Elizabeth Oldfather responds to Michael Gamer

As someone who often teaches excerpts from Burke’s Reflections, I share Gamer’s admiration of Newman’s repositioning of that text – especially how he uses it to not only reveal the global stakes of the London Tavern’s elegance, but also link Burke’s fear of Revolutionary excess and violence to his distrust of unchecked commerce. The argument that the tavern might have seemed threatening to Burke less as a space of chaotic public mixing than of clubbish self-approbation was particularly striking. It reminded me very much of critiques of modern social media’s “echo chamber”; and I suspect living through our own era’s particular disillusionment with the internet’s “zones of possibility” (Newman 11) may have made us more wise to the power structures of social spaces. I hope. I did wonder, though, just what might be at stake in what I cannot help but read as an attempt to rehabilitate Burke as a critic of “incipient global capitalism” (67). I am not skeptical of the reading itself, but rather of its broader import. Are we are being encouraged, here, to hold up Burke as prescient and worth attending to, a sage of both Terror and empire? To consider him, perhaps, as a potential improbable ally to postcolonialism? Or are we merely being invited, once again, to complicate our understanding of his political philosophy? I suppose what I am really wondering is: what might it matter or mean, in our own time, to claim an anti-capitalist Burke?

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Reflection by Michael Gamer

Jacob Henry Leveton responds

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