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Chapter 2 - The Engagement with Burke

Contesting the ‘Natural Course of Things’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2024

Catherine Packham
Affiliation:
University of Sussex
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Summary

This chapter reads Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Men as staging not merely a political argument with Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, but a political economic one. By exhuming the obscured economic substrata of Burke’s work, Wollstonecraft exposes the injustices of the socio-economic order which he sought to naturalise and attacks the economic order on which late eighteenth-century society was founded. Wollstonecraft shows how Burke weaponises ‘specious’ human feeling in defence of existing structures, and how he defends a political economy which subjugates human feeling to a defence of the status quo. In contrast, Wollstonecraft resists the separation of political economic concerns from questions of liberty, equality, and happiness. By insisting that sympathetic feeling for others should be used to reform human community and to motivate political actions to sustain human happiness, she asserts human feeling as an alternative ground of value.

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Mary Wollstonecraft and Political Economy
The Feminist Critique of Commercial Modernity
, pp. 50 - 75
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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