Yuval Levin explores the original rift between conservatives and progressives, tracing America's partisan political system to Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine's arguments about the French Revolution in particular and, more broadly, the role of individual liberty and revolution in government. Levin's a well-known conservative intellectual, so it's not surprising that the book is biased in Burke's favor. That said, I was taken aback by how different Burke's conservatism appears from current Republican Party rhetoric, which doesn't share his skepticism of individuality or basic belief in elitism. While Levin fails to address this discrepancy between conservatism's origin (as he sees it) and its modern-day incarnation, The Great Debate
is nonetheless a very thought-provoking history of the two main branches of American political thought. (Featured Book, "Beyond the Headlines"
) Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
For more than two centuries, our political life has been divided between a party of progress and a party of conservation. In The Great Debate
, Yuval Levin explores the origins of the left/right divide by examining the views of the men who best represented each side of that debate at its outset: Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. In a groundbreaking exploration of the roots of our political order, Levin shows that American partisanship originated in the debates over the French Revolution, fueled by the fiery rhetoric of these ideological titans.
Levin masterfully shows how Burke's and Paines differing views, a reforming conservatism and a restoring progressivism, continue to shape our current political discourseon issues ranging from abortion to welfare, education, economics, and beyond. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Washingtons often acrimonious rifts, The Great Debate offers a profound examination of what conservatism, liberalism, and the debate between them truly amount to.
"Two seminal thinkers anticipate the modern split between progressives and conservatives in this insightful study of 18th-century political theory. National Affairs editor Levin presents a lucid analysis of the ideological confrontation between Paine a firebrand of the American and French Revolutions who championed a program of radical change that sought to reconstitute government on the basis of reason, equality and democracy and Burke, the Irish statesman and British parliamentarian who defended the enduring value of tradition and hierarchy. In their jousting the two men were acquainted and sometimes aimed broadsides at one another Levin finds and elucidates fundamental issues in political philosophy: individual rights versus social obligations; the extent to which scientific rationalism and expertise can comprehend and regulate society; revolution and reform as competing modes of political change. Appropriately, Levin spends less time on Paine, whose creed of individual rights and representative government feels very up-to-date, than he does explicating Burke, whose rationales for monarchy and social subordination can seem antiquated and mystical; he succeeds in establishing the continued relevance of Burke's thought and prescient critique of revolutionary excesses. Levin's Paine and Burke don't line up perfectly along the Democrat/Republican divide, but he unearths the roots of latter-day convictions in their far-reaching argument." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
is a Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the founder and editor of National Affairs
. He has written op-eds and brief pieces for the New York Time
s, Washington Post
, and Wall Street Journal
; longer pieces for Commentary
, First Things
, and the New Republic
; and he is a contributing editor of both the Weekly Standard
and National Review
. He has extensive government experience from his time as a policy aide to several members of Congress and as Executive Director of President Bushs Council on Bioethics. Levin holds a Ph.D. from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.
Table of Contents
One. Two Lives in the Arena
Two. Nature and History
Three. Justice and Order
Four. Choice and Obligation
Five. Reason and Prescription
Six. Revolution and Reform
Seven. Generations and the Living