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But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely tom off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
—Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris
Written in the wake of the fall of the Bastille in France in 1789, Edmund Burke's politically charged pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France: And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris, expressed his misgivings regarding the turn of events that had seen the French monarchy displaced and violent passions unleashed. It is, on the one hand, a lament for the "decent drapery" of a bygone era, but it saves its invective for the "barbarous philosophy" born of"cold hearts and muddy understandings" that functioned as a cabal and influenced opinion. While Burke directed his ire against this wider intellectual culture, his reference to the "new conquering empire of light and reason" was aimed at the central metaphor of Enlightenment thought, the empire of light and reason, and its vision of a naked truth.
This document was originally published in Light in a Socio-Cultural Perspective by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Copyright restrictions may apply.
Dinkar, Niharika. (2017). "The "New Conquering Empire of Light and Reason": The Civilizing Mission of William Jones". Light in a Socio-Cultural Perspective, 33-48.
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