Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-18th Century Britain, is a groundbreaking study of the great political philosopher Edmund Burke. The book provides a scholarly advancement of existing knowledge regarding Burke and the intellectual milieu that was so important to his development as a thinker. Chapter one offers an assessment of the early influences on Burke’s life and political thought. The limits of various “Enlightenment” metaphors often used to describe mid-18th century European intellectual life, and potential influences upon Burke, are critiqued with great precision and insight. Burke’s first tome, A Vindication of Natural Society, is the focus of the second chapter of the book, and the author provides a definitive interpretation of the classic text that expands and refines earlier assessments by Carl Cone and Peter Stanlis.
The influence of Burke’s native Ireland as a continuation of earlier themes is explored in a most convincing fashion in Chapter Three. The author also dissects the perennial excesses of the tendency to manipulate the “Irish Burke” for political gain. In fact, Crowe argues that Burke’s formative political and academic experiences augment his defense of religious toleration and the refinement of the uses of public rhetoric. Burke’s contribution to the study of aesthetics is assessed most carefully and with great illumination, with Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry serving as the centerpiece of the analysis in Chapter Four. The last chapter is devoted to an explication of Burke’s “Abridgment of the English History,” and the importance of restoring order amidst the chaos of social and political life. Patriotism and Public Spirit fills a critical lacuna in British intellectual history, Burke scholarship, and political thought.
Books related to this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.