If anything, they were an extension of the Milky Way, and not some other faraway galaxies. In fact, the Cepheids were much farther than Shapley thought they were, but there was no way to be sure of that at the time. Curtis had spent years studying these supposed gas clouds, and so his most compelling arguments were concrete data. He showed evidence that many of these supposed clouds were shaped the same way the Milky Way was shaped. They gave off the same light that the Milky Way gave off. Then he pointed to Andromeda, and rattled through its history.
Astronomers had seen, at several times, bright points of light shoot out from this supposed cloud. Curtis believed that they were novae.
Astronomers, he said, had seen more novae in Andromeda than they had in the Milky Way. How, exactly, would a small fringe cloud — which Shapely sometimes said might be no more than a developing solar system — produce all these novae?
Curtis then went on to shakier ground. Shapley had noticed globular clusters in the Milky Way galaxy. By calculating the distance to each, as well as to several other visible features, Shapley had realized how big the galaxy actually was. The Milky Way is , light years across, while Shapley thought it was , light years from end to end, but he had come up with a better approximation than anyone else had.
Curtis asserted that Milky Way was much smaller, and the distances to other galaxies were much longer. Although Shapley had shown that the distribution of globular clusters -all in one half of the sky - showed that the Earth was off to the edge of the galaxy, Curtis believed it was lodged comfortably in the galactic center. Although outside the Milky Way, Shapley's facts were wrong, inside of it Shapley had the right data and Curtis was lost in miscalculation. In the end, neither scientist carried the day.
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It also had to wait for Hubble, who put paid to the notion that there was only one galaxy and earned every telescope named after him. Both scientists went on to academic positions and great discoveries. Curtis engineered, with prisms and plates, a way for astronomers to finally superimpose two images of the night sky and see the difference.
While many contemporary conservatives cite his famous line about the need "to love the little platoon we belong to" as an argument for local, civic associations, Levin reminds us that the platoons in question were in fact "very clearly a reference to social class". Burke thinks that, in a flourishing society, people know their place in the hierarchy — and learn to love it.
In his hands, Burke forces us to think again about the wisdom that can inhere in the institutions and customs of a nation, sometimes even after rational scrutiny has done its work. I recall a fierce argument in government over the name to be given to a reformed House of Lords. For liberal purists, nothing less than "Senate" would do; but for most of us, there was value in the historical association, and some Burkean sense in a gradual transition to the reformed chamber.
But as Levin elegantly demonstrates, Burke's reverence was for institutions that hoard and bequeath the wisdom of previous generations — not those that are simply old.
The Great Debate
The current House of Lords, overflowing with mediocrities, is not what Burke had in mind. While a passionate critic of the French revolution, Burke supported the claims of the American colonies to independence — while never uttering the word "revolution", of course — on the grounds that the British crown had broken with tradition and custom by imposing new taxes. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that is has taken an American to bring Burke's ideas so vividly back to life. Topics Politics books.
History books reviews. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Most popular. Levin wants to inject greater respect for the intermediate institutions of community and civic associations, in counterweight to individual liberty.
He opens his account by describing the central dispute between the two men over the revolution in France. His most famous work, Reflections of the Revolution in France , published in , warned that by tearing up the roots of society, the revolution, led by "a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists" would end in anarchy, bloodshed and tyranny. Burke's position on the revolution made him an outlier not just in his own party — he was a Whig, not a Tory — but in British politics. Many of his fellow parliamentarians saw merit in the argument of French intellectuals that their revolution was a natural extension of Britain's own "glorious revolution" of The point being that improvement, progress and reform are possible without sweeping away the existing institutions of society like so much detritus.
For Burke, political reform is, as Levin puts it, "more like medicine than engineering: a process of healing that seeks to preserve by correcting".
The “Great Debate” of
For Paine, politics consists of the application of rational principles based on natural equality. Rationalisation, not preservation, is the central goal.
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The left starts with rational, abstract ideals — equality, inclusion, democracy — and then attempts to apply them to an often ungrateful or unpredictable society. The right starts with the institutions and norms that already exist — probably for good reason — and only reluctantly concedes that there might be a smidgen of room for improvement.
Paine responded furiously to Burke's views on France in general, and his Reflections in particular: "a wild systematical display of philosophical rhapsodies". Paine saw any rough edges resulting from the revolution as trifling by comparison to the injustices of the preceding regime. As it turned out Burke was right about the French revolution — but Paine was right about the trajectory of politics for the following two centuries. Intellectually, Burke won the battle, but lost the war.
Burke, by contrast, supported the inheritance of political power — even though he himself rose from a humble background. In , writing to the Duke of Richmond, he described upwardly mobile men such as himself as "annual plants that perish with the season", compared to the "great families and hereditary trusts and fortunes", which were the "great oaks that shade a country".