Edmund Burke was, and remains, an isolated thinker. In his generation, he belonged to no school of thought and did not establish an academy of followers. He had little contact with the main currents of the Enlightenment in any of its national manifestations and was increasingly dismissive of its claims. Likewise, he denounced those, such as Thomas Paine, who were keen to put democratic demands onto the political agenda. Burke quarrelled with political associates almost as a matter of routine and was unforgiving in his enmities. When dying, he refused to receive a last visit from Charles Fox, who had come to make peace. Fox explained such intransigence by speculating that his old mentor and erstwhile friend had a ‘piece of potato in his head’.
The ideas of such a man could easily have disappeared from the record. However, Burke has never been put to one side. Indeed, in the last half-century or so, even as Britain has been in the process of exchanging aristocratic for democratic values, Burke has enjoyed something of a renaissance.