Burke, Paine, and Us

My new Bloomberg View column discusses a book that you may have heard mentioned here.

Sometimes the deepest differences in politics aren’t about the conclusions people draw but the way they reach them.

The British statesman Edmund Burke and the Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine both favored free trade, for example, but for different reasons. The radical Paine believed that free trade would spread rationality and enlightenment and thus help bring war and tyranny to an end. The conservative Burke thought that government interference with trade would likely do more harm than good.

The difference in outlook between the two men, as Yuval Levin argues in a fine new book called “The Great Debate,” underlies much of our politics more than 200 years after they wrote their pamphlets and essays.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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