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The Great Debate
Cover of The Great Debate
The Great Debate
Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
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For more than two centuries, our political life has been divided between a party of progress and a party of conservation. In The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the origins of the Left-Right divide by examining the views of the men who best represented each side of that debate at its outset: Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. In a groundbreaking exploration of the roots of our political order, Levin shows that American partisanship originated in the debates over the French Revolution, fueled by the fiery rhetoric of these ideological titans.

Levin masterfully shows how Burke's and Paine's differing views, a reforming conservatism and a restoring progressivism, continue to shape our current political discourse—on issues ranging from abortion to welfare, education, economics, and beyond. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Washington's often acrimonious rifts, The Great Debate offers a profound examination of what conservatism, liberalism, and the debate between them truly amount to.

For more than two centuries, our political life has been divided between a party of progress and a party of conservation. In The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the origins of the Left-Right divide by examining the views of the men who best represented each side of that debate at its outset: Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. In a groundbreaking exploration of the roots of our political order, Levin shows that American partisanship originated in the debates over the French Revolution, fueled by the fiery rhetoric of these ideological titans.

Levin masterfully shows how Burke's and Paine's differing views, a reforming conservatism and a restoring progressivism, continue to shape our current political discourse—on issues ranging from abortion to welfare, education, economics, and beyond. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Washington's often acrimonious rifts, The Great Debate offers a profound examination of what conservatism, liberalism, and the debate between them truly amount to.

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About the Author-
  • Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is a contributing editor to National Review and the Weekly Standard, and his writings have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and others. He holds a PhD from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and was been a member of the White House domestic policy staff, under President George W. Bush, and a congressional staffer. He is the author of The Fractured Republic and The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 23, 2013
    Two seminal thinkers anticipate the modern split between progressives and conservatives in this insightful study of 18th-century political theory. National Affairs editor Levin presents a lucid analysis of the ideological confrontation between Paine—a firebrand of the American and French Revolutions who championed a program of radical change that sought to reconstitute government on the basis of reason, equality and democracy—and Burke, the Irish statesman and British parliamentarian who defended the enduring value of tradition and hierarchy. In their jousting—the two men were acquainted and sometimes aimed broadsides at one another—Levin finds and elucidates fundamental issues in political philosophy: individual rights versus social obligations; the extent to which scientific rationalism and expertise can comprehend and regulate society; revolution and reform as competing modes of political change. Appropriately, Levin spends less time on Paine, whose creed of individual rights and representative government feels very up-to-date, than he does explicating Burke, whose rationales for monarchy and social subordination can seem antiquated and mystical; he succeeds in establishing the continued relevance of Burke’s thought and prescient critique of revolutionary excesses. Levin’s Paine and Burke don’t line up perfectly along the Democrat/Republican divide, but he unearths the roots of latter-day convictions in their far-reaching argument.

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The Great Debate
The Great Debate
Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
Yuval Levin
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