Edmund Burke was, and still is, a provocative thinker—a provocation in his own day, as in ours. At a time when most right-minded (which is to say, left-inclined) English literati were rhapsodizing over the French Revolution—Wordsworth declaring what “bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”—Burke wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a searing indictment of the Revolution. He was accused then, as he often is now, of being excessive, even hysterical, in his account of the Revolution:

a ferocious dissoluteness in manners, an insolent irreligion in opinions and practices, … laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring … a church pillaged … civil and military anarchy … national bankruptcy.

All this, one must remember (it is sometimes hard to remember), was said in November 1790, three years before the...

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