Edmund Burke was an English politician who wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France to express his disdain for the destructive havoc wrought by the French Revolution. As a traditionalist-conservative, he thinks about social change in a cautious and incremental way and characterizes the social contract as binding on those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. Studying the anti-Enlightenment differs from the study of the Enlightenment because traditional conservatives of the Burkean school reject the idea of formulating a theory upon which to base society. Their views can be more accurately characterized as attitudes or dispositions. Social change is possible, but it must reflect the thinking of "the man on the Clapham omnibus." Thinkers like Burke and Devlin place individuals as subordinate to society and its traditions. Therefore, the anti-Enlightenment is a rejection of both of the central tenets of the Enlightenment that have been covered in the course until now--the commitment to individual rights, and to science and reason.
Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 85-142, 187-95
Devlin, Morals and the Criminal Law
Bromwich, "Introduction" to On Empire, Liberty, and Reform [optional]
Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, the rest of the book. [optional]
This course explores main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.