The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
Though Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine both supported the American Revolution, their deep philosophical divide became increasingly evident as the French Revolution progressed. Paine believed that a corrupt government needed to be thrown down wholesale, and replaced with one built entirely on reason; Burke argued that social connections, history, and place were more important and should be taken into consideration to make reforming adjustments, rather than outright revolutions. The debate over these conflicts was much more deeply-seated, however; it came from the conflict between Paine’s emphasis on Reason and Individual Rights and Burke’s appreciation for conservation of institutions that have served well over time.
The Great Debate is a careful examination of these two arguments, comparing the two men’s philosophies point-by-point. The book covers topics of Justice/Order, Choice/Obligation, Reason/Prescription, Revolution/Reform, and Generations/The Living. The author quotes both men extensively, and explains the philosophical underpinnings for their writings in a clear, accessible manner. He points out that the debate still influences our political policy today, and in it we can see the beginnings of the partisan divide we currently have, although (as he also points out) both men have been used by both conservatives and liberals to support their differing agendas. This is an excellent book for those hoping to gain a better understanding of the acrimonious political atmosphere of today.