The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling

The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling

One of America's most distinguished intellectual historians explores the minds and lives of some of the most brilliant and provocative thinkers of modern times, including John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Michael Oakeshott.

Reviews of the The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling

Clearly I am not an anti-conservative since I too watched with "unconcealed delight and fascination, the ample gestures...of the" conservative-speaking historian. When she writes of Oakeshott: "The popular conception of the conservative is of a person who idolizes the past; for Oakeshott, the conservative is one who esteems the present and therefore values whatever the past has bequeathed to the present.

The exception is the final essay on Lionel Trilling, an American, whose book The Liberal Imagination provided Himmelfarb with the skeleton of her own title. Echoing around the others, however, is the desire by the essayist and her subjects to tame an over-simple rational liberalism through an encounter with the more mysterious and complex aspects of humanity. Burke had a distinctive view of tradition as the foundation for society and morality. Dickens equally disliked the sophisters, economists and calculators, preferring (in his case) an informal raw humanity whose foundation is fellow-feeling, joy, spontaneity and simple goodness. This marriage found a real-life parallel in Disraelis political idea that a Tory elite might become the natural leaders of the working class. The other, found in his very early work but also later in his Principles of Political Economy and Utilitarianism, criticises Bentham and advocates the importance of intellectual elites and specifically social feelings. On the one hand, Baghot was a rational political and economic thinker, a man of letters, man-of-the-world and editor, no less, of The Economist. Echoing Burke and Disraeli, he thought these more mysterious realities could be discovered in the wise prejudices of the common people. Although this approach takes him in the direction of Burkes Reflections, he found Burke a little too rational (!) for his own taste, since Burke had a metaphysical belief in religion, natural law and an organic society held together by that great primeval contract of eternal society. Himmelfarb classifies Churchill with Disraeli as a Democratic Tory, one who thinks the upper classes should lead the lower into a national unity that transcended class. Social democracy and democracy and not just Stalinism - tend always towards tyranny unless they confront the moral realism based in a human nature that is far from rational. These essays, then, sympathise with writers who temper abstract and liberal ideals with a peculiarly conservative encounter with social realities, human nature and the supposed traditional wisdom of the people. It is certainly true that versions of liberal rationalism and utilitarianism once provided an enlightened rationale for such things as the tricoteuses and their guillotine, and for the workhouses, factories and Pentonville Gaol. But liberalism and rationalism were never all bad. Just like liberal rationality, therefore, musty pipe-and-slippers conservatism, or other kinds of conservatism, based, for example, in one-nationism or tradition can provide equally pernicious ideological camouflage for inequality, injustice and mere badness.

gotta be kidding me.

She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and at Girton College, Cambridge University. Himmelfarb is best known as a historian of Victorian England. On Looking into the Abyss has modern culture and society in the forefront and the Victorians in the background, while One Nation, Two Cultures is entirely about American culture and society.

  • English

  • Philosophy

  • Rating: 3.91
  • Pages: 259
  • Publish Date: October 9th 2006 by Ivan R. Dee Publisher
  • Isbn10: 1566637228
  • Isbn13: 9781566637220