book cover imageForeign Affections: Essays On Edmund Burke
by Seamus Deane.
University of Notre Dame Press (Notre
Dame, Indiana), 216 pp., $30.00 paper. 2005.

The title of this work, Foreign Affections, could
be misunderstood at first glance given the modern sense of
the term, “affection.” The author, Seamus Deane,
however, uses the term as Burke used it, “feelings
that have their origin in family, clan or feudal loyalties.” Burke
used the term more than any other political philosopher,
emphasizing the importance of affections for the preservation
of a social order and a political system. He witnessed the
power of affections in his youth in Ireland, observing the
loyalty of native Catholic Irish to traditional social bodies
and the consequence of the absence of affections in the national
system of ascendancy rule. Affection, when it exists nationally,
produces participation, a national conscience, and as Deane
quotes James Harrington, “a national religion.” Its
absence can lead to a nation’s demise.

The term, as Deane uses it, also seems to pertain to the
ties among nations, which in Burke’s era would be from
the perspective of the British Empire, most importantly the
nations of Europe and the colonies, and among the colonies,
North America, Ireland and India. From the essays themselves
one would conclude that the term also has pertinence to the
world of ideas of Burke’s contemporaries.

The book would have reached its audience, I believe, had
it been entitled simply “Seven Essays on Burke by Seamus
Deane.” They represent more than thirty years dedicated
to the life and work of Burke by the author, often referred
to as Ireland’s leading literary critic. They are carefully
crafted and learned examinations of Burke as political actor,
political philosopher, as well as his role in the national
literature of Great Britain and Ireland. Of particular interest
are those reflections on the man himself who Deane suggests
may well be viewed as a political hack as well as a political

The political hack dimension is in no sense derogatory,
for Burke is supreme as an empiricist, based on his immersion
in the political action of his day. It is what distinguishes
Burke from bookish philosophers who have little involvement
with on the ground political action, yet without hesitation
propose extraordinary transformations in the social order.

In the introduction Deane endorses a more general view of
Burke as a person who viewed liberty as an historical achievement,
a political concept that could illumine the world from London.
British liberty had been achieved by specific events in the
nation’s history that had universal consequence, most
importantly the arrival of Christianity and the Glorious
Revolution. Burke attacked the universal appeal of French
Revolutionary claims by asserting they should not be applied
to specific nations, for the end result would be disastrous.
British liberty conformed to human nature, while French liberty
violated it.

For Burke, the greatest threat to British liberty came from
within the Empire, from criminals like Warren Hastings of
the East India Company, or the Ascendancy in Ireland whose
rule was in glaring conflict with the national character
of Britain. Hastings exercised a ruthless despotism and the
Ascendancy ruled ineptly and cruelly with neither knowledge
nor interest in the traditions of those they ruled. Their
actions threatened liberty’s role in the globalizing

Of the seven essays, which include comparisons of Burke
with Tocqueville, Montesquieu, and Swift, some cover topics
of more particular interest. The essay entitled, “Virtue,
Travel and the Enlightenment” provided historical foundations
to very central issues of our time. Concurring that travel
takes place in both time and space, and that the strangeness
of other times and places makes it difficult to believe in
universal norms, Deane introduces a discourse on the topic
of the universal and the particular, noting that in Burke’s
day there was one universal that was general throughout Europe
and that was that “freedom was the highest expression
of political virtue.” And furthermore, it could be
extended across the world as part of human progress, even
though it would not always seem to be the case in European
colonial expansion.

The locus of discussion of travel in Burke’s era was
Rome, for it seemed to contain many of the problems of the
eighteenth century present. Accounts of Rome provided by
Montesquieu and Edward Gibbon claimed that Rome fell because
it had lost its republican virtue through expansion and concomitant
degeneration. But how does one approach the all important
questions of expansion, empire, growth, degeneration that
were so pertinent to a colonizing Europe? One tries to assume
a detached point of view. But in doing so does one make necessary
judgments based on the values of one’s own society,
or does one defer to universal principals of human nature?
Burke’s concern was the dangers of too much detachment.
He considered the risks too apparent in the works of philosophers
whose speculations were wilder in proportion to their detachment.
When reason overtakes observation it becomes a disfiguring
occupation, removed from the realities of experience.

Deane discusses these issues as they relate to the imaginative
travel writing of Jonathon Swift and then finally to Burke’s Reflections
on the Revolution in France,
each involved in the larger
debates that had dominated travel writing. In Reflections,
Burke challenges the philosopher theorists on their conception
of France as it was before the Revolution. So detached, so
removed were they from the reality, they transformed the
ancien regime, benevolent by Burke’s standards, into
a despotism worse than anything in Asia. “ They have
transformed the France of history into a new and foreign
France of theory.” Burke sees this methodical and quantitative
reasoning as opposed to the discourse of sensibility, the
discourse he represents.

Reading Deane’s account of approaches to travel writing
in the eighteenth century, one is impressed at how similar
it is and pertinent to central issues of today in the human
sciences, in particular anthropology and sociology. Each
is divided into contrasting approaches represented on one
side by the “logical positivists” emanating from
the Vienna Circle, and the “qualitative” approach
sometimes referred to asculturologists or historical particularists,
the latter represented in contemporary Anthropology by Clifford
Geertz. From Descartes, to Burke, to contemporary interpretations
of the social order, this essay on travel writing leads us
to conclude that the central issues of Burke’s era
continue unresolved.

The single essay that reaches into the core of Burke’s
position on liberty and tradition is the one entitled, “Factions
and Fictions”, with factions, meaning something a bit
different in Burke’s day. They were in sum assemblages
of power that misrepresented the character of the nation
they claimed to represent, and whose rule was at odds with
those they governed.. The Jacobins of France were a prime
example. From this essay we glean a better understanding
of Burke’s conception of tradition, seen not as particular
traditions, but a complex whole of all the traditions of
a nation.

The essay on Burke and Tocqueville compares these two men
of grand vision based on their background, class position
and the involvement of each in the transformations of their
era. They were not truly contemporaries: Burke died in 1797,
eight years before Tocqueville’s birth, and the French
writer lived until 1854. Yet they were concerned with the
same centers of evolving power: the emerging democracy in
America, liberty in aristocratic Britain, prolonged revolution
in France and colonialism as a world wide process. Deane
says, “Tocqueville was an aristocrat who envisioned
a new world, Burke was a new man who re-envisioned the aristocratic
world.” Their often contrasting visions of the same
phenomenon take us a step beyond simple historical description.
The final essay on Newman portrays the curate as more visionary
than the priest/scholar we’ve known in other writings.
Yes, he wanted to create an English speaking, Catholic university
in Dublin. But from that base he presumed to transform Britain
and create a Catholic civilization in America.

This volume is a fascinating excursion into the history
of ideas with Burke as the centerpiece, and Deane as routier,
decoding, translating, and interpreting. The first reading
calls for a second, and the second dictates a prominent place
on the bookshelf, especially for those disposed to return
to Edmund Burke as intellectual and moral guide to the complexities
of the present.

Kenneth E. Moore is a professor of anthropology at the University
of Notre Dame whose publications include Those of the
Street, Waymarks, Los Suecos de Arona
(“The Swedish
of Arona”), and co-translator/editor with Anthony Kerrigan
and Saul Bellow of The Revolt of the Masses by Jose
Ortega y Gasset.