Reactionaries love to quote Burke

March 4, 2010

“The most famous passage in Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is his lament on the humiliation of Marie Antoinette when the royal family was dragged back to Paris from Versailles in October 1789:

I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever…. But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off.

As Tom Paine unkindly observed, once Burke starts writing in this vein, there seems no reason why he should ever stop, short of exhaustion. But Ms. Himmelfarb approves wholeheartedly.”
Alan Ryan in NYRB


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