The Politics of Property

A great many scholars have dealt in considerable detail with Edmund Burke's party politics and political philosophy, and a few have examined his thoughts on economics. But Francis Canavan's latest book is the first thorough and systematic study of the interrelationship of that great thinker's political and economic beliefs. As such it is particularly valuable, since it provides an excellent answer to the knotty question of whether Burke's politics and economics are complementary, or contradictory. The answer is not a simple affirmative or negative to either alternative.

As usual with his superb scholarship on Burke, Canavan treats his subject within the specific historical context of that thinker's entire public life. Moreover, he takes into account the relevant background from earlier periods. Thus he avoids the common errors that vitiate so much scholarship on Burke and the 18th century: the use of rational abstractions, facile categories, and ideological formulations. His study should terminate, once and for all, Marxist speculations on Burke's political and economic thought, such as those of C.B. Macpherson, who perceived the Whig statesman solely as a narrow partisan defender of the British aristocracy and its privileges.

Burke's views on property and wealth were based upon legal prescription, which he regarded as a basic principle of moral natural law, and he held that their continued possession...

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