The Great Debate by Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin. The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. (New York: Basic Books, 2013)


This book seeks to examine Burke and Paine’s disagreement and to learn from it about both their era’s politics and ours. Using not only their dispute about the French Revolution but also the two men’s larger bodies of writing and correspondence, the book will explore the themes of the Burke-Paine dispute, taking apart each man’s views of history, nature, society, reason, political institutions, freedom, equality, rights, and other key subjects, and seeking the premises informing each one’s understanding of political life. It will argue that Burke and Paine each offers a coherent and, for the most part, internally consistent case about the character of society and politics, and that each man’s case is greatly illuminated by contrasting it with the other’s. It will demonstrate that Burke’s and Paine’s diverse arguments are tied together especially by a disagreement about the authority of the given past in political life—and that there is much more to this disagreement than a staid and simple dispute between tradition and progress.

MSNBC (excerpt)
Salon (excerpt)