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Edmund Burke

Sir Edmond Burke was an Irish political philosopher in the 18th Century. His debates with Thomas Paine encouraged Paine to write The Rights of Man. Burke was a leading conservative of his day.

Quotations of noteEdit

To the Campaigns Community, from Edmund Burke

The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. letter, Feb. 26, 1790.

In doing good, we are generally cold, and languid, and sluggish; and of all things afraid of being too much in the right. But the works of malice and injustice are quite in another style. They are finished with a bold, masterly hand; touched as they are with the spirit of those vehement passions that call forth all our energies, whenever we oppress and persecute.
Edmund Burke (1729–97), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, at Bristol, prior to the 1780 election. Published in Works, vol. 2 (1899).

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. speech, Feb. 11, 1780, to the House of Commons.

The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter, April 3, 1777, to the sheriffs of Bristol.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Jan. 19, 1791.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Attributed. Ascribed in various forms to Burke, though never found in his writings. Possibly it is a distillation of the words found in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770): see Burke on alliances.

It is, generally, in the season of prosperity that men discover their real temper, principles, and designs.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Published in The Writings and Speeches ofEdmund Burke, vol. 9, ed. Paul Langford (1991). First Letter on a Regicide Peace (1796).

To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, April 19, 1774, House of Commons, London. First Speech on Conciliation with America: American Taxation, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

Manners are of more importance than laws.... Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letters on a Regicide Peace, letter 1 (1796).

To innovate is not to reform.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), repr. In Works, vol. 5 (1899).

In effect, to follow, not to force the public inclination; to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specific sanction, to the general sense of the community, is the true end of legislature.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, vol. 2, April 3, 1777, Works.

Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, April 3, 1777, repr. In Works, vol. 2 (1899).

If the people are happy, united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We conclude that to be good from whence good is derived.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), repr. In Works, vol. 3 (1865).

The objects of a financier are, then, to secure an ample revenue; to impose it with judgment and equality; to employ it economically; and, when necessity obliges him to make use of credit, to secure its foundations in that instance, and for ever, by the clearness and candour of his proceedings, the exactness of his calculations, and the solidity of his funds.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty helps us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial. Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

Society is indeed a contract.... It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), repr. In Works, vol. 3 (1865).

The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

To drive men from independence to live on alms, is itself great cruelty.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 19, ed. Pocock (1790).

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 41, ed. Pocock (1790).

The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 45, ed. Pocock (1790).

The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science, because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 53, ed. Pocock (1790).

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 80, ed. Pocock (1790).

By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish Protestant political writer. Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 83, Pocock (1790).

All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, March 22, 1775, House of Commons, London. Second Speech on Conciliation with America: The Thirteen Resolutions, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

I do not know a method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, March 22, 1775, House of Commons, London. Second Speech on Conciliation with America: The Thirteen Resolutions, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

The march of the human mind is slow.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, March 22, 1775, House of Commons, London. Second Speech on Conciliation with America: The Thirteen Resolutions, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

There is but one law for all, namely that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity—the law of nature and of nations.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, May 28, 1794 at Westminster Hall, London. Speeches ... in the Trial of Warren Hastings, vol. 4, ed. E.A. Bond (1859).

The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Anglo-Irish philosopher, statesman. “Speech on Conciliation with America,” March 22, 1775.

Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, March 22, 1775, House of Commons, London. Speech on Conciliation with America: The Thirteen Resolutions, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

All government—indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act—is founded on compromise and barter.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech on Conciliation with America, March 22, 1775.

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. speech, Nov. 3, 1774. Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. speech, Nov. 3, 1774. Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Works, vol. 2 (1899).

Custom reconciles us to everything.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. The Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, pt. 4, sct. 18 (1756).

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. The Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, pt. 2, ch. 2 (1756).

It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. “The Present State of the Nation,” Observations on a Publication (1769).

The great must submit to the dominion of prudence and of virtue, or none will long submit to the dominion of the great.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter, May 26, 1795. The Writings and Speeches ofEdmund Burke, vol. 9, ed. Paul Langford (1991).

Under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our mortal condition, men have at all times, and in all countries, called in some physical aid to their moral consolations—wine, beer, opium, brandy, or tobacco.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, vol. 5, Works (Nov. 1795).

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Speech, April 23, 1770. Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, repr. In Works, vol. 1 (1865). Arguing the need for political parties.

We must soften into a credulity below the milkiness of infancy to think all men virtuous. We must be tainted with a malignity truly diabolical, to believe all the world to be equally wicked and corrupt.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, politician. Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770).

To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, politician. Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770).

It is the interest of the commercial world that wealth should be found everywhere.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Letter, April 23, 1778, to Samuel Span Esq. Works, vol. 2 (1865).

And having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them. To avoid that evil, government will redouble the causes of it; and then it will become inveterate and incurable.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. Works, vol. 5 (Nov. 1795). Cautioning against the “attempt to feed the people out of the hands of the magistrates.”

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