REVIEWSrnThe Politics ofrnPropertyrnby Peter f. StanlisrnThe Political Economy ofrnEdmund Burke: The Role ofrnProperty in His Thoughtrnby Francis CanavanrnNew York: Fordham University Press;rn185 pp., $30.00rnAgreat many scholars have dealt inrnconsiderable detail with EdmundrnBurke’s party politics and political philosophy,rnand a few have examined hisrnthoughts on economics. But Francis Canavan’srnlatest book is the first thoroughrnand systematic study of the interrelationshiprnof that great thinker’s political andrneconomic beliefs. As such it is particularlyrnvaluable, since it provides an excellentrnanswer to the knotty question ofrnwhether Burke’s politics and economicsrnare complementary, or contradictory.rnThe answer is not a simple affirmative orrnnegative to either alternative.rnAs usual with his superb scholarshiprnon Burke, Canavan treats his subjectrnwithin the specific historical context ofrnthat thinker’s entire public life. Moreover,rnhe takes into account the relevantrnbackground from eariier periods. Thusrnhe avoids the common errors that vitiaternso much scholarship on Burke and thern18th century: the use of rational abstractions,rnfacile categories, and ideologicalrnformulations. His study should terminate,rnonce and for all, Marxist speculationsrnon Burke’s political and economicrnthought, such as those of C.B. Macpherson,rnwho perceived the Whig statesmanrnsolely as a narrow partisan defender ofrnthe British aristocracy and its privileges.rnBurke’s views on property and wealthrnwere based upon legal prescription,rnwhich he regarded as a basic principle ofrnmoral natural law, and he held that theirrncontinued possession and uses were determinedrnfar more by social custom thanrnby statutory law. Thus his proprietaryrnnorms derived from the feudal systemrninherited from the Middle Ages, and notrnfrom the emergent capitalist system thatrnMarxist critics of Burke have erroneouslyrnassumed he was defending. During thern18th century, property in Britain was dividedrnbetween the Crown, the nobility,rnthe greater and lesser gentry, the yeomanrnfreeholders, and the commercial andrnprofessional middle classes in the urbanrncenters. At various times in his publicrnlife, Burke defended the rights of each ofrnthese proprietary entities.rnSince Burke believed that every rightrnor privilege carried with it a commensuraternsocial duty, he never defended propertyrnrights in the abstract, apart from thernobligations that accompanied its role.rnHe was quite aware that the origins ofrnownership were often based upon force,rnfraud, and injustice, but he did not favorrnconfiscation or reparations for past abusesrnand evils. He knew that British hegemonyrnover Ireland was made possible byrnhistoric confiscations that had deprivedrnthe native population of their property.rnHe knew that the case was much thernsame in India, where a commercial companyrnhad become a state in disguise of arnmerchant by confiscating much wealthrnfrom the indigenous people. So, too, inrnrevolutionary France, he was aware howrnthe seizure of property from the Churchrnand the nobility gave the Jacobins tyrannicalrnpower over the nation at large.rnBurke’s attitude toward such expropriationsrnwas determined by his convictionrnthat prescriptive law applied only tornlong-established ownership, not to recentrnor current confiscations. In hisrnview, the evils of such abuses could bernmitigated or eliminated by adherence tornthe constitutional rights of all subjectsrnand corporate bodies to hold property.rnHe believed that this was a betterrnmethod to redress past injuries, and thatrnthere was no way wholly to eliminate thernevils of the past. During the threerndecades that he served in Fariiament, nornone did more than he to redress thernwrongs suffered by Ireland under Britishrnrule, or by the people of India under thernEast India Company.rnOne of Canavan’s basic themes is thatrnBurke perceived property as perhaps thernmost important single control over thernlegal and political power of the state.rnThis was especially true in a secular society.rnBoth private and corporate varietiesrnof property prevented the growth of absoluterncentralized authority, thereby preservingrnfreedom within the social order.rnMoreover, private property ownershiprnstrengthened all of the intermediate institutionsrnof society that acted as sornmany shields against the encroachmentsrnof political tyranny. Burke was awarernthat, whenever such a tyranny wished tornextend its arbitrary power, its first objectivernwas to destroy the institutions tornwhich men give their allegiance, such asrnthe family and the Church, so that allrnthat remained were isolated individuals,rnhelpless to resist the power of the state.rnBy reinforcing the corporate nature ofrnman on the local or provincial level,rnproperty preserved both freedom andrngood order. When any of the nobility orrngentry abused their economic power,rntransgressions were limited in time andrnplace; at their best, moreover, such peoplernprovided the social and economicrnleadership in all the counties of Britainrnthrough a benevolent, paternalistic feudalrnsense of local community. That kindrnof leadership, Burke believed, was farrnbetter than that which could be suppliedrnby either fawning royal minions or popularrnpolitical demagogues.rnBurke agreed with Adam Smith thatrnprivate property was an enormous incentivernto industrial vigor and to economicrnhealth; it was therefore one of the chiefrnsources of a nation’s prosperity andrnwealth. To secure this beneficent effectrnin the greatest degree the state must berncurbed, so that custom is allowed to prevail.rnCanavan notes that in Burke’s ThirdrnLetter on a Regicide Peace, he summarizedrnthe few legitimate obligations ofrngovernment in the economic sphere:rn”Let government protect and encouragernindustry, secure property, repress violence,rnand discountenance fraud, it is allrnthey have to do. In other respects, thernless they meddle in these affairs thernbetter.”rnCanavan has presented lucidly andrnsuccinctly the vital role of property in therneconomic and social life of Britain in therntime of Burke. His book is a fine contributionrnto our understanding of bothrnBurke and his era.rnPeter ]. Stanlis’s most recent book isrnEdmund Burke: The Enlightenmentrnand Revolution (Transaction).rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn