Gregory Collins: “Burke’s Political Economy Reconsidered”
Fellow Gregory Collins has recently written an article for Law & Liberty on Edmund Burke’s political economy and its implications for the current political moment. Another article on the topic appeared in the March 2019 issue of Perspectives on Political Science and Collins’s book on Burke’s economic thought is forthcoming in 2020.
“There has been a noticeable revival of interest in the economic thought of Edmund Burke in light of contemporary debate among conservatives and liberals over the role of markets in civil society. This essay will clarify the dimensions of Burke’s political economy that have been discussed recently by a number of commentators, including Samuel Gregg, Ralph Ancil, and Kai Weiss, and briefly draw out their implications for the current political moment.
Scholars have observed that Burke’s passionate endorsement of market economies in Thought and Details on Scarcity, his primary economic tract, and his belief that the “laws of commerce” reflected the “laws of nature” and the “laws of God,” appear to violate his otherwise warm embrace of prudence and moderation. Most recently, Ralph Ancil, representing this line of reasoning, writes that Thoughts and Details is “especially shrill in its arguments, unlike the moderate and balanced tone in so many of his other speeches and writings.” I have addressed this matter in a previous article, in which I attempted to show that Burke’s communication of his ideas often dripped with emotion, even though his political thought was indeed marked by a conception of prudence, well-understood; his apprehensions over government interference in internal markets validated his suspicion of the rational organization of social affairs; and his support for market liberty in the domestic grain trade spanned back to his earliest days in Parliament…”
Gregory Collins: “Edmund Burke, Strauss, and the Straussians“
In Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss accused Edmund Burke of being ignorant of the nobility of last-ditch resistance; defending a conception of history that set the path for historicism; and discarding a vision of politics as it ought to be. By separating philosophy from politics, Burke, according to Strauss, helped lay the intellectual foundation for modern political ideologies. While a number of scholars have attempted to vindicate or refute Strauss’ criticisms through textual exegesis, my article aims to lay a sharper emphasis on particular historical episodes of Burke’s political life in which his political thought and statesmanship calls into question Strauss’ interpretations. I argue, moreover, that Burke’s legislative activities retain a closer resemblance to Strauss’ conception of classical statesmanship than Strauss suggests in Natural Right and History. I conclude by maintaining that Straussian scholars could enrich their framework of the Western canon by giving greater attention to Burke’s political thought.
Burke’s Enlightenment: Commerce, Virtue, and Civilization
By Gregory Collins
Although many of Edmund Burke’s speeches and writings contain prominent economic dimensions, his economic thought seldom receives the attention it warrants. Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy stands as the most comprehensive study to date of this fascinating subject. In addition to providing rigorous textual analysis, Collins unearths previously unpublished manuscripts and employs empirical data to paint a rich historical and theoretical context for Burke’s economic beliefs. Collins integrates Burke’s reflections on trade, taxation, and revenue within his understanding of the limits of reason and his broader conception of empire. Such reflections demonstrate the ways that commerce, if properly managed, could be an instrument for both public prosperity and imperial prestige. More importantly, Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy raises timely ethical questions about capitalism and its limits. In Burke’s judgment, civilizations cannot endure on transactional exchange alone, and markets require ethical preconditions. There is a grace to life that cannot be bought.
Gregory Collins is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics at Yale University. Collins’s scholarly and teaching interests include the history of political thought, the philosophical and ethical implications of political economy, American political development, constitutional theory and practice, and the political theory of abolition. He has published articles on Burke’s economic thought in Review of Politics; Frederick Douglass’ constitutional theory in American Political Thought; Burke’s and Adam Smith’s views on Britain’s East India Company in Journal of the History of Economic Thought; Burke’s plan for the abolition of the slave trade in Slavery & Abolition; and Burke’s intellectual relationship with Leo Strauss and the Straussian political tradition in Perspectives on Political Science. His current book project is a comparative study of the political thought of Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and Burke that addresses questions regarding empire, commerce, morality, and historiography.
Collins is a JMC fellow.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.