Burke's Reflections (1790) predicted with uncanny accuracy the Reign of Terror which lay ahead . . . The book, however, is far more than a supremely eloquent piece of occasional writing. For Burke is without doubt the foremost conservative British political thinker: in his support for piecemeal reform rather than revolutionary change, in his sceptical belief in expediency and practical wisdom rather than abstract theorizing, in his defence of property, religion and traditional institutions. On all these topics Burke gave a definitive expression to a set of attitudes still at the heart of today's controversies. And yet Burke was no mere unthinking reactionary, a useful ally in Cold War propaganda; rather, as Conor Cruise O'Brien shows in his brilliant introduction, he was an Irishman with a good deal of sympathy for the 'revolutionary' Catholic cause - a latent sympathy which, paradoxically, may explain some of the unparalleled power of this great work.
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