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For more than two centuries, our political life has been divided between a party of progress and a party of conservation. In The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the origins of the Left-Right divide by examining the views of the men who best represented each side of that debate at its outset: Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. In a groundbreaking exploration of the roots of our political order, Levin shows that American partisanship originated in the debates over the French Revolution, fueled by the fiery rhetoric of these ideological titans.

Levin masterfully shows how Burke’s and Paine’s differing views, a reforming conservatism and a restoring progressivism, continue to shape our current political discourse—on issues ranging from abortion to welfare, education, economics, and beyond. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Washington’s often acrimonious rifts, The Great Debate offers a profound examination of what conservatism, liberalism, and the debate between them truly amount to.

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Quotes & Awards

  • The Great Debate brilliantly brings out the richness of the tradition underlying our politics. It reminds us that politics is an intellectually serious thing that deserves better than the shallowness and cynicism that fills our political conversations. It reminds us that the right and left are each rooted in a desire to see politics serve the cause of human flourishing, even if they understand that cause very differently. And by the way, Burke was right.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Wonderful.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “[The Great Debate’s] architecture is clever and intellectually persuasive…A thoughtful introduction to this famous paradigmatic opposition.”

    Washington Post

  • The Great Debate is an exciting, narrative adventure in the contest of ideas. With two world-shaking revolutions as background, Levin brilliantly explains how two great minds shaped the broad debate between left and right that still governs our political debates today.”

    William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education and author of America: The Last Best Hope

  • “Levin presents a lucid analysis of the ideological confrontation between Paine…and Burke…Levin’s Paine and Burke don’t line up perfectly along the Democrat/Republican divide, but he unearths the roots of latter-day convictions in their far-reaching argument.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Seeking out sources of the two casts of mind, Levin sifts through the political philosophies espoused by Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine…Making intricate contrasts between Paine and Burke throughout, Levin perceptively demonstrates the philosophical routes to liberalism and conservatism for politics-minded readers.”

    Booklist

  • “A conservative journalist traces our current sharp political schism back to the writings of conservative Edmund Burke and liberal Thomas Paine…Arresting reminders of our political past.”

    Kirkus Reviews

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