Edmund Burke and the Natural Law

Edmund Burke and the Natural Law

Edmund Burke and the Natural Law

Edmund Burke and the Natural Law

Excerpt

From the publication of Buckle The History of Civilization in England, which appeared in 1857-1861, until the present it has been the almost universal conviction of utilitarian and positivist scholars that Burke had a strong contempt for the Natural Law and that the ultimate basis of his political philosophy was to be found in a conservative utilitarianism. The classical expression of this conception of Burke's political thought was written by John Morley in two books on Burke. Benthamite and positivist scholars such as Sir Leslie Stephen, William Lecky, Charles E. Vaughan, Elie Halévy, John MacCunn, Harold Laski, George Sabine, Fossey J. C. Hearnshaw, and so on, have merely followed and extended the original path laid out by Buckle and Morley. The common conviction that Burke was an enemy of the Natural Law has been repeated constantly in many contemporary textbooks on political science and history.

It is the thesis of this study that far from being an enemy of Natural Law, Burke was one of the most eloquent and profound defenders of Natural Law morality and politics in Western civilization. In every important political problem he encountered, in American, Irish, Indian, and domestic affairs, in his economic principles, and in the great crisis of the French Revolution, Burke consistently appealed to the Natural Law and made it the basis of his political philosophy. It should also be evident from this book that as an exponent of Natural law or traditional "natural rights" Burke was in the great classical tradition of Aristotle and Cicero and the Scholastic tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, Bracton, and Hooker. It was precisely for this reason that he was opposed to the eighteenth-century . . .

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