Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Glenn, Gary Dean, 1941-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Burke; Edmund; 1729-1797--Political and social views; Political science--England--History--18th century


This thesis explores Edmund Burke's political thought on the persistent problem of theory and practice in political life. Three critiques of Burke are addressed. Each critique argues that there is something in Burke's political writing that contradicts the ends he pursues and that Burke's political thought is anti-rational. In discussing these criticisms, my paper returns to Burke's texts in an effort to determine whether these critiques are valid. Burke's rhetoric is attacked by Richard Weaver. Weaver claims that Burke's mode of argument exposes a distrust of reason, and Burke's choice of arguments is ultimately fatal to conservatism. I respond that such arguments are part of Burke's rhetorical strategy in combating the dangers of unchecked philosophy instigated by the French Revolution. Burke's strategy, rather than being fatal to conservatism, indicates that Burke may be a philosopher of conservatism whose understanding of the persistent problem of theory and practice leads him to defend conventions against those who destroy convention for the sake of extending abstract rights as far as they can go in civil society. Morton Frisch argues that Burke holds an anti-Aristotelian and anti-rational position regarding best regimes because he refuses to speak of the beginnings of government. I contend that Burke defends regimes "grown" through a variety of accidents, guided by a providential God, and that Burke attacks the immediate reason of the French Revolutionaries, not reason as such. Leo Strauss's critique intimates a fundamental problem in Burke's thought. On the surface he seems to misunderstand Burke. But Strauss's critique deliberately misrepresents Burke in certain passages. Strauss's "errors" demonstrate why it is unwise to turn to Burke's thought as a way to recover the distinction between theory and practice. Through examining these critiques, I discovered that Burke is a philosopher of conservatism who offers sound theoretical proposals and practical resistance to the political problems and philosophical crisis of his time. However, it may be unwise to look to Burke's thought to recover the distinction between theory and practice or as a remedy to the philosophical crisis of our time precisely because Burke never offers a defense of the theoretical life.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [79]-80)


x, 80 pages




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