By Ian Crowe
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Extra resources for An Imaginative Whig: Reassessing the Life and Thought of Edmund Burke
It is “now the case”—a symptom peculiar to his own age. It remains perplexing how such a catastrophe could ever occur. We are not asked to suppose this fall predestined. Nor would it be characteristic of Burke to conceive of a vast process of disenchantment that unfolds regardless of human belief and the will to believe. To grasp his motive, one has to recover the sources of Burke’s politics in his premises as a moral psychologist. Follow that central clue, or so I will argue, and his drift becomes clear enough.
Even so, Burke’s situation was surely uncommon. 1 His mother, whom he loved, was a Catholic. With the Catholic Nagles, his mother’s family, Burke spent some years of his childhood, and he remained in touch with them, making theirs the more powerful family influence. From 1741 to 1744, Burke attended a school at Ballitore, under the aegis of Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker. Shackleton served as a kind of surrogate father for Burke, and his son Richard was the closest of Burke’s early friends. Burke’s religious convictions were thus informed by direct observation of different faiths, as well as by ratiocination and personal experience.
With an array of instances, drawn from literature and the arts as well as from life, Burke persuades us that nothing but his theory will cover the evidence. Our eagerness to experiment with the sublime and beautiful (unpredictable and even destructive as the effects may be) does not proceed from a desire for truth or for any kind of useful knowledge—so little so, indeed, that the moment a sublime or beautiful sensation is rationally explained, it loses its hold on us. The idea of the sublime is a result of a standoff between our admiration and our ignorance of its cause.
An Imaginative Whig: Reassessing the Life and Thought of Edmund Burke by Ian Crowe