Man’s Second Disobedience: a Vindication of Burke

Roger Scruton, "Man’s Second Disobedience: a Vindication of Burke" in Ceri Crossley and Ian Small (eds.), The French Revolution and British Culture (Oxford University Press, 1989).


Tocqueville remarked that there is the greatest difference between a ‘revolution’ (such as that of 1688, or that which founded the United States of America) through which law and adjudication continue undisturbed and which has the maintenance of law as one of its objects, and a revolution, such as the French, in which legal continuity is cast aside as an obstacle and an irrelevance … Armed with his Rousseauist doctrines of popular sovereignty, or his Marxist ideas of power and ideology, the revo lutionary can de-legitimize any existing institution, and find quite imperceivable the distinction between law aimed at justice, and law aimed at power. His own power is sustained by the promise to abolish it; he is therefore impatient with all institutions which use existing powers, in order not to abolish but to limit them … Under revolutionary justice you are tried, in the end, not for what you do but for what you are: emigre or kulak, jew or anti-socialist, enemy of the people or running dog of capitalism – in each case the crime is not an action, but a state of being.”

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