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5 - The British Constitution: Burke’s Program of Economical Reform and the Role of the State

from Part III - The British Constitution and Economical Reform

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2020

Gregory M. Collins
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut
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Summary

Chapter 5 examines Burke’s attempt to reform the constitutional structure of the British government, as outlined in his Speech on Economical Reform and related speeches on the same subject. The animating principles behind Speech on Economical Reform reveal broader patterns of Burke’s economic thought regarding the virtues of contracts, free commerce, and the private stewardship of land. I also explain that Burke’s qualified defense of public administration illustrated his belief that the state was necessary in civil society to perpetuate elements of permanence beneath the vagaries of everyday life. He did not seek to strip government of all offices and pensions in order to reduce its footprint to the lowest possible level, thereby distinguishing himself from many classical liberals and modern-day libertarians who endorse a minimalist state. Instead, Burke contended that the most effective form of government was one that was firm and selective in the fulfillment of specific duties, and one that rewarded industrious public employees for their service to the state. I underscore further that Burke’s economical program exemplifies his philosophy of reform: in order to preserve institutions, such as the British Constitution, they must be modified to adapt to shifting circumstances.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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