These essays are dominated by Edmund Burke and by the accounts of the ways in which he and some of those that he influenced understood the revolutionary changes that produced the modern world. The issues of liberty and empire, faction and revolution, universality, equality, authority, sectarian vice and democratic virtue are central here. Dominating them all is the question of how traditional feeling and affection can be retained within the revolutionary and colonial worlds that emerged at the close of the eighteenth century. The answers to this question emerge from the different interpretations of the American and French Revolutions that were to be so influential for generations after Burke. In addition, he posed the colonial question in Ireland before it was posed more generally. Was liberty compatible with colonial rule? Ultimately, Burke secured his position by his condemnation of colonial as well as revolutionary violence. But in those others dealt with here, especially in Tocqueville and Acton, colonial atrocity is condoned or supported while revolutionary violence is condemned out of hand. This, it is argued here, is constitutive of the European anti-revolutionary position which Burke helped to create but to which he nevertheless remains alien.
Seamus Deane is the author of A Short History of Irish Literature; Celtic Revivals; Essays in Modern Irish Literature; The French Revolution and Enlightenment in England, and Strange Country: Modernity and the Nation. Deane also edited the monumental Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing in 3 volumes, and has written four books of poetry and a novel, Reading in the Dark. He currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame where he is the Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies.