My hottie of the month for March is Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century politician, orator, political theorist, and philosopher. Burke is, perhaps, most famous for writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a work I had to read as an undergraduate history major. He is considered one of the fathers of conservatism, a political philosophy he embraced in response to the terrors of the French Revolution and its potential threat to England.
Because of his conservative leanings, I’ve never been particularly interested in him or his writings. Every now and then, I’ve tried to read a few selections from my anthology of Burke’s speeches and writings, but I’ve never been able to make it very far. So, I’m rather surprised to find myself suddenly interested in him and in late eighteenth-century English conservatism more generally.
This interest arose as I was working on my paper for GEMCS this past February. One reference led to another, which led to another, and before I knew it I was rereading parts of Reflections. While working on that paper, I picked up Frans de Bruyn’s “Anti-Semitism, Millenarianism, and Radical Dissent in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France,” published in Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2001. This excellent and interesting article looks at passages in Reflections in which Burke seems to embrace anti-Semitic rhetoric and attempts to explain the historical context for these passages and how they work rhetorically within Burke’s larger political argument. It’s a very informative essay that led me to another essay on conservatism in the period, which led me to start thinking about various other issues related to my current project.
I doubt that I’ll be teaching Burke any time soon. In fact, I’ve never been assigned him in a literature course (it was a history class that I read Reflections in). And he’s certainly not a major figure in my current project. But I am interested in using him and his writing to illustrate a couple of points about anti-Semitism at the end of the eighteenth century and about conservatism in general. In other words, he’s become quite useful to my project, even if he’s not a major figure in it.
So, I suddenly find myself interested in a political movement, conservatism, and a socio-political circle, one that includes Burke and Richard Cumberland, neither of which I ever thought I’d be writing about. For this reason, and certainly not because of his portrait above, I am celebrating Burke as March’s hottie of the month.