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By J.P. Kellett & J. Davies

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Again this side of Burke reveals itself by contrast to Hobbes. And again my earlier argument may be turned on its head. Burke, I had said, was as much the twin of fear as Hobbes, and more the slave of his obsession because he was the less candid about it. ” This is the conventional image of the antidemocratic Burke. But a recent brilliant study by Harvey C. 1 Burke, he says, was in fact engaged in counteracting the Hobbesian obsession by denying the preeminence of fear in civil society. This thesis is particularly striking as it is applied to those passages of the Reflections most often singled out for ridicule and execration—the paean to Marie Antoinette, which had given rise to Paine’s remark about pitying the plumage instead of the bird (and which I had consigned to the “magnolia-and-Old-South school of writing”).

Single words—liberty, justice, people—shift meaning too rapidly in the eloquent flow of his speech, but his metaphors exhibit a remarkable consistency of tone and subject. 9 Where Hobbes feared everyone indiscriminately, on the theory that all men were driven by the same sense of insecurity and insatiable lust for power, Burke, like Machiavelli, feared only those who were deprived of effective governing power and who, presumably, would risk everything to get at the sources of power. Compared with Burke, Hobbes was an exemplary democrat; he assigned to all men the same instincts, distrusted all for the same reasons, and thought of civil society as profiting all equally.

The present sense of history, for good and bad, is of history created de novo. And this is true of history in both its meanings: as the past and as the record of that past. Historians assert themselves over the latter with the same zeal that politicians do over the former. If the new fashions in historical writing—contemporary history, comparative history, universal history, psychological history, interdisciplinary history—do not always seem as novel or revealing as the claims made for them, it may be because the past itself is more recalcitrant than either politicians or historians like to think.

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