THE GREAT DEBATE: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of the Right and Left | Yuval Levin, Basic Books, (2014), 304p.
Levin makes the case that the emergence, in the West, of a Left and Right diverged with the variance between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Levin makes a compelling case for them as early proxies and clear archetypes but fails rigorous historical proofs. Nevertheless, for moderns, this juxtaposition serves its purpose.
Paine was a proponent of rigid principles based upon absolutes. Burke is the defender of tradition and custom. Paine pushed for what was believed to be correct, regardless if it had been proven or tried. Burke advocated sticking with what worked and reforming what did not.
Regarding Burke, Levin follows the trail blazed by Michiganian Russell Kirk, who well-established the Burkinan tradition as the intellectual bedrock of modern conservatism over 50 years ago.
The challenge for both is that they require context. Left unabated, Paine leads to the murderous tyranny of democracy, and Burke, without pivots, remains friendly to monarchial nonsense.
Nevertheless, Levin provides a service in refreshing this debate and renewing the vital nature of policy founded upon principle and reflection for modern thinkers versus a parade of current events and mere exchanges of power. The Great Debate is written clearly, providing a good launching pad for contemplating eternal truths.