Edmund Burke’s View of History

John C. Weston, Jr., "Edmund Burke's View of History," The Review of Politics, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1961), pp. 203-229.


Most analyses of views of history resolve themselves into considerations of progress. We ask, does a particular man believe in progress? And since most modem thinkers do believe in some form of progress, the answer acquires significance for its definition of the kind of progress in which the subject believes. Similarly, in analyzing Burke’s view of history I shall attempt to demonstrate, with an emphasis on description, not on comparison and source, that Burke had a view of progress which is so limited and qualified that it is distinct from and in most details opposed to the idea of progress held by most of the thinkers of his century. Since Burke’s highly qualified view of progress pertains particularly to the continuous development and improvement of national institutions and laws, I shall present next an analysis of Burke’s view of constitutional history in the abstract and English constitutional history in the concrete. And since Burke’s view of history was subjected to its greatest test by the French Revolution and seems to have been modified and shaken by that event, I shall conclude with a discus- sion of Burke’s view of the French Revolution as it pertains to his view of history.