London: Printed for J. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall, 1790. First edition. Octavo. Period-style half calf and marbled boards, red morocco spine label. Offsetting to endpapers from leather tips, title page browned and spotting to certain leaves. Todd identifies three editions with a 1790 title page, comprising ten impressions. Todd’s setting a of [A]2 with the ornamental flower on p. [iv] pointing to the right and the “M” in the imprint immediately below the first “D” of “Dodsley” and setting x of 2A2 with no press figure on p. 354. SC/2/6. Item #19
First edition of Edmund Burke’s (1729–1797) enduring polemic against the French Revolution and defense of conservative principles. The publication of Burke’s pamphlet in 1790 would prove a watershed moment in the birth and development of modern conservatism, as Reflections has been credited as among the first—and finest—transformative statements of traditionalism into a fully conceived political philosophy. Burke was an Irish statesman who served in the House of Commons of Great Britain, representing the Whig party. Burke vigorously defended liberal values, including religious toleration and free speech, and advocated for constitutional limitations on the Crown. He was also sympathetic to the grievances of the American colonies and supported American independence. In light of his support for the Americans, many were surprised when Burke denounced the French Revolution as a disaster led by a “swinish multitude” of revolutionists. Burke believed the French Revolution would end in failure because it was rooted in rationalistic abstractions that were utterly divorced from reality. Burke viewed the good society as a complex organic system whose social, religious, and political fabric is a delicate weave of tradition, custom, and practical knowledge. Unlike those who supported the French revolutionists, Burke did not believe that a revolutionary, technocratic reordering of society would better man’s condition—in fact, such radicalism promised to destroy the social fabric upon which society rested. Burke did not, however, oppose change; indeed, for Burke, “a state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation.” For Burke, prudent change preserves those vital institutions that sustain a people. Civilizations are not built in a day, but a day’s revolution—usually in the name of some abstract or metaphysical end—can deeply rend the social fabric and plunge a society into disorder and tyranny. It is hard to overstate the influence that Reflections has had upon modern Western political thought and, in particular, the development of modern conservatism. Indeed, Burke’s pamphlet is today widely hailed as a defining statement of modern conservatism, and Russell Kirk identified Burke and Reflections as the cornerstone of modern conservativism in his seminal 1953 book The Conservative Mind. A towering work of political thought that has influenced generations of conservative thinkers, here in a rare first edition state that is uncommonly bright and well-preserved.