It is a mistake, however, to read Bolingbroke’s notions of natural law as if they culminate in optimistic rationalism with some implicit revolutionary call.  Burke was the first to misrepresent Bolingbroke in this way, when he suggested that Bolingbroke called upon reason to end the empire of prejudice and prescription.  This was not Bolingbroke’s intention.  He did write that men’s reason had been seduced by false appearances and that these seductions, confirmed by law and religion, had barred mankind from perfection.  But his recognition of imperfection did not lead him to assault the institutions and prejudices that barred the perfect realization of rational and natural law.  His reasons are clearly stated: “It was not in the councils of the most high, which it becomes us to adore and not to examine, that this should be so.”  God has made men such that passions, appetites, and ignorance often have greater force than reason, and thus irrational will often prevails over rational nature.  To the extent it does, it is determined by God that the state of mankind will be less than perfect; and that it will not attain the perfection of rational natural law.  In the Patriot King Bolingbroke cautions “that perfect schemes are not adapted to our imperfect state.”  He who would read Bolingbroke as an optimistic rationalist must remember Bolingbroke’s theodicy, and its central tenet, resignation before God’s incomprehensible order….It is no revolutionary rationalist who would say: “if our reasoning faculties were more perfect than they are, the order of intellectual beings would be broken unnecessarily, and man would be raised above his proper form…The reason he has is sufficient for him in the state allotted to him.” ~Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle

Leaving aside for the moment the problems of Bolingbroke’s theology and anthropology, according to which man is not intended for perfection in God’s plan, this is an important corrective to the Burkean calumny against Bolingbroke, which is also embodied in Burke’s satirical Vindication of Natural Society, which has normally been read as a mockery of Bolingbroke’s own ideas.  However, as this passage suggests, Burke misunderstood important aspects of Bolingbroke’s ideas and seemed strangely intent on misunderstanding and opposing Bolingbroke in other areas–particularly when it came to the man’s struggle with Walpole–in ways that are rather dispiriting to discover, since it seems clear that in his criticism of abstract rights and the “projecting” spirit of the age he and Burke are of a single temperament and mind.