Today is the publication day of my new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. The book seeks out some of the roots of our political divisions in a fascinating and under-appreciated ideological debate that gripped the Anglo-American world in the era of the American Founding and the French Revolution and in some respects has shaped our politics ever since.
It unpacks that profound battle of ideas by taking the reader through the lives and views of two of its most prominent combatants, Burke and Paine, who also happen to have been two of the greatest political writers in the history of the English language. By looking at the age of revolutions through their eyes, it tries to show where the sorts of conservative and progressive approaches to the liberal society that we now take for granted came from and to illuminate the deep and often surprising differences that continue to drive our political disputes.
It is a book rooted in the conviction that politics is not a cynical game but a pursuit of the good, that the debates that boil at its surface are rooted in differences that run very deep, and that both the left and the right (which have of course changed quite a bit since the late 18th century) could strengthen their cases and temper their excesses by becoming better acquainted with the history of the political order that the disagreement between them has formed.