Revisiting Burke's Critique of Enthusiasm
History of Political Thought
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Edmund Burke is often considered an arch-critic of enthusiasm in its various religious and secular forms. This article complicates this understanding by situating Burke's writings against the backdrop of eighteenth-century treatments of enthusiasm as a disturbance of the imagination. The early Burke, this article shows, was actually sympathetic to attempts by the Third Earl of Shaftesbury and others to rehabilitate enthusiasm for politics and rescue it from popular derision. Next, the author reveals how Burke firmly resisted attempts to frame anti-Protestant violence in Ireland in terms of religious delusion or enthusiasm, and was alert to the political dangers posed by policies legitimated by that framing. Finally, the article calls into question the close association often posited between the enthusiasm Burke saw in the French Revolution and earlier religious enthusiasms of the seventeenth century.
History of Political Thought, 2014, Vol. 35, Number 2, pp.317-344