Edmund Burke, Ireland, and the Fashioning of Self

BookEdmund Burke, Ireland, and the Fashioning of Self

Edmund Burke, Ireland, and the Fashioning of Self

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 343


January 1st, 1996



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This is the first attempt, since the work of A.P.I. Samuels in 1923, at examining the early career of Edmund Burke without assuming that he was born to become the arch-conservative who condemned the French Revolution. Instead of being in revolt against the Enlightenment, the young Burke was a man intent on illustrating himself and his age by promoting rational knowledge and widening the field of reason. His turn to politics is, therefore, seen as turning away from truth; the compromise changed the direction of his thinking. An escapist solution to some of Burke’s problems could not make him forget Ireland, his native country. The fact that Ireland is the first country to have been colonized by England makes it an interesting laboratory of colonial misrule. The study of how it fashioned such a man torn between Ireland and England raises and sheds light on problems that go very much beyond the fate of Burke as an individual. It is a demonstration of the different means used by colonial powers to maintain their conquered empire and contain dissidence and rebellion. Making people believe, for instance, that the order of things is as it should be because that is what it is, does not tax the imagination, but it works and is still being used the world over. In this opinion campaign, Protestant England enjoyed the unfailing support of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and a ‘realistic’ understanding on the part of Catholic Europe. It is an example of the private and public tragedies caused by the divided loyalties that colonialism generated. The painfully experienced situation of a ‘cultural mulatto’ is the inevitable result of a state of domination. If it seems complex, it is because it is not purely negative: the dominated may in turn dominate the dominator. The effects are still with us of the passionate oscillations and reversals of opinion that Burke called his ‘principles’. Finally it illustrates the fundamental error of those who, even for a moment, lose sight of the truth perceived by Victor Hugo that ‘the first phase of the possible is to be impossible’. As a cultural mulatto, Burke led an impossible life, but who can fail to see that what was then an ‘impossibility’ is, in the present situation of Ireland and of the world, not only possible but eminently desirable? If only because this is just the beginning.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
List of short titles11
1. Ireland in Edmund Burke's posthumous career12
2. The Irish bog24
The family environment26
The divided world: Dublin and London38
3. Becoming a writer and a thinker in Ireland52
The corpus of Burke's early writings53
Becoming a writer58
Becoming a thinker71
4. The discovery of the 'other world', or An account ofthe European settlements in America97
In search of a literary outlet99
From literary tactics to colonial politics103
The discovery of the 'other world'107
From the 'other world' to the European world113
5. Of imitation, or A vindication ofnatural society123
From imitation to literary creation126
From argumentum ad hominem to reductio ad absurdum137
From metastasis to Mandevillian satire146
6. Of aesthetics, or A philosophical enquiry into the origin ofour ideas of the sublime and the beautiful160
Genesis and purpose163
Structure, procedure and principal concepts172
Aesthetics and society200
7. Burke as an historian220
Why an 'abridgement'? Why an 'essay'?223
The progress of history and the history of progress230
Of the spirit of conquest241
'Contemporary history' or the impossibility of history245
8. Burke and the Annual register256
Was Burke the author of the Annual registeri259
The Annual register and its public261
The aims of the Annual register266
The importance of the Annual register in Burke's life271
9. The turn to politics276
The break with Hamilton278
The 'savage period'284
The Tracts relative to the laws againstpopery in Ireland291
Burke turns to politics309
10. The 'true' Edmund Burke316
List of works cited326