The Burke-Wollstonecraft Debate

Savagery, Civilization, and Democracy

By (author) Daniel I. ONeill

Hardback - £49.95

Publication date:

18 July 2007

Length of book:

304 pages

Publisher

Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271032016

Many modern conservatives and feminists trace the roots of their ideologies, respectively, to Edmund Burke (1729–1797) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), and a proper understanding of these two thinkers is therefore important as a framework for political debates today.

According to Daniel O’Neill, Burke is misconstrued if viewed as mainly providing a warning about the dangers of attempting to turn utopian visions into political reality, while Wollstonecraft is far more than just a proponent of extending the public sphere rights of man to include women. Rather, at the heart of their differences lies a dispute over democracy as a force tending toward savagery (Burke) or toward civilization (Wollstonecraft). Their debate over the meaning of the French Revolution is the place where these differences are elucidated, but the real key to understanding what this debate is about is its relation to the intellectual tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment, whose language of politics provided the discursive framework within and against which Burke and Wollstonecraft developed their own unique ideas about what was involved in the civilizing process.

“Who would have thought there was much new and fascinating to say about Burke and Wollstonecraft? But O’Neill’s argument, rooted in their response to the French Revolution and their relationship to Scottish Enlightenment ideas, is wonderfully fresh and illuminating, shedding new light on many a shadowy part of Burke’s conservatism and Wollstonecraft’s feminism.”

—Isaac Kramnick, Cornell University