Edmund Burke on the Question of Commercial Intercourse in the Eighteenth Century

GREGORY M. COLLINS

THE REVIEW OF POLITICS, Volume 79, Issue 4

Abstract: Scholars have noticed that Edmund Burke’s impassioned economic tract in favor of market liberty, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, appears to be at odds with his political philosophy and rhetorical temperament of prudence and restraint. This essay challenges this interpretation. I contend that Burke’s emotional statements in the writing reflect strong continuities with his earlier reflections and political activities regarding economic issues. From his earliest days in Parliament to his final years, Burke was a firm supporter of commercial liberty, both domestic and foreign. I conclude by arguing that we cannot properly understand Burke’s belief in gradual reform unless we grasp his idea of incremental commercial improvement.