James Mackintosh's famous 1791 "Vindiciae Gallicae, Defence of
The French Revolution and Its English Admirers" against Edmund Burke's attack on
the Revolution in "Reflections on the Revolution in France."
London, Robinson 1791 Hardcover 8vo, pp.
(xiii), 351 with advertisement and errata, corrected second edition.
"Three editions were speedily sold, and
the publisher liberally gave him 'several times' the sum of 30 pounds,
originally stipulated. Burke had been answered with much power by Thomas Paine.
Mackintosh's reply, however, taking a less radical ground, and showing much
literary and philosophical culture, was the most effective defence of the
position of the Whig sympathizers with the revolution" (DNB).
This is James Mackintosh's famous 1791 rebuttal of Burke's attack
on the French Revolution in "Reflections" and it is recognized as one of the
better rebuttals. After the guillotining of the French King and the
Reign of Terror Macintosh had the good manners to concede that Burke was right
about the French Revolution. I don't know where I found it
but the following review give a good flavor of the contents of this tract and
Mackintosh's differences with Burke and allegiance to Rousseau, Paine and
One of the most widely admired replies to Burke was that of a Scottish
doctor and lawyer, James Mackintosh (1765-1832). On May 17, 1791, Mackintosh
published his Defense of the French Revolution. Mackintosh was a friend
and admirer of Priestley, editor of two English radical newspapers, and a
member of the moderate reform group, the Society for Constitutional
Information (SCI). Mackintosh wrote with urgency and his Defense is
intended for the literate middle and upper class London audience. The
Defense is a work which would prove nearly impossible for low orders to
digest. In Burke, Mackintosh discovered an "hysterical reaction to events,
born of fear." This was a reaction which would soon be dubbed,
"counter-revolutionary," and in our own day, "reactionary." Mackintosh was a
child of the Enlightenment -- he understood that human progress would only
result from the free exercise of human reason. But why, he asked, has
Enlightenment been so slow to spread? His answer was quite specific.
To suppose the social order is not capable of improvement from the
progress of the human understanding, is to betray the inconsistent absurdity
of an arrogant confidence in our attainments, and an abject distrust of our
powers. If indeed the sum of evil produced by political institutions, even
in the least imperfect Governments, were small, there might be some pretence
for this dread of innovations, this horror at remedy, which has raised such
a clamour over Europe: But, on the contrary, in an estimate of the sources
of human misery, after granting that one portion is to be attributed to
disease, and another to private vices, it might perhaps be found that a
third equal part arose from the oppressions and corruptions of
Government, disguised under various forms. All the Governments that now
exist in the world (except the United States of America) have been
fortuitously formed. They are the produce of change, not the work of art.
They have been altered, impaired, improved and destroyed by accidental
circumstances, beyond the foresight or control of wisdom.
Social evil and social misery then, are the result of government and
oppression. Reason -- the light of Reason -- could not become more general
while men are being oppressed by tyrannical governments. As Richard Price
remarked, "they know that light is hostile to them, and therefore they labour
to keep men in the dark." For Mackintosh, it was the French solution which had
unleashed brilliance, it marked the beginning of man's emergence from
immaturity. Government must be improved so that man may obtain happiness.
France was the great example as had been the rebellion of the American
colonies a decade earlier. "It was time that men should tolerate nothing
ancient that reason does not respect," wrote Mackintosh,
And to shrink from no novelty to which reason may conduct. It was time
that the human powers, so long occupied by subordinate objects, and inferior
arts, should mark the commencement of a new era in history, by giving birth
to the art of improving government, and increasing the civil happiness of
Ah yes, the perfectibility of man, the chimera chased by
Rousseau and his followers among the French Revolutionaries and then embraced
by Karl Marx and his Communist revolutionaries.
The first page of the introduction pictured below shows how
clean this copy is and the gravamen of the attack on Burke.
The text block is fresh and clean and the back cover and spine
are as shown above. Unfortunately the front cover is missing, so you will get
this historic volume at a reduced price.
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