Reading questions for Edmund Burke, Hannah More, and James Madison

For Tuesday, we are reading Burke and More. The discussion of Madison will occur on Thursday. However, this post will cover both readings.

First, a little bit of background. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a British writer and philanthropist. Throughout much of her writing career, her primary goal was to defend traditional religious beliefs against what she saw as radical and atheistic political beliefs. The pamphlet we’re reading was written during the French Revolution, and it was clearly aimed at convincing the masses to reject the core revolutionary principles being espoused at the time. Specifically, it took aim at Thomas Paine’s famous text, The Right of Man. Just as he was of the American Revolution, Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the uprising in France (indeed, he went to France early in the Revolution and was elected to the French national legislature). His ideas were quite similar to those of the American revolutionaries—the idea that we are all equal, that we have inalienable rights, and that government must be selected by the governed.  So, he proposed things like banning the aristocracy and the monarchy, progressive taxation, national education, and so forth. He was also an atheist, and his radicalism proved widely popular  among certain aspects of the British commoners. So More’s pamphlet aims to counter his position; she aims to develop an equally popular treatise that defends the existing order. As you’re reading her text, think about the following questions:

(1) The text is in the form of a dialogue between Tom and Jack. It purports to be a debate, but is it? Does Tom, the defender of Paine, have anything interesting or intelligent to say? What is More trying to do when she has Tom’s position appear to be nothing more than a bunch of poorly thought out slogans and cliches?

(2)One of the primary targets of More’s critique is the idea of equality. What are some of the criticisms of equality that she develops in her text?

(3) According to More, what is the only valid source of political knowledge (or knowledge about how we should organize our society)?

(4) More accuses the ideas of democracy and the rights of man of being “atheistic.” Do you agree? Why might someone think that these ideas are ultimately anti-Christian?

(5) Though More’s critique is targeted primarily at Thomas Paine, do you think it also would apply to Rousseau? Why or why not?

Questions regarding Burke:

(1) In his critique of representation, Rousseau says that someone elected by the people is at best a deputy or agent of the people; he cannot possibly be their “representative.” Do you think Burke agrees?

(2) Burke says that it is true that the member of Parliament should subordinate himself to the interests of his constituents, but he also insists that the representative is the best judge of the constituents’ interests. What do you suppose he means?

(3) What is Burke’s opinion of the idea of “campaigning,” or of going among the voters to ask for their votes?

(4) Burke insists that Parliament is not a “congress” or collection of competing interests, but a deliberative body that aims to legislate in a way that produces the common good for the whole nation. What is the difference between a “congress of competing interests” and a “deliberative body”?

Finally, some questions regarding Madison’s Federalist 10 and 51

(1) How does Madison define a faction? How and why do they form?

(2) What problems do factions produce in a political system? What are some of the means by which a political system can deal with factions?

(3) As we discussed earlier, Rousseau seems to think that we have a better chance to maintain a free and republican government in a small society. Madison, by contrast, reverses this: he argues that a larger republic, in which a large number of voters choose a fairly small number of representatives, creates a much better chance to maintain freedom and to counter the pernicious effects of factions. Why does he think this? Do you think he’s right?

(4) In Federalist 51, Madison outlines the core problem of maintaining a free society. We need government to preserve our liberties vis-a-vis one another, but at the same time, government can also interfere with our liberties. What is Madison’s basic solution to this problem?

(5) Notice that in this text Madison discusses the idea of “checks and balances” but not the notion of a “separation of powers.” What is the difference between these two ideas?

(6) Broadly speaking, Rousseau seems to suggest that a good political system fundamentally depends on having a good and properly organized people in it. Does Madison agree? How does he think that we should try to achieve a good political system?

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3 Responses to Reading questions for Edmund Burke, Hannah More, and James Madison

  1. scter117 says:

    More is right to knock down the ideals of Thomas Paine and other “revolutionary” thinkers because they have taken the ideals of liberty ext. to a dangerous extreme (as evident in the French fallout). However, she never gave a less extremist vision of equality a chance and instead made major ideals of the Enlightenment seem ridiculous. Atheism is an extremist response denying all of religion or in particular Christianity. That same extremist quality defines those who blindly desire equality and democracy while denying entirely the societal structures of the day. An enlightened but more sensible person (non-extremist) would realize that religion should never be disregarded or disrespected. While people may have the right not follow any religion, acting as if its not a great thing for others and society is blatantly (to the sensible man) insensible, radical, and destructive. Similarly, the sensible type of person desiring equality and democratic governing systems would find More’s analogies and notion of the wisdom of ancestors to be valid. They would recognize the value and successful nature of the current governing systems and not just dispute, criticize, or destroy it. While More’s writing surely served it contextual function of maintaining contented citizens, she and other conservatives should give the ideals of Paine and others a chance. Inviting realistic and functional degrees of equality and democracy to different societal systems surely would not destroy them but likely improve them. Likewise, religious people should learn from philosophy and “anti-religious” notions while never actually having to accept them.

  2. Andy Maskiell says:

    I found a hilarious, though not sure how valid, example of perhaps what More was afraid of:

    The article explains this very well (in addition to updates at various marks of time, usually by day, about how much progress the collective has made) an amusing, and intriguing, event which is taking place right now. People are logging into a Twitch.TV channel which is running an emulator of Pokemon Red (one of the original games in the series) and are able to enter commands to move the main character around and make decisions. However, there are literally thousands of people doing this all at once, so the results are quite hectic.

    In some ways, it’s fascinating just how much progress they’ve made. I believe this game was chosen in particular because mistakes in general are less forgiving. So if they move up instead of left, it’s not a huge deal (most of the time) and the game isn’t time sensitive, so it really allows for progress to be feasibly, though admittedly difficult.

    We could argue that a majority of the people who are doing this have the same goal: to beat the game, which involves collecting all 8 gym badges, beating the elite four, and then finally beating your rival until you become the pokemon champion. As the article states, there are lots of people who are intentionally trying to screw things up (for instance, when they got to the item they needed at the end of a dungeon and instead of picking it up, they teleported to the beginning and had to work their way back through all over again, or when they released two of their best pokemon into the wild, which results in permanent deletion). There is also apparently a way for the hivemind to vote for anarchically chosen or democratically chosen decisions (the article explains the difference between the two).

    Getting back to More, by the way she talks about people and with the simplicity of her language I almost think this is what she had in mind when she thought about people ruling. She imagined a….well…. clusterfuck of decisions being made and ones that might not entirely be thought out or that are purposely aimed at derailing the efforts of the greater good. We actually see that there is a large group of people pushing to keep the anarchy decision making process, which causes huge amounts of problems in even something as simple as this game.

    All of this being said, I don’t think this really proves much. If it proves anything, it is that individuals were meant control the character of this game, not thousands of people all issuing commands at once. However, I do find it an interesting social experiment, even if it wasn’t intended to be one. I’d be interested to see what you guys thinks as well about this. I think it could also be related to Rousseau’s idea of the general will (thousands of people’s wills being narrowed into one focused “general will”, though it’s obviously not as refined or as smooth as his idea implies).

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