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The Great Melody, by Conor Cruise O'Brien

- Abstract

Samuel Johnson, one of the 18th century’s most discerning spirits and a man hardly given to hyperbolic praise, once said of his Irish contemporary, the parliamentarian Edmund Burke:

You could not stand for five minutes with that man beneath a shed while it rained, but you must be convinced that you had been standing with the greatest man you had ever seen.

Why, then, have a number of influential 20th-century historians tarred this same Burke with opprobrium, charging him with inconsistency, venality, and an unscrupulous ambition that casts into doubt the integrity of his political thought?

Part of the reason, especially among his more ideologically assertive critics, is that Burke was right—astonishingly, presciently, relentlessly right—about the French Revolution and about the enduring dynamics of the Jacobin temptation in post-Enlightenment politics.

About the Author

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the author most recently of God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins).