, it isn’t difficult to decipher what his thoughts are. He fiercely believes in the elegance and grace of a social order based on mutual respect and obedience to one’s duty. He begins by creating an illusion of the Queen to be, Marie Antoinette, glorious and splendid in her beauty and loveliness. He then speaks of a valiant courtier who, putting aside his own safety, would jeopardize his life to defend his queen. Or rather, ‘ten thousand swords’, all ready to fight for the monarchy that rules over them (Burke 1). What needs to be pointed out here is that Burke speaks of the chivalrous nature of these men, and of that fact that they seek no reward or personal gain. Instead of being led by individual profit motive, the courtiers find satisfaction just by fulfilling their role in the greater social order. Burke felt that the age of selfless devotion to the monarchy and the chivalric code by which the people lived had given way to a new way of living - a meaningless economic consciousness in which actions were motivated by selfish needs only. He felt that once we reject moral imagination, there is nothing to keep us from returning to our primal selves, governed by animalistic instincts. Burke brings in the metaphor of ‘decent drapery of life’ as being ‘necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature’ - this introducing the subtle idea that a revolution in France could be compared to an act of rape (Burke 4). If we considered his implications objectively, we could understand his metaphor of dress and undress - that the aristocratic and chivalric ways of life served as a wardrobe, to envelope and camouflage our deepest, darkest and most brutish natures. According to this theory, Burke’s choice of a metaphor of rape may have been appropriate - but mostly when the aspect of ‘clothing’ is considered. If we take into regard every other consequence and everything else that comes along with the act of rape, similarities would be, literally, the absence of consent, the physical force used, coercion, and the abuse of authority. But the French Revolution would not be a completely accurate comparison, and Burke did not look at the bigger picture. The consequences and effects of rape are drastically negative, without question or exception. It represents a traumatic ordeal for the victim and more often than not leads to severe mental and emotional distress(es). On the other hand, although Burke was considered almost prophet-like in his prediction of the course of the Revolution, his extreme negativity about the outcome of the Revolution was not accurate. Revolutions do not always end ‘badly’ - although the definition of badly needs to be specified - that is, unfavourably for every single individual affected. True, Mao, Hitler and Lenin prove Burke’s prophecy of seeing ‘nothing but the gallows’ ‘at the end of every vista’ quite correct (Burke 6). However, the reasons for the revolution need to be looked at closely, alongside the outcomes. Burke obviously did not consider the reasons for the revolution practically.

The French peasants and even bourgeoisie faced economic difficulties, mostly concerning the equitability of taxation. The rigid social structure during the ancient regime dictated that the peasants paid taxes to the king, church, and lord of the manor, as well as numerous indirect taxes on wine, salt, and bread. Furthermore, the peasants also owed their lord a labor obligation. And throughout the 18th century, the price of rent was always increasing, as did the duties levied on goods sold in markets and fairs. By 1789, the plight of the French peasant was obvious. In this sense, the only people truly content with their existence were the aristocrats, and some factions of the bourgeoisie. True, Burke did not want society to be reduced to an animal kingdom, he did not favor barbaric and brutish norms and he definitely did not want France to...
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