Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 April 2020
Chapter 12 includes the deeper normative arguments of Burke’s economic theory that come alive in the Reflections. Burke argued that among the real rights of men were the right to industry and the right to acquisition. He further contended that abstract theory overlooked the complexity of circumstance in social life, and that rigid government edicts intended to establish equality in civil society bred social chaos. Social engineering crushed the human soul. More important, I discuss Burke’s emphasis on the limits of transactional exchange in sustaining the growth of civilization. In his view, contracts could produce commercial opulence, but civilizations required pre-transactional bonds of religion, friendship, and manners in order to endure. Man’s moral obligations thus preceded the requirements of voluntary contracts; civilization might persist without commercial vitality, but it could not survive without virtue and chivalry. I also examine Burke’s commentary in Third Letter on a Regicide Peace, in which he provides remarks on the healthy state of the English economy, an Invisible Hand-type phenomenon, and the virtues of limited government, all of which complement his thoughts in Thoughts and Details and the Reflections.