Ira Stoll on the Continuing Debate Between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine

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Thomas Paine
Auguste Millière

What sound like fights between capitalism and socialism or between "religious traditionalism and secular cosmopolitanism," turn out to be battles between "progressive liberalism" and "conservative liberalism," echoes of the more than 200-year-old dispute between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. That's the argument of Yuval Levin, whose The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left is published this week by Basic Books. Mr. Levin provides a valuable service by dusting off the writings of Burke and Paine and by clearly, concisely, and accessibly summarizing them in a way that highlights their relevance to contemporary politics and policy. The monarchist Burke and the religious skeptic Paine, an early supporter of the bloody French revolution, would seem to be unlikely models for today's American politicians of either party, concedes Ira Stoll. But Mr. Levin has made a convincing case that, 200 years later, we can still learn from both men.

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