Edmund Burke

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Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

Edmund Burke (12 January 17299 July 1797) was a British and Irish statesman, economist, and philosopher. Born in Dublin, Burke served as a member of parliament (MP) between 1766 and 1794 in the House of Commons of Great Britain with the Whig Party after moving to London in 1750.

Burke was a proponent of underpinning virtues with manners in society and of the importance of religious institutions for the moral stability and good of the state. These views were expressed in his A Vindication of Natural Society. He criticised the actions of the British government towards the American colonies, including its taxation policies. Burke also supported the rights of the colonists to resist metropolitan authority, although he opposed the attempt to achieve independence. He is remembered for his support for Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and his staunch opposition to the French Revolution. In the 20th century, he became widely regarded as the philosophical founder of conservatism.

See also: Reflections on the Revolution in France


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.
Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.


  • There is a sort of enthusiasm in all projectors, absolutely necessary for their affairs, which makes them proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults; and, what is severer than all, the presumptuous judgement of the ignorant upon their designs.
    • An Account of the European Settlements in America (1757), pp. 19-20, in The Works of Edmund Burke in Nine Volumes, Vol. IX. Boston: Little, Brown (1839)
  • I am far from contending in favour of an effeminate indulgence to these people. I know that they are stubborn and intractable for the most part, and that they must be ruled with a rod of iron. I would have them ruled, but not crushed with it. I would have a humanity exercised which is consistent with steadiness. And I think it clear from the whole course of history, that those nations which have behaved with the greatest humanity to their slaves, were always best served, and ran the least hazard from their rebellions. And I am the more convinced of the necessity of these indulgences, as slaves certainly cannot go through so much work as freemen. ... [O]ne cannot hear without horror of a trade which must depend for it's support upon the annual murder of several thousands of innocent men; and indeed nothing could excuse the slave trade at all, but the necessity we are under of peopling our colonies, and the consideration that the slaves we buy were in the same condition in Africa, either hereditary, or taken in war.
    • An Account of the European Settlements in America: Volume II (1757), pp. 123–124
A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a View of the Miseries and Evils arising to Mankind from every Species of Artifical Society · Full text online at Online Library of Liberty
  • The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own.
    • Preface
  • "War," says Machiavel, "ought to be the only study of a prince;" and by a prince he means every sort of state, however constituted. "He ought," says this great political doctor, "to consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes ability to execute military plans." A meditation on the conduct of political societies made old Hobbes imagine that war was the state of nature.
  • I need not excuse myself to your Lordship, nor, I think, to any honest man, for the zeal I have shown in this cause; for it is an honest zeal, and in a good cause. I have defended natural religion against a confederacy of atheists and divines. I now plead for natural society against politicians, and for natural reason against all three. When the world is in a fitter temper than it is at present to hear truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its temper, my thoughts may become more public. In the mean time, let them repose in my own bosom, and in the bosoms of such men as are fit to be initiated in the sober mysteries of truth and reason. My antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in religion and politics make sufficient discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober man a proper caution against them all. The monarchic, and aristocratical, and popular partisans have been jointly laying their axes to the root of all government, and have in their turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that artificial government is good, but that I fall out only with the abuse. The thing! the thing itself is the abuse! Observe, my Lord, I pray you, that grand error upon which all artificial legislative power is founded. It was observed that men had ungovernable passions, which made it necessary to guard against the violence they might offer to each other. They appointed governors over them for this reason! But a worse and more perplexing difficulty arises, how to be defended against the governors? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? In vain they change from a single person to a few. These few have the passions of the one; and they unite to strengthen themselves, and to secure the gratification of their lawless passions at the expense of the general good. In vain do we fly to the many. The case is worse; their passions are less under the government of reason, they are augmented by the contagion, and defended against all attacks by their multitude.
  • There are few with whom I can communicate so freely as with Pope. But Pope cannot bear every truth. He has a timidity which hinders the full exertion of his faculties, almost as effectually as bigotry cramps those of the general herd of mankind. But whoever is a genuine follower of truth keeps his eye steady upon his guide, indifferent whither he is led, provided that she is the leader. And, my Lord, if it may be properly considered, it were infinitely better to remain possessed by the whole legion of vulgar mistakes, than to reject some, and, at the same time, to retain a fondness for others altogether as absurd and irrational. The first has at least a consistency, that makes a man, however erroneously, uniform at least; but the latter way of proceeding is such an inconsistent chimera and jumble of philosophy and vulgar prejudice, that hardly anything more ridiculous can be conceived.
  • Kings are ambitious; the nobility haughty; and the populace tumultuous and ungovernable. Each party, however in appearance peaceable, carries on a design upon the others; and it is owing to this, that in all questions, whether concerning foreign or domestic affairs, the whole generally turns more upon some party-matter than upon the nature of the thing itself; whether such a step will diminish or augment the power of the crown, or how far the privileges of the subject are likely to be extended or restricted by it. And these questions are constantly resolved, without any consideration of the merits of the cause, merely as the parties who uphold these jarring interests may chance to prevail; and as they prevail, the balance is overset, now upon one side, now upon the other. The government is, one day, arbitrary power in a single person; another, a juggling confederacy of a few to cheat the prince and enslave the people; and the third, a frantic and unmanageable democracy. The great instrument of all these changes, and what infuses a peculiar venom into all of them, is party. It is of no consequence what the principles of any party, or what their pretensions, are; the spirit which actuates all parties is the same; the spirit of ambition, of self-interest, of oppression, and treachery. This spirit entirely reverses all the principles which a benevolent nature has erected within us; all honesty, all equal justice, and even the ties of natural society, the natural affections. In a word, my Lord, we have all seen, and, if any outward considerations were worthy the lasting concern of a wise man, we have some of us felt, such oppression from party government as no other tyranny can parallel. We behold daily the most important rights, rights upon which all the others depend, we behold these rights determined in the last resort without the least attention even to the appearance or colour of justice; we behold this without emotion, because we have grown up in the constant view of such practices; and we are not surprised to hear a man requested to be a knave and a traitor, with as much indifference as if the most ordinary favour were asked; and we hear this request refused, not because it is a most unjust and unreasonable desire, but that this worthy has already engaged his injustice to another. These and many more points I am far from spreading to their full extent.
  • I could show, that the same faction has, in one reign, promoted popular seditions, and, in the next, been a patron of tyranny; I could show, that they have all of them betrayed the public safety at all times, and have very frequently with equal perfidy made a market of their own cause, and their own associates. I could show how vehemently they have contended for names, and how silently they have passed over things of the last importance.
  • We scarce ever had a prince, who by fraud, or violence, had not made some infringement on the constitution. We scarce ever had a parliament which knew, when it attempted to set limits to the royal authority, how to set limits to its own. Evils we have had continually calling for reformation, and reformations more grievous than any evils. Our boasted liberty sometimes trodden down, sometimes giddily set up, and ever precariously fluctuating and unsettled; it has only been kept alive by the blasts of continual feuds, wars, and conspiracies.
  • A good parson once said, that where mystery begins, religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begins, justice ends? It is hard to say whether the doctors of law or divinity have made the greater advances in the lucrative business of mystery. The lawyers, as well as the theologians, have erected another reason besides natural reason; and the result has been, another justice besides natural justice. They have so bewildered the world and themselves in unmeaning forms and ceremonies, and so perplexed the plainest matters with metaphysical jargon, that it carries the highest danger to a man out of that profession, to make the least step without their advice and assistance. Thus,by confining to themselves the knowledge of the foundation of all men's lives and properties, they have reduced all mankind into the most abject and servile dependence. We are tenants at the will of these gentlemen for everything; and a metaphysical quibble is to decide whether the greatest villain breathing shall meet his deserts, or escape with impunity, or whether the best man in the society shall not be reduced to the lowest and most despicable condition it affords. In a word, my Lord, the injustice, delay, puerility, false refinement, and affected mystery of the law are such, that many who live under it come to admire and envy the expedition, simplicity, and equality of arbitrary judgments.
  • The most obvious division of society is into rich and poor; and it is no less obvious, that the number of the former bear a great disproportion to those of the latter. The whole business of the poor is to administer to the idleness, folly, and luxury of the rich; and that of the rich, in return, is to find the best methods of confirming the slavery and increasing the burdens of the poor. In a state of nature, it is an invariable law, that a man's acquisitions are in proportion to his labours. In a state of artificial society, it is a law as constant and as invariable, that those who labour most enjoy the fewest things; and that those who labour not at all have the greatest number of enjoyments. A constitution of things this, strange and ridiculous beyond expression! We scarce believe a thing when we are told it, which we actually see before our eyes every day without being in the least surprised.
  • The rich in all societies may be thrown into two classes. The first is of those who are powerful as well as rich, and conduct the operations of the vast political machine. The other is of those who employ their riches wholly in the acquisition of pleasure. As to the first sort, their continual care and anxiety, their toilsome days and sleepless nights, are next to proverbial. These circumstances are sufficient almost to level their condition to that of the unhappy majority; but there are other circumstances which place them in a far lower condition. Not only their understandings labour continually, which is the severest labour, but their hearts are torn by the worst, most troublesome, and insatiable of all passions, by avarice, by ambition, by fear and jealousy. No part of the mind has rest. Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue. Pity, benevolence, friendship, are things almost unknown in high stations.
  • The several species of government vie with each other in the absurdity of their constitutions, and the oppression which they make their subjects endure. Take them under what form you please, they are in effect but a despotism, and they fall, both in effect and appearance too, after a very short period, into that cruel and detestable species of tyranny; which I rather call it, because we have been educated under another form, than that this is of worse consequences to mankind. For the free governments, for the point of their space, and the moment of their duration, have felt more confusion, and committed more flagrant acts of tyranny, than the most perfect despotic governments which we have ever known. Turn your eye next to the labyrinth of the law, and the iniquity conceived in its intricate recesses. Consider the ravages committed in the bowels of all commonwealths by ambition, by avarice, envy, fraud, open injustice, and pretended friendship; vices which could draw little support from a state of nature, but which blossom and flourish in the rankness of political society. Revolve our whole discourse; add to it all those reflections which your own good understanding shall suggest, and make a strenuous effort beyond the reach of vulgar philosophy, to confess that the cause of artificial society is more defenceless even than that of artificial religion; that it is as derogatory from the honour of the Creator, as subversive of human reason, and productive of infinitely more mischief to the human race.
  • If pretended revelations have caused wars where they were opposed, and slavery where they were received, the pretended wise inventions of politicians have done the same. But the slavery has been much heavier, the wars far more bloody, and both more universal by many degrees. Show me any mischief produced by the madness or wickedness of theologians, and I will show you an hundred resulting from the ambition and villany of conquerors and statesmen. Show me an absurdity in religion, and I will undertake to show you an hundred for one in political laws and institutions. 'If you say, that natural religion is a sufficient guide without the foreign aid of revelation, on what principle should political laws become necessary? Is not the same reason available in theology and in politics? If the laws of nature are the laws of God, is it consistent with the Divine wisdom to prescribe rules to us, and leave the enforcement of them to the folly of human institutions? Will you follow truth but to a certain point?
  • We are indebted for all our miseries to our distrust of that guide, which Providence thought sufficient for our condition, our own natural reason, which rejecting both in human and Divine things, we have given our necks to the yoke of political and theological slavery. We have renounced the prerogative of man, and it is no wonder that we should be treated like beasts. But our misery is much greater than theirs, as the crime we commit in rejecting the lawful dominion of our reason is greater than any which they can commit. If, after all, you should confess all these things, yet plead the necessity of political institutions, weak and wicked as they are, I can argue with equal, perhaps superior, force, concerning the necessity of artificial religion; and every step you advance in your argument, you add a strength to mine. So that if we are resolved to submit our reason and our liberty to civil usurpation, we have nothing to do but to conform as quietly as we can to the vulgar notions which are connected with this, and take up the theology of the vulgar as well as their politics. But if we think this necessity rather imaginary than real, we should renounce their dreams of society, together with their visions of religion, and vindicate ourselves into perfect liberty.
  • You are, my Lord, but just entering into the world; I am going out of it. I have played long enough to be heartily tired of the drama. Whether I have acted my part in it well or ill, posterity will judge with more candour than I, or than the present age, with our present passions, can possibly pretend to. For my part, I quit it without a sigh, and submit to the sovereign order without murmuring. The nearer we approach to the goal of life, the better we begin to understand the true value of our existence, and the real weight of our opinions. We set out much in love with both; but we leave much behind us as we advance. We first throw away the tales along with the rattles of our nurses; those of the priest keep their hold a little longer; those of our governors the longest of all. But the passions which prop these opinions are withdrawn one after another; and the cool light of reason, at the setting of our life, shows us what a false splendour played upon these objects during our more sanguine seasons. Happy, my Lord, if, instructed by my experience, and even by my errors, you come early to make such an estimate of things, as may give freedom and ease to your life. I am happy that such an estimate promises me comfort at my death.
  • A definition may be very exact, and yet go but a very little way towards informing us of the nature of the thing defined.
    • Introduction On Taste
  • The first and the simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is Curiosity.
    • Part I Section I
  • The person who grieves, suffers his passion to grow upon him; he indulges it, he loves it; but this never happens in the case of actual pain, which no man ever willingly endured for any considerable time.
    • Part I Section V
  • I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.
    • Part I Section XIV
    • Compare: Francis, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Reflections, xv: "In the adversity of our best friends we always find something which is not wholly displeasing to us"
  • No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.
    • Part II Section II
  • When any work seems to have required immense force and labor to affect it, the idea is grand. Stonehenge, neither for disposition nor ornament, has anything admirable; but those huge rude masses of stone, set on end, and piled each on other, turn the mind on the immense force necessary for such a work. Nay, the rudeness of the work increases this cause of grandeur, as it excludes the idea of art and contrivance; for dexterity produces another sort of effect, which is different enough from this.
    • Part II Section XII
  • A great profusion of things, which are splendid or valuable in themselves, is magnificent. The starry heaven, though it occurs so very frequently to our view, never fails to excite an idea of grandeur. This cannot be owing to the stars themselves, separately considered. The number is certainly the cause. The apparent disorder augments the grandeur, for the appearance of care is highly contrary to our idea of magnificence. Besides, the stars lie in such apparent confusion, as makes it impossible on ordinary occasions to reckon them. This gives them the advantage of a sort of infinity.
    • Part II Section XIII
  • Custom reconciles us to every thing.
    • Part IV Section XVIII
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.


Laws, like houses, lean on one another.
A diversity of opinion upon almost every principle of politics, had indeed drawn a strong line of separation between them and some others. However, they were desirous not to extend the misfortune by unnecessary bitterness; they wished to prevent a difference of opinion from festering into rancorous and incurable hostility. Accordingly they endeavoured that all past controversies should be forgotten. There is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
People must be governed in a manner agreeable to their temper and disposition; and men of free character and spirit must be ruled with, at least, some condescension to this spirit and this character.
Politics ought to be adjusted, not to human reasonings, but to human nature; of which the reason is but a part; and by no means the greatest part.
  • Laws, like houses, lean on one another.
    • From the Tracts Relative to the Laws Against Popery in Ireland (c. 1766), not published during Burke's lifetime.
  • A diversity of opinion upon almost every principle of politics, had indeed drawn a strong line of separation between them and some others. However, they were desirous not to extend the misfortune by unnecessary bitterness; they wished to prevent a difference of opinion on the commonwealth from festering into rancorous and incurable hostility. Accordingly they endeavoured that all past controversies should be forgotten; and that enough for the day should be the evil thereof. There is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. Men may tolerate injuries, whilst they are only personal to themselves. But it is not the first of virtues to bear with moderation the indignities that are offered to our country.
  • There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769), volume i, p. 273
  • It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.
    • Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation (1769)
  • The wisdom of our ancestors.
    • Burke is credited by some with the first use of this phrase, in Observations on a Late Publication on Present State of the Nation (1769), p. 516; also in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) and Discussion on the Traitorous Correspondence Bill (1793)


  • Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (7 March 1773)
  • I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.
    • Speech on the Bill for the Relief of Protestant Dissenters (7 March 1773)
  • Certainly, Gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs,—and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.
    But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure,—no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
    • Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3 November 1774); reported in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke (1899), vol. 2, p. 95
  • 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.
    • Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3 November 1774); as published in The Works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke (1834)
  • A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.
    • Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (3 April 1777); as published in The Works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke (1899), vol. 2, p. 206
  • Africa, time out of mind, had been in a state of slavery, therefore the inhabitants only changed one species of slavery for another. However, he was sorry to say, that, in changing from African to European slavery, they generally changed much for the worse, which certainly was a matter of reproach somewhere, and deserved serious consideration.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 June 1777), quoted in The Works and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Volume III: Party, Parliament, and the American War, 1774–1780, eds. Warren M. Elofson and John A. Woods (1981), p. 341
  • People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.
    • Letter to Charles James Fox (8 October 1777)

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)

  • It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of not man, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement.
  • Illustrious predecessor.
    • Volume i, p. 456
  • The power of discretionary disqualification by one law of Parliament, and the necessity of paying every debt of the Civil List by another law of Parliament, if suffered to pass unnoticed, must establish such a fund of rewards and terrors as will make Parliament the best appendage and support of arbitrary power that ever was invented by the wit of man. This is felt. The quarrel is begun between the Representatives and the People. The Court Faction have at length committed them. In such a strait the wisest may well be perplexed, and the boldest staggered. The circumstances are in a great measure new. We have hardly any land-marks from the wisdom of our ancestors, to guide us. At best we can only follow the spirit of their proceeding in other cases.
    • Volume i, p. 516
  • When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
    It is not enough in a situation of trust in the commonwealth, that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character, that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation, falls miserably short of the mark of publick duty. That duty demands and requires, that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected, but defeated.
    • Volume i, p. 526; this expression is often cited as a likely origin of other more famous assertions such as "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" which are commonly attributed to Burke; see #Misattributed below.
  • Of this stamp is the cant of, Not men, but measures.
    • Volume i, p. 531
  • So to be patriots as not to forget we are gentlemen.
  • Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.

First Speech on the Conciliation with America (1774)

First Speech on the Conciliation with America, American Taxation (19 April 1774)
  • Reflect how you are to govern a people who think they ought to be free, and think they are not. Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience; and such is the state of America, that after wading up to your eyes in blood, you could only end just where you begun; that is, to tax where no revenue is to be found, to — my voice fails me; my inclination indeed carries me no farther — all is confusion beyond it.
  • Falsehood has a perennial spring.
  • To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.
  • He had no failings which were not owing to a noble cause; to an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate passion for fame; a passion which is the instinct of all great souls.
  • It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact.

Second Speech on Conciliation with America (1775)

Second Speech on Conciliation with America, The Thirteen Resolutions (1775)
  • I have in general no very exalted opinion of the virtue of paper government.
  • The concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear.
  • Young man, there is America — which at this day serves for little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men and uncouth manners; yet shall, before you taste of death, show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world.
  • When we speak of the commerce with our [American] colonies, fiction lags after truth, invention is unfruitful, and imagination cold and barren.
  • A people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood.
  • Through a wise and salutary neglect [of the colonies], a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me. My vigour relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.
  • 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.
  • Nothing less will content me, than whole America.
  • Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found.
  • Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people, is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it.
  • [T]he dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. 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. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the Northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.
  • Permit me, Sir, to add another circumstance in our colonies, which contributes no mean part towards the growth and effect of this untractable spirit. I mean their education. In no country perhaps in the world is the law so general a study. The profession itself is numerous and powerful; and in most provinces it takes the lead. The greater number of the deputies sent to the congress were lawyers. But all who read, and most do read, endeavour to obtain some smattering in that science. I have been told by an eminent bookseller, that in no branch of his business, after tracts of popular devotion, were so many books as those on the law exported to the plantations. The colonists have now fallen into the way of printing them for their own use. I hear that they have sold nearly as many of Blackstone's Commentaries in America as in England. General Gage marks out this disposition very particularly in a letter on your table. He states, that all the people in his government are lawyers, or smatterers in law; and that in Boston they have been enabled, by successful chicane, wholly to evade many parts of one of your capital penal constitutions. The smartness of debate will say, that this knowledge ought to teach them more clearly the rights of legislature, their obligations to obedience, and the penalties of rebellion. All this is mighty well. But my honourable and learned friend on the floor, who condescends to mark what I say for animadversion, will disdain that ground. He has heard, as well as I, that when great honours and great emoluments do not win over this knowledge to the service of the state, it is a formidable adversary to government. If the spirit be not tamed and broken by these happy methods, it is stubborn and litigious. Abeunt studia in mores. This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defence, full of resources. In other countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.
  • It looks to me to be narrow and pedantic to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.
  • It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.
  • The march of the human mind is slow.
  • Freedom and not servitude is the cure of anarchy; as religion, and not atheism, is the true remedy for superstition.
  • All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter.
  • Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil.
  • Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond, which originally made, and must still preserve the unity of the empire.
  • It is the love of the people; it is their attachment to their government, from the sense of the deep stake they have in such a glorious institution, which gives you both your army and your navy, and infuses into both that liberal obedience, without which your army would be a base rabble, and your navy nothing but rotten timber.
  • Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.
  • By adverting to the dignity of this high calling our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire: and have made the most extensive, and the only honorable conquests, not by destroying, but by promoting the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race.

Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777)

Liberty, if I understand it at all, is a general principle, and the clear right of all the subjects within the realm, or of none. … the true danger is, when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.
Never expecting to find perfection in men, and not looking for divine attributes in created beings, in my commerce with my contemporaries, I have found much human virtue.
Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the affairs of America (3 April 1777)
  • Strange incongruities must ever perplex those, who confound the unhappiness of civil dissensions with the crime of treason.
  • Liberty, if I understand it at all, is a general principle, and the clear right of all the subjects within the realm, or of none. Partial freedom seems to me a most invidious mode of slavery. But, unfortunately, it is the kind of slavery the most easily admitted in times of civil discord; for parties are but too apt to forget their own future safety in their desire of sacrificing their enemies. People without much difficulty admit the entrance of that injustice of which they are not to be the immediate victims. In times of high proceeding it is never the faction of the predominant power that is in danger: for no tyranny chastises its own instruments. It is the obnoxious and the suspected who want the protection of law; and there is nothing to bridle the partial violence of state factions, but this; “that whenever an act is made for a cessation of law and justice, the whole people should be universally subjected to the same suspension of their franchises.” The alarm of such a proceeding would then be universal. It would operate as a sort of Call of the nation. It would become every man's immediate and instant concern to be made very sensible of the absolute necessity of this total eclipse of liberty. They would more carefully advert to every renewal, and more powerfully resist it. These great determined measures are not commonly so dangerous to freedom. They are marked with too strong lines to slide into use. No plea, nor pretence, of inconvenience or evil example (which must in their nature be daily and ordinary incidents) can be admitted as a reason for such mighty operations. But the true danger is, when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts. The Habeas Corpus act supposes, contrary to the genius of most other laws, that the lawful magistrate may see particular men with a malignant eye, and it provides for that identical case. But when men, in particular descriptions, marked out by the magistrate himself, are delivered over by parliament to this possible malignity, it is not the Habeas Corpus that is occasionally suspended, but its spirit that is mistaken, and its principle that is subverted. Indeed nothing is security to any individual but the common interest of all.
  • If any ask me what a free Government is, I answer, that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so, — and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.
  • 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.
  • Civil freedom, gentlemen, is not, as many have endeavoured to persuade you, a thing that lies hid in the depth of abstruse science. It is a blessing and a benefit, not an abstract speculation; and all the just reasoning that can bo upon it, is of so coarse a texture, as perfectly to suit the ordinary capacities of those who are to enjoy, and of those who are to defend it. Far from any resemblance to those propositions in geometry and metaphysics, which admit no medium, but must be true or false in all their latitude; social and civil freedom, like all other things in common life, are variously mixed and modified, enjoyed in very different degrees, and shaped into an infinite diversity of forms, according to the temper and circumstances of every community. The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains no where, nor ought to obtain any where. Because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty too must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint it is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise public counsel, to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it. But whether liberty be advantageous or not, (for I know it is a fashion to decry the very principle,) none will dispute that peace is a blessing; and peace must in the course of human affairs be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration at least to liberty. For as the sabbath (though of divine institution) was made for man, not man for the sabbath, government, which can claim no higher origin or authority, in its exercise at least, ought to conform to the exigencies of the time, and the temper and character of the people, with whom it is concerned; and not always to attempt violently to bend the people to their theories of subjection. The bulk of mankind on their part are not excessively curious concerning any theories, whilst they are really happy; and one sure symptom of an ill-conducted state, is the propensity of the people to resort to them.
  • I hope there are none of you, corrupted with the doctrine taught by wicked men for the worst purposes, and received by the malignant credulity of envy and ignorance, which is, that the men who act upon the public stage are all alike; all equally corrupt; all influenced by no other views than the sordid lure of salary and pension. The thing, I know by experience to be false. Never expecting to find perfection in men, and not looking for divine attributes in created beings, in my commerce with my contemporaries, I have found much human virtue. I have seen not a little public spirit; a real subordination of interest to duty; and a decent and regulated sensibility to honest fame and reputation. The age unquestionably produces (whether in a greater or less number than former times, I know not) daring profligates and insidious hypocrites. What then? Am I not to avail myself of whatever good is to be found in the world, because of the mixture of evil that will always be in it? The smallness of the quantity in currency only heightens the value. They, who raise suspicions on the good on account of the behaviour of ill men, are of the party of the latter.
  • A conscientious person would rather doubt his own judgment, than condenm his species. He would say, I have observed without attention, or judged upon erroneous maxims; I trusted to profession, when I ought to have attended to conduct. Such a man will grow wise, not malignant, by his acquaintance with the world. But he that accuses all mankind of corruption ought to remember that he is sure to convict only one. In truth I should much rather admit those whom at any time I have disrelished the most, to be patterns of perfection, than seek a consolation to my own unworthiness, in a general communion of depravity with all about me.
    That this ill-natured doctrine should be preached by the missionaries of a court I do not wonder. It answers their purpose. But that it should be heard among those who pretend to be strong assertors of liberty, is not only surprising, but hardly natural. This moral levelling is a servile principle. It leads to practical passive obedience far better, than all the doctrines, which the pliant accommodation of theology to power has ever produced. It cuts up by the roots, not only all idea of forcible resistance, but even of civil opposition. It disposes men to an abject submission, not by opinion, which may be shaken by argument or altered by passion, but by the strong ties of public and private interest. For if all men who act in a public situation are equally selfish, corrupt, and venal, what reason can be given for desiring any sort of change, which, besides the evils which must attend all changes, can be productive of no possible advantage? The active men in the state are true samples of the mass. If they are universally depraved, the commonwealth itself is not sound. We may amuse ourselves with talking as much as we please of the virtue of middle or humble life; that is, we may place our confidence in the virtue of those who have never been tried. But if the persons who are continually emerging out of that sphere, be no better than those whom birth has placed above it, what hopes are there in the remainder of the body, which is to furnish the perpetual succession of the state? All who have ever written on government are unanimous, that among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist. And indeed how is it possible? when those who are to make the laws, to guard, to enforce, or to obey them, are by a tacit confederacy of manners, indisposed to the spirit of all generous and noble institutions.
  • I am aware that the age is not what we all wish. But I am sure, that the only means of checking its precipitate degeneracy, is heartily to concur with whatever is the best in our time; and to have some more correct standard of judging what that best is, than the transient and uncertain favour of a court. If once we are able to find, and can prevail on ourselves to strengthen an union of such men, whatever accidentally becomes indisposed to ill-exercised power, even by the ordinary operation of human passions, must join with that society, and cannot long be joined, without in some degree assimilating to it. Virtue will catch as well as vice by contact; and the public stock of honest manly principle will daily accumulate. We are not too nicely to scrutinize motives as long as action is irreproachable. It is enough, (and for a worthy man perhaps too much,) to deal out its infamy to convicted guilt and declared apostacy.
  • There never, gentlemen, was a period in which the steadfastness of some men has been nut to so sore a trial. It is not very difficult for well-formed minds to abandon their interest; but the separation of fame and virtue is an harsh divorce. Liberty is in danger of being made unpopular to Englishmen. Contending for an imaginary power, we begin to acquire the spirit of domination, and to lose the relish of honest equality.
  • We are taught to believe that a desire of domineering over our countrymen is love to our country; and those who hate civil war abet rebellion, and that the amiable and conciliatory virtues of lenity, moderation, and tenderness to the privileges of those who depend on this kingdom are a sort of treason to the state.
    It is impossible that we should remain long in a situation, which breeds such notions and dispositions, without some great alteration in the national character.


  • Applaud us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover.
    • Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election (6 September 1780)
  • Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
    • Speech at Bristol Previous to the Election (6 September 1780)
  • 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.
  • I decline the election. — It has ever been my rule through life, to observe a proportion between my efforts and my objects. I have never been remarkable for a bold, active, and sanguine pursuit of advantages that are personal to myself.
    • Speech at Bristol on declining the poll (9 September 1780)
  • Gentlemen, the melancholy event of yesterday reads to us an awful lesson against being too much troubled about any of the objects of ordinary ambition. The worthy gentleman, who has been snatched from us at the moment of the election, and in the middle of contest, whilst his desires were as warm, and his hopes as eager as ours, has feelingly told us, what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.
    • Speech at Bristol on declining the poll (9 September 1780), referring to a Mr. Richard Coombe.
  • He was not merely a chip of the old Block, but the old Block itself.
    • On Pitt's First Speech (26 February 1781), from Wraxall's Memoirs, First Series, vol. i. p. 342
  • [M]en must be governed by those laws which they love. Where thirty millions are to be governed by a few thousand men, the government must be established by consent, and must be congenial to the feelings and to the habits of the people. That which creates tyranny is the imposition of a form of government contrary to the will of the governed: and even a free and equal plan of government, would be considered as despotic by those who desired to have their old laws and their ancient system.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on India (27 June 1781), quoted in The Parliamentary Register: Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons, Volume III (1782), pp. 666–667
  • Our constitution is a prescriptive constitution; it is a constitution whose sole authority is, that it has existed time out of mind... Nor was your House of Lords and the prerogatives of the Crown settled on any adjudication in favour of natural rights, for they could never be so partitioned. Your king, your lords, your judges, your juries, grand and little, all are prescriptive... Prescription is the most solid of all titles, not only to property, but, which is to secure that property, to government. They harmonize with each other, and give mutual aid to one another. It is accompanied with another ground of authority in the constitution of the human mind, presumption. It is a presumption in favour of any settled scheme of government against any untried project, that a nation has long existed and flourished under it. It is a better presumption, even of the choice of a nation, far better than any sudden and temporary arrangement by actual election. Because a nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation, but it is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers, and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultuary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice; it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time.
    • Speech in the House of Commons against William Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform (7 May 1782), quoted in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke ...: Miscellaneous speeches, letters, and fragments, Vol. VI (1890), pp. 146-47. Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform was rejected by 161 votes to 141
  • Nor is prescription of government formed upon blind unmeaning prejudices—for man is a most unwise, and a most wise, being. The individual is foolish. The multitude, for the moment, is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species it almost always acts right.
    • Speech in the House of Commons against William Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform (7 May 1782), quoted in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke ...: Miscellaneous speeches, letters, and fragments, Vol. VI (1890), p. 147
  • Cast your eyes on the journals of parliament. It is for fear of losing the inestimable treasure we have, that I do not venture to game it out of my hands for the vain hope of improving it. I look with filial reverence on the constitution of my country, and never will cut it in pieces, and put it into the kettle of any magician, in order to boil it, with the puddle of their compounds, into youth and vigour. On the contrary, I will drive away such pretenders; I will nurse its venerable age, and with lenient arts extend a parent's breath.
    • Speech in the House of Commons against William Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform (7 May 1782), quoted in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke ...: Miscellaneous speeches, letters, and fragments, Vol. VI (1890), p. 153
  • I ground myself...on this principle—that if the abuse is proved, the contract is broken; and we re-enter into all our rights; that is, into the exercise of all our duties. Our own authority is indeed as much a trust originally, as the Company's authority is a trust derivatively; and it is the use we make of the resumed power that must justify or condemn us in the resumption of it. When we have perfected the plan laid before us by the right honourable mover, the world will then see what it is we destroy, and what it is we create. By that test we stand or fall; and by that test I trust that it will be found in the issue, that we are going to supersede a charter abused to the full extent of all the powers which it could abuse, and exercised in the plenitude of despotism, tyranny, and corruption; and that in one and the same plan, we provide a real chartered security for the rights of men, cruelly violated under that charter. This bill, and those connected with it, are intended to form the Magna Charta of Hindostan.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the India Bill (1 December 1783), quoted in The Parliamentary Register: Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons, Volume XII (1782), p. 213
  • This multitude of men does not consist of an abject and barbarous people...but a people for ages civilized and cultivated; cultivated by all the arts of polished life, whilst we were yet in the woods. There, have been (and still the skeletons remain) princes, once of great dignity, authority, and opulence. There are to be found the chiefs of tribes and nations. There is to be found an ancient and venerable priesthood, the depository of their laws, learning, and history, the guides of the people whilst living, and their consolation in death; a nobility of great antiquity and renown; a multitude of cities, not exceeded in population and trade by those of the first class in Europe; merchants and bankers, individual houses of whom have once vied in capital with the Bank of England; whose credit had often supported a tottering State, and preserved their governments in the midst of war and desolation; millions of ingenious manufacturers and mechanics; millions of the most diligent, and not the least intelligent, tillers of the earth.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on India (1 December 1783), quoted in The Parliamentary Register: Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons, Volume XII (1782), p. 216
  • The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
    • Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784)
  • As to us here our thoughts of every thing at home are suspended, by our astonishment at the wonderful Spectacle which is exhibited in a Neighbouring and rival Country—what Spectators, and what actors! England gazing with astonishment at a French struggle for Liberty and not knowing whether to blame or to applaud! The thing indeed, though I thought I saw something like it in progress for several years, has still something in it paradoxical and Mysterious. The spirit it is impossible not to admire; but the old Parisian ferocity has broken out in a shocking manner. It is true, that this may be no more than a sudden explosion... But if it should be character rather than accident, then that people are not fit for Liberty, and must have a Strong hand like that of their former masters to coerce them. Men must have a certain fund of natural moderation to qualifye them for Freedom, else it becomes noxious to themselves and a perfect Nuisance to every body else.
    • Letter to Lord Charlemont (9 August 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 10
  • [France is] a Country where the people, along with their political servitude, have thrown off the Yoke of Laws and morals.
    • Letter to William Windham (27 September 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 25
  • Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
    • Letter to M. de Menonville (October 1789)
  • This day I heard from Laurence who has sent me papers confirming the portentous State of France—where the Elements which compose Human Society seem all to be dissolved, and a world of Monsters to be producd in the place of it—where Mirabeau presides as the Grand Anarch; and the late Grand Monarch makes a figure as ridiculous as pitiable.
    • Letter to Richard Burke (c. 10 October 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 30
  • ...what the freedom is that I love, and that to which I think all men intitled. It is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish Liberty. As if every Man was to regulate the whole of his Conduct by his own will. The Liberty I mean is social freedom. It is that state of things in which Liberty is secured by the equality of Restraint; A Constitution of things in which the liberty of no one Man, and no body of Men and no Number of men, can find Means to trespass on the liberty of any Person, or any description of Persons in the Society. This kind of liberty is indeed but another name for Justice, as ascertained by wise Laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.
    • Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (November 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 42
  • You may have made a Revolution, but not a Reformation. You may have subverted Monarchy, but not recover'd freedom.
    • Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (November 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 46
  • Your settlement may be at hand; But that it is still at some distance is more likely. The French may be yet to go through more transmigrations. They may pass, as one of our Poets says, “thro' many varieties of untried being,” before their State obtains its final form.
    • Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (November 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 46. Burke was quoting Joseph Addison's Cato
  • You have theories enough concerning the Rights of Men. It may not be amiss to add a small degree of attention to their Nature and disposition.
    • Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (November 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 46
  • Never wholly separate in your Mind the merits of any Political Question from the Men who are concerned in it.
    • Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (November 1789), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 47

Speech on the Independence of Parliament (1780)

Speech on the Independence of Parliament and Economical Reformation (11 February 1780)
  • Frugality is founded on the principle that all riches have limits.
  • Corrupt influence, which is itself the perennial spring of all prodigality, and of all disorder; which loads us, more than millions of debt; which takes away vigor from our arms, wisdom from our councils, and every shadow of authority and credit from the most venerable parts of our constitution.
  • Taxing is an easy business. Any projector can contrive new impositions, any bungler can add to the old.
  • They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.

On the Impeachment of Warren Hastings (1788-1794)

Articles of Charge of High Crimes and Misdemeanors, against Warren Hastings
  • There never was a bad man that had ability for good service.
    • 15 February 1788, Third Day, volume x, p. 54
  • Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety.
    • 15 February 1788
  • One that confounds good and evil is an enemy to the good.
    • 15 February 1788
  • An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.
    • 5 May 1789
  • Resolved to die in the last dike of prevarication.
    • 7 May 1789
  • 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.
    • 28 May 1794
  • On one side, your lordships have the prisoner declaring that the people have no laws, no rights, no usages, no distinctions of rank, no sense of honor, no property; in short that they are nothing but a herd of slaves to be governed by the arbitrary will of a master. On the other side, we assert that the direct contrary of this is true. And to prove our assertion we have referred you to the institutes of Ghinges Khân and of Tamerlane: we have referred you to the Mahomedan law, which is binding upon all, from the crowned head to the meanest subject; a law interwoven with a system of the wisest, the most learned, and most enlightened jurisprudence that perhaps ever existed in the world. We have shown you, that if these parties are to be compared together, it is not the rights of the people which are nothing, but rather the rights of the sovereign which are so. The rights of the people are every thing, as they ought to be in the true and natural order of things.
    • Final Speech at the Trial of Warren Hastings, 28 May 1794; in The Works of the Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke, vol. 8 (1877) 5th edition, p. 51
  • There was an ancient Roman lawyer, of great fame in the history of Roman jurisprudence, whom they called Cui Bono, from his having first introduced into judicial proceedings the argument, "What end or object could the party have had in the act with which he is accused."
    • 30 May 1794


  • Since the House had been prorogued in the summer much work was done in France. The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In that very short space of time they had completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 February 1790), quoted in J. C. D. Clark, 'Introduction', in Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: A Critical Edition, ed. J. C. D. Clark (2001), p. 66
  • They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the Rights of Man.
    • On the Army Estimates (9 February 1790)
  • I tell you again that the recollection of the manner in which I saw the Queen of France in the year 1774 and the contrast between that brilliancy, Splendour, and beauty, with the prostrate Homage of a Nation to her, compared with the abominable Scene of 1789 which I was describing did draw Tears from me and wetted my Paper. These Tears came again into my Eyes almost as often as I lookd at the description. They may again. You do not believe this fact, or that these are my real feelings, but that the whole is affected, or as you express it, 'downright Foppery'. My friend, I tell you it is truth—and that it is true, and will be true, when you and I are no more, and will exist as long as men—with their Natural feelings exist.
    • Letter to Philip Francis (20 February 1790), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 91
  • It is not calling the landed estates, possessed by old prescriptive rights, the 'accumulations of ignorance and superstition', that can support me in shaking that grand title, which supersedes all other title, and which all my studies of general jurisprudence have taught me to consider as one principal cause of the formation of states; I mean the ascertaining and securing prescription. But these are donations made in 'ages of ignorance and superstition'. Be it so. It proves that these donations were made long ago; and this is prescription; and this gives right and title.
    • Letter to Captain Thomas Mercer (26 February 1790), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 95
  • I hate tyranny, at least I think I do; but I hate it most of all where most are concerned in it. The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny. If, as society is constituted in these large countries of France and England, full of unequal property, I must make my choice (which God avert!) between the despotism of a single person, or of the many, my election is made. As much injustice and tyranny has been practised in a few months by a French democracy, as in all the arbitrary monarchies in Europe in the forty years of my observation.
    • Letter to Captain Thomas Mercer (26 February 1790), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 96
  • I have been baptised and educated in the Church of England; and have seen no cause to abandon that communion. ... I think that Church harmonises with our civil constitution, with the frame and fashion of our Society, and with the general Temper of the people. I think it is better calculated, all circumstances considered, for keeping peace amongst the different sects, and of affording to them a reasonable protection, than any other System. Being something in a middle, it is better disposed to moderate.
    • Letter to an unknown correspondent (26 January 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 215
  • I am attached to Christianity at large; much from conviction; more from affection.
    • Letter to an unknown correspondent (26 January 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 215
  • ...no Monarchy limited or unlimited, nor any of the old Republics, can possibly be safe as long as this strange, nameless, wild, enthusiastic thing is established in the Center of Europe.
    • Letter to John Trevor (January 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 218
  • You talk of Paine with more respect than he deserves: He is utterly incapable of comprehending his subject. He has not even a moderate portion of learning of any kind. He has learnd the instrumental part of literature, a style, and a method of disposing his ideas, without having ever made a previous preparation of Study or thinking—for the use of it. ... [Paine] possesses nothing more than what a man whose audacity makes him careless of logical consequences, and his total want of honour and morality makes indifferent as to political consequences, may very easily write. They indeed who seriously write upon a principle of levelling ought to be answerd by the Magistrate—and not by the Speculatist.
    • Letter to William Cusac Smith (22 July 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), pp. 303-304
  • ...I am sure, that the sentiments which it [Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs] contains are such, as tend to connect the rights of the Crown with those of the Subject, and to secure the stability of both. I think at least that I have shewn, beyond a Dispute, that my Sentiments are those of the rational Whiggs who settled the succession, upon the antient principles of the constitution, in the House of Hannover.
    • Letter to the Bishop of Salisbury John Douglas (31 July 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 309
  • William Pitt the Younger: Never fear, Mr. Burke: depend on it we shall go on as we are, until the day of judgment.
    Edmund Burke: Very likely, Sir. It is the day of no judgment that I am afraid of.
    • Conversation at a dinner in 10 Downing Street (24 September 1791), quoted in George Pellew, The Life and Correspondence of the Right Hon. Henry Addington, First Viscount Sidmouth, Volume I (1847), p. 72
  • For my part for one, though I make no doubt of preferring the antient Course, or almost any other to this vile chimera, and sick mans dream of Government yet I could not actively, or with a good heart, and clear conscience, go to the establishment of a monarchical despotism in the place of this system of Anarchy.
    • Letter to Richard Burke (26 September 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 414
  • ...what I look to with seriousness is the Phalanx of Party which exists in the body of the dissenters, who are, at the very least, nine tenths of them entirely devoted, some with greater some with less zeal, to the principles of the French Revolution.
    • Letter to the Home Secretary, Henry Dundas (30 September 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 419
  • The Leaders have ever since gone...to propagate the principles of French Levelling and confusion, by which no house is safe from its Servants, and no Officer from his Soldiers, and no State or constitution from conspiracy and insurrection. I will not enter into the baseness and depravity of the System they adopt; but one thing I will remark, that its great Object is not, (as they pretend to delude worthy people to their Ruin) the destruction of all absolute Monarchies, but totally to root out that thing called an Aristocrate or Noblemen and Gentleman.
    • Letter to Lord Fitzwilliam (21 November 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 451
  • Boldness formerly was not the character of Atheists as such. ... But of late they are grown active, designing, turbulent, and seditious.
    • "Thoughts on French Affairs" (December 1791), in Three Memorials on French Affairs (1797), p. 53
  • When such a complete convulsion has shaken the State, and hardly left any thing whatsoever, either in civil arrangements, or in the Characters and disposition of men's minds, exactly where it was, whatever shall be settled although in the former persons and upon old forms, will be in some measure a new thing and will labour under something of the weakness as well as other inconveniences of a Change. My poor opinion is that you mean to establish what you call 'L'ancien Régime,' If any one means that system of Court Intrigue miscalled a Government as it stood, at Versailles before the present confusions as the thing to be established, that I believe will be found absolutely impossible; and if you consider the Nature, as well of persons, as of affairs, I flatter myself you must be of my opinion. That was tho' not so violent a State of Anarchy as well as the present. If it were even possible to lay things down exactly as they stood, before the series of experimental politicks began, I am quite sure that they could not long continue in that situation. In one Sense of L'Ancien Régime I am clear that nothing else can reasonably be done.
    • Letter to an unknown correspondent (1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), pp. 479-480
  • ...the [Whig] party, which has thought proper to proscribe me on account of a book [the Reflections] which I published on the Idea, that the principles of a new, republican, frenchified Whiggism was gaining ground in this Country. ... The party with which I acted had, by the malevolent and unthinking been reproached, and by the wise and good always esteemd and confided in—as an aristocratick Party. Such I always understood it to be in the true Sense of the word. I understood it to be a Party, in its composition and in its principles, connected with the solid, permanent long possessed property of the Country; a party, which, by a Temper derived from that Species of Property, and affording a security to it, was attached to the antient tried usages of the Kingdom, a party therefore essentially constructed upon a Ground plot of stability and independence; a party therefore equally removed from servile court compliances, and from popular levity, presumption, and precipitation.
    • Letter to William Weddell (31 January 1792), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), pp. 52-53
  • We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.
    • Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792)
  • Old religious factions are volcanoes burnt out.
    • Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians (11 May 1792)
  • Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.
    • Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians (11 May 1792), volume vii, p. 50
  • ...the French business is no light or trivial thing, or such as has commonly occurd in the course of political Events. At present the whole political State of Europe hinges upon it. On the Continent there is little doubt; every thing will take is future shape and colour from the good or ill success of the Duke of Brunswick. In my opinion, it is the most important crisis that ever existed in the World. ... My poor opinion is, that these principles...cannot possibly be realized in practice in France, without an absolute certainty and that at no remote period, of overturning the whole fabrick of the British Constitution.
    • Letter to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville (19 September 1792), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), pp. 218-219
  • [The Aliens Bill is necessary to exclude] murderous atheists, who would pull down church and state; religion and God; morality and happiness. ... When they smile, I see blood trickling down their faces; I see their insidious purposes; I see that the object of all their cajoling is—blood! I now warn my countrymen to beware of these execrable philosophers, whose only object it is to destroy every thing that is good here, and to establish immorality and murder by precept and example—'Hic niger est hunc tu Romane caveto' ['Such a man is evil; beware of him, Roman'. Horace, Satires I. 4. 85.]
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 December 1792), quoted in F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke, Volume II: 1784–1797 (2006), p. 439
  • I must say, that the whole Scheme of the war is mistaken, (or appears to me to be so), for it ought to be, not for Dunkirk, or this or t'other Town—but to drive Jacobinism from the world.
    • Letter to Dr Charles Burney (14/15 September 1793), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), p. 432
  • If I understand at all the true Spirit of the present contest, We are engaged in a Civil War ... I consider the Royalists of France, or, as they are (perhaps more properly) called, the Aristocrates, as of the party which we have taken in this civil war.
    • Letter to Sir Gilbert Elliot (22 September 1793), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), p. 432
  • I considerd a general War against Jacobins and Jacobinism, as the only possible chance of saving Europe, (and England as included in Europe) from a truly frightful revolution. ... It is my Protest against the delusion, by which some have been taught to look upon this Jacobin contest at home as an ordinary party squabble about place or Patronage; and to regard this Jacobin War abroad as a common War about Trade, or Territorial Boundaries, or about a political Balance of power among Rival or jealous States.
    • Letter to the Duke of Portland (29 September 1793), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), pp. 437-438
  • ...my extreme anxiety about the Object of our common sollicitude and my clear and decided conviction, that there is one part of the War, which instead of being postponed and considered in a secondary light, ought to have priority over every other, and requires our most early and our most careful attention; I mean La Vendée. ... This is a War directly against Jacobinism and its principles. It strikes at the Enemy in his weakest and most vulnerable part. At La Vendée with infinitely less Charge, we may make an impression likely to be decisive. This goes to the heart of the Business.
    • Letter to the Home Secretary Henry Dundas (8 October 1793), quoted in P. J. Marshall and John A. Woods (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VII: January 1792–August 1794 (1968), p. 445
  • It is the function of a judge not to make but to declare the law, according to the golden mete-wand of the law and not by the crooked cord of discretion.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)
  • The cold neutrality of an impartial judge.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)
  • Arms are not yet taken up; but virtually, you are in a civil war. You are not people of differing opinions in a public council;—you are enemies, that must subdue or be subdued, on the one side or the other. If your hands are not on your swords, their knives will be at your throats. There is no medium,—there is no temperament,—there is no compromise with Jacobinism.
    • Letter to William Windham (30 December 1794), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 104
  • Nothing is so fatal to Religion as indifference which is, at least, half Infidelity.
    • Letter to William Smith, Member of the Irish Parliament (29 January 1795), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 128
  • ...if the Catholick religion is destroyd by the Infidels, it is a most contemptible and absurd Idea, that, this, or any Protestant Church, can survive that Event. ... in Ireland particularly, the R[oman] C[atholic] Religion should be upheld in high respect and veneration. ... I am more serious on the positive encouragement to be given to this religion...because the serious and earnest belief and practice of it by its professors forms, as things stand, the most effectual Barrier, if not the sole Barrier, against Jacobinism.
    • Letter to William Smith, Member of the Irish Parliament (29 January 1795), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 131
  • Citizen Paine...is ready to blaspheme his God, to insult his king, and to libel the constitution of his country, without any provocation from me...I neither encouraged nor provoked that worthy citizen to seek for plenty, liberty, safety, justice or lenity, in the famine, in the prisons, in the decrees of convention, in the revolutionary tribunal, and in the guillotine of Paris, rather than quietly to take up with what he could find in the glutted markets, the unbarricadoed streets, the drowsy Old Bailey judges, or, at worst, the airy, wholesome pillory of Old England. ... I admit, indeed, that my praises of the British government loaded with all its encumbrances; clogged with its peers and its beef; its parsons and its pudding; its Commons and its beer; and its dull slavish liberty of going about just as one pleases, had something to provoke a Jockey of Norfolk, who was inspired with the resolute ambition of becoming a citizen of France, to do something which might render him worthy of naturalization in that grand asylum of persecuted merit.
    • Letter to William Elliot (26 May 1795), quoted in Edmund Burke, Further Reflections on the French Revolution, ed. Daniel R. Ritchie (1992), pp. 261-262
  • I think I can hardly overrate the malignity of the principles of Protestant ascendancy, as they affect Ireland; or of Indianism, as they affect these countries, and as they affect Asia; or of Jacobinism, as they affect all Europe, and the state of human society itself. The last is the greatest evil.
    • Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (26 May 1795), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 177
  • Our Government and our Laws are beset by two different Enemies, which are sapping its foundations, Indianism, and Jacobinism. In some Cases they act separately, in some they act in conjunction: But of this I am sure; that the first is the worst by far, and the hardest to deal with; and for this amongst other reasons, that it weakens discredits, and ruins that force, which ought to be employd with the greatest Credit and Energy against the other; and that it furnishes Jacobinism with its strongest arms against all formal Government.
    • Letter to the Lord Chancellor Lord Loughborough (c. 17 March 1796), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 432
  • Oh! Sir—people upon their knees get on very slowly.
    • Burke's response when someone commented on how long it took the British peace envoy Lord Malmesbury to reach Paris (c. 22 November 1796), quoted in F. P. Lock, Edmund Burke, Volume II: 1784–1797 (2006), p. 563, n. 63
  • That unwise body, the United Irishmen, have had the folly to represent those Evils as owing to this Country, when in truth its chief guilt is in its total neglect, its utter oblivion, its shameful indifference and its entire ignorance, of Ireland and of every thing that relates to it, and not in any oppressive disposition towards that unknown region.
    • Letter to Thomas Hussey (9 December 1796), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VIII: September 1794–April 1796 (1969), p. 165
  • My poor opinion is, that the closest connexion between Great Britain and Ireland, is essential to the well being, I had almost said, to the very being, of the two Kingdoms. ... I think indeed that Great Britain would be ruined by the separation of Ireland; but, as there are degrees even in ruin, it would fall the most heavily on Ireland. By such a separation Ireland would be the most completely undone Country in the world; the most wretched, the most distracted and, in the end, the most desolate part of the habitable Globe.
    • Letter to an unknown correspondent (February 1797), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume IX: May 1796–July 1797 (1970), p. 257
  • I should not be surprized at seeing a French Army conveyed by a British Navy to an attack upon this Kingdom.
    • Letter to French Laurence (12 May 1797) after hearing of the mutinies in the Royal Navy, quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume IX: May 1796–July 1797 (1970), p. 333
Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
Some decent regulated pre-eminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth, is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolite.
To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.
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.
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  • I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases.
    • Volume iii, p. 231
  • People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.
    • Volume iii, p. 274
  • Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
  • Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom.
  • The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone!
    • Volume iii, p. 331
  • That chastity of honour which felt a stain like a wound.
    • Volume iii, p. 332
  • Vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.
    • Volume iii, p. 332
  • Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle.
    • Volume iii, p. 334
  • Learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
    • Volume iii, p. 335
  • Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
    • Volume iii, p. 344
  • Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.
  • Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental Guardian and Legislator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as he loves us better too. Pater ipse colendi haud facilem esse viam voluit. He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
    • Volume iii, p. 453
  • To execute laws is a royal office; to execute orders is not to be a king. However, a political executive magistracy, though merely such, is a great trust.
    • Volume iii, p. 497
  • A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.
  • A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
  • All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.
  • But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
  • In their nomination to office they will not appoint to the exercise of authority as to a pitiful job, but as to a holy function.
    • Volume iii, p. 356
  • Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident a security.
  • Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.
  • Good order is the foundation of all good things.
  • Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations; for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent.
  • I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observation of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.
  • If the people are happy, united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We conclude that to be good from whence good is derived.
  • In this choice of inheritance we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood, binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties, adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections, keeping inseparable and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars.
  • It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendor, and joy. Oh! what a Revolution! And what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.
    • Volume iii, p. 331
  • It shews the anxiety of the great men who influenced the conduct of affairs at that great event, to make the Revolution a parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions.
  • Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
  • Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.
  • No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.
  • No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity.
  • Our patience will achieve more than our force.
  • Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement.
  • Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure — but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. 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. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place. This law is not subject to the will of those, who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of that universal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and on their speculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to separate and tear asunder the bands of their subordinate community, and to dissolve it into an unsocial, uncivil, unconnected chaos of elementary principles. It is the first and supreme necessity only, a necessity that is not chosen, but chooses, a necessity paramount to deliberation, that admits no discussion, and demands no evidence, which alone can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception to the rule; because this necessity itself is a part too of that moral and physical disposition of things, to which man must be obedient by consent or force: but if that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.
  • Some decent regulated pre-eminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth, is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolitic.
  • The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience to the will of the Sovereign of the world, in a confidence in His declarations, and in imitation of His perfections.
  • 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.
  • The men of England — the men, I mean of light and leading in England.
    • Volume iii, p. 365
  • France has always more or less influenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up and polluted, the stream will not run long, or not run clear, with us, or perhaps with any nation. This gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too close and connected a concern in what is done in France. Excuse me, therefore, if I have dwelt too long on the atrocious spectacle of the 6th of October, 1789, or have given too much scope to the reflections which have arisen in my mind on occasion of the most important of all revolutions, which may be dated from that day, I mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions.
  • 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.
  • 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 most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice. The possession of family wealth and of the distinction which attends hereditary possessions (as most concerned in it,) are the natural securities for this transmission.
  • The wise will determine from the gravity of the case; the irritable from sensibility to oppression; the high-minded from disdain and indignation at abusive power in unworthy hands.
  • There ought to be system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.
  • Whenever our neighbour's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for the engines to play a little on our own.
  • Where popular authority is absolute and unrestrained, the people have an infinitely greater, because a far better founded, confidence in their own power. They are themselves, in a great measure, their own instruments. They are nearer to their objects. Besides, they are less under responsibility to one of the greatest controlling powers on the earth, the sense of fame and estimation. The share of infamy that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in public acts is small indeed; the operation of opinion being in the inverse ratio to the number of those who abuse power. Their own approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a public judgment in their favor. A perfect democracy is, therefore, the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment.
  • Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
  • Writers, especially when they act in a body and with one direction, have great influence on the public mind.
  • You had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers draws out the harmony of the universe.
    • Volume iii, p. 277
  • Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend upon it, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state.
  • 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.
  • By the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young; but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression.
  • The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes: and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false. The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; in compromises between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle: adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.
  • The science of government being, therefore, so practical in itself, and intended for such practical purposes, a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be, it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.

A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)

You can never plan the future by the past.
  • You can never plan the future by the past.
    • Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791), Volume IV, p. 55.
  • Tyrants seldom want pretexts.
  • Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief.
  • 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. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791)

P. J. Marshall, Donald C. Bryant, and William B. Todd (eds), The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 4: Party, Parliament, and the Dividing of the Whigs: 1780–1794 (Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • ...what was done in France was a wild attempt to methodize anarchy; to perpetuate and fix disorder. That it was a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature. He undertook to prove, that it was generated in treachery, fraud, falsehood, hypocrisy, and unprovoked murder. ... That by the terror of assassination they had driven away a very great number of the members, so as to produce a false appearance of a majority.—That this fictitious majority had fabricated a constitution, which as now it stands, is a tyranny far beyond any example that can be found in the civilized European world of our age.
    • p. 376
  • ...he always firmly believed that they were purely on the defensive in that rebellion. He considered the Americans as standing at that time, and in that controversy, in the same relation to England, as England did to king James the Second, in 1688.
    • p. 396
  • ...a monarchy is a thing perfectly susceptible of reform; perfectly susceptible of a balance of power; and that, when reformed and balanced, for a great country, it is the best of all governments. The example of our country might have led France, as it has led him, to perceive that monarchy is not only reconcilable to liberty, but that it may be rendered a great and stable security to its perpetual enjoyment.
    • p. 400
  • When he entered into the Whig party, he did not conceive that they pretended to any discoveries. They did not affect to be better Whigs, than those were who lived in the days in which principle was put to the test. Some of the Whigs of those days were then living. They were what the Whigs had been at the Revolution; what they had been during the reign of queen Anne; what they had been at the accession of the present royal family.
    • p. 409
  • I assert, that the ancient Whigs held doctrines, totally different from those I have last mentioned. I assert, that the foundations laid down by the Commons, on the trial of Doctor Sacheverel, for justifying the revolution of 1688, are the very same laid down in Mr. Burke's Reflections; that is to say,—a breach of the original contract, implied and expressed in the constitution of this country, as a scheme of government fundamentally and inviolably fixed in King, Lords, and Commons.—That the fundamental subversion of this antient constitution, by one of its parts, having been attempted, and in effect accomplished, justified the Revolution. That it was justified only upon the necessity of the case; as the only means left for the recovery of that antient constitution, formed by the original contract of the British state; as well as for the future preservation of the same government. These are, the points to be proved.
    • p. 411
  • The Revolution and Hanover succession had been objects of the highest veneration to the old Whigs. They thought them not only proofs of the sober and steady spirit of liberty which guided their ancestors; but of their wisdom and provident care of posterity.—The modern Whigs have quite other notions of these events and actions. They do not deny that Mr. Burke has given truly the words of the acts of parliament which secured the succession, and the just sense of them. They attack not him but the law.
    • p. 436
  • Neither the few nor the many have a right to act merely by their will, in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement, or obligation.
    • p. 440
  • I am well aware, that men love to hear of their power, but have an extreme disrelish to be told of their duty.
    • p. 441
  • ...no legislator, at any period of the world, has willingly placed the seat of active power in the hands of the multitude: Because there it admits of no control, no regulation; no steady direction whatsoever. The people are the natural control on authority; but to exercise and to control together is contradictory and impossible.
    • p. 441
  • If we owe to it [civil society] any duty, it is not subject to our will. Duties are not voluntary. Duty and will are even contradictory terms. Now though civil society might be at first a voluntary act (which in many cases it undoubtedly was) its continuance is under a permanent standing covenant, coexisting with the society; and it attaches upon every individual of that society, without any formal act of his own. This is warranted by the general practice, arising out of the general sense of mankind.
    • p. 442
  • Men without their choice derive benefits from that association; without their choice they are subjected to duties in consequence of these benefits; and without their choice they enter into a virtual obligation as binding as any that is actual. Look through the whole of life and the whole system of duties. Much the strongest moral obligations are such as were never the results of our option. I allow, that if no supreme ruler exists, wise to form, and potent to enforce, the moral law, there is no sanction to any contract, virtual or even actual, against the will of prevalent power. On that hypothesis, let any set of men be strong enough to set their duties at defiance, and they cease to be duties any longer.
    • p. 442
  • There is a boundary to men's passions when they act from feeling; none when they are under the influence of imagination.
    • p. 460
  • Their principles always go to the extreme. They who go with the principles of the ancient Whigs, which are those contained in Mr. Burke's book, never can go too far. ... The opinions maintained in that book never can lead to an extreme, because their foundation is laid in an opposition to extremes.
    • p. 470
  • We want no foreign examples to rekindle in us the flame of liberty. The example of our own ancestors is abundantly sufficient to maintain the spirit of freedom in its full vigour, and to qualify it in all its exertions. The example of a wise, moral, well-natured, and well-tempered spirit of freedom, is that alone which can be useful to us, or in the least degree reputable or safe. Our fabric is so constituted; one part of it bears so much on the other, the parts, are so made for one another, and for nothing else, that to introduce any foreign matter into it, is to destroy it.
    • p. 471
  • The Whigs of this day have before them, in this Appeal, their constitutional ancestors: They have the doctors of the modern school. They will choose for themselves. The author of the Reflections has chosen for himself. If a new order is coming on, and all the political opinions must pass away as dreams, which our ancestors have worshipped as revelations, I say for him, that he would rather be the last (as certainly he is the least) of that race of men, than the first and greatest of those who have coined to themselves Whig principles from a French die, unknown to the impress of our fathers in the constitution.
    • p. 476
  • Free trade is not based on utility but on justice.
  • And having looked to Government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.
  • 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.
  • It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, To innovate is not to reform.
    • p. 20
  • But as to our country and our race, as long as the well compacted structure of our church and state, the sanctuary, the holy of holies of that ancient law, defended by reverence, defended by power, a fortress at once and a temple, shall stand inviolate on the brow of the British Sion—as long as the British Monarchy, not more limited than fenced by the orders of the State, shall, like the proud Keep of Windsor, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, as long as this awful structure shall oversee and guard the subjected land—so long as the mounds and dykes of the low, fat, Bedford level will have nothing to fear from all the pickaxes of all the levellers of France.
    • pp. 52-53
  • Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.
  • Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving but selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment.

Letters On a Regicide Peace (1796)

  • ...out of the tomb of the murdered Monarchy in France, has arisen a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination and subdued the fortitude of man.
    • p. 7
  • They who bow to the enemy abroad will not be of power to subdue the conspirator at home.
    • p. 18
  • We are at war with a system, which, by it's essence, is inimical to all other Governments, and which makes peace or war, as peace and war may best contribute to their subversion. It is with an armed doctrine that we are at war. It has, by it's essence, a faction of opinion, and of interest, and of enthusiasm, in every country. To us it is a Colossus which bestrides our channel. It has one foot on a foreign shore, the other upon the British soil. Thus advantaged, if it can at all exist, it must finally prevail.
    • p. 19
  • ...they who would make peace without a previous knowledge of the terms, make a surrender. They are conquered. They do not treat; they receive the law. Is this the disposition of the people of England? Then the people of England are contented to seek in the kindness of a foreign systematick enemy combined with a dangerous faction at home, a security which they cannot find in their own patriotism and their own courage. They are willing to trust to the sympathy of Regicides the guarantee of the British Monarchy. They are content to rest their religion on the piety of atheists by establishment. They are satisfied to seek in the clemency of practised murderers the security of their lives. They are pleased to confide their property to the safeguard of those who are robbers by inclination, interest, habit, and system. If this be our deliberate mind, truly we deserve to lose, what it is impossible we should long retain, the name of a nation.
    • p. 48
  • All men that are ruined, are ruined on the side of their natural propensities.
    • No. 1, volume v, p. 286
  • Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.
    • No. 1, volume v, p. 331
  • If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.
    • No. 1
  • All those instances to be found in history, whether real or fabulous, of a doubtful public spirit, at which morality is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted Nature recoils, are their chosen and almost sole examples for the instruction of their youth.
    • No. 1, volume v, p. 286
  • Jacobinism is the revolt of the enterprising talents of a country against its property.
    • No. 1
  • We must not always judge of the generality of the opinion by the noise of the acclamation.
    • No. 1
  • Manners are of more importance than laws. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. 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.
    • No. 1, p. 172 in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke: A New Edition, v. VIII. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815
  • Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar.
    • No. 3
  • Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an œconomy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer.


  • I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country churchyard, than in the tombs of the Capulets.
    • Letter to Matthew Smith
  • The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny.
    • Letter to Thomas Mercer
  • A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arises from words.
    • Letter to Richard Burke post 19 February 1792 (1792), in R. B. McDowell and William B. Todd (eds), The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. 9: I: The Revolutionary War, 1794-1797; II: Ireland. p. 647
  • When Croft's "Life of Dr. Young" was spoken of as a good imitation of Dr. Johnson's style, "No, no," said he, "it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak, without its strength; it has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspiration."
    • Comment quoted by Matthew Prior in his Life of Burke
  • The art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing.
    • Burke's description of poetry, quoted from his conversation in Prior's Life of Burke
  • To speak of atrocious crime in mild language is treason to virtue.
    • Attributed in Captain William Kidd: And Others of the Pirates Or Buccaneers who Ravaged the Seas, the Islands, and the Continents of America Two Hundred Years Ago (1876) by John Stevens Cabot Abbott, p. 179
  • There is nothing that God has judged good for us that He has not given us the means to accomplish, both in the natural and the moral world.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 261
  • Partial freedom seems to me the most invidious form of slavery.
  • Whether they are allowed to be Whigg principles, or not, is a very small part of my concern. I think them exactly as such as the sober, honourable, and intelligent part in that party, have always professed. I think, I have shewn, beyond a possibility of debate, that they are exactly the same. But if any person...choose to think otherwise, and conceive that they are contrary to the Doctrines of their Whigg party,—be it so. I am certain, that they are principles of which no reasonable man or good citizen need be ashamed of. If they are Tory principles, I shall always wish to be thought a Tory, If the contrary of these principles be Whigg principles, I beg, that you, my Dear Friend will never consider me as belonging to that description.
    • Letter to Dr Richard Brocklesby (c. 1790s), quoted in R. B. McDowell (ed.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume IX: May 1796–July 1797 (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 446

Table talk

"Extracts from Mr. Burke's Table-talk, at Crewe Hall. Written down by Mrs. Crewe, pp. 62.", Miscellanies of the Philobiblon Society. Volume VII (London: Whittingham and Wilkins, 1862–63)
  • That since England had the principle, of making Peace with Anarchists she has left herself without a cause—that it is high time for all honest men to think no more of Party—that this Kingdom is in a most perillous State, & nothing but vigour can save it—that peace can not be secure in the present State of Things in France—that nothing was ever more regular nor systematical than the attempts there to conquer all Europe—that the Spirit of their Ambition is Atheistical, & our people should know this.
    • France, (Still in a state of Anarchy), p. 27
  • [Men of property are] of great consequence to general society; they have much responsibility, being a natural part of Legislature—their voices must be heard, their Interests are with the Public. Commerce increases Luxury, and Merchants support the State; but Kings, Nobles, and Gentry, are nothing without possessions.
    • Men of Property, p. 37
  • When some gentlemen of landed Property argued in favour of that Man's Works, and the rage for Democracy first broke out, Mr. Burke said, it reminded him of living in the happy Kingdom of Cocogne w[h]ere Fowls ready roasted cried out "Come eat me".
    • Payne (Tom), pp. 41-42
  • Mr. Burke appeared often in despair when he read the Papers & saw how violent party rage was become in England as well as in France. He often said that he could not consider the party for a reform in part by Mr. Fox & his Friends as distinct from that party of Sir F. Burdet at the Crown & Anchor, because Mr. F— though he might have spoken against the last out of Doors, did not condemn it in parliam[en]t, which would be the manly way of proceeding.
    • Party, pp. 44-45
  • Always steady in the rejection of a Reform of Parliam[en]t which proved the best sense, & better than some sense they were deficient in at Times.
    • People of England, p. 45
  • That it was common to observe that this was an enlightened Age; but he had thought it for a long time past an ignorant Age. Would you, said he, call a Circulating Library a good Library, because it contains so many books? This Age is much advanced in many useless sciences, & much more respect is shewn to Talent than to wisdom; but I consider our fore-fathers as deeper Thinkers than ourselves, because they set an higher Value on good sense than Knowledge in various Sciences, & this good sense was derived very often from as much study & more knowledge, though of another sort.
    • Present Age, p. 49
  • Too dangerous an experiment to risque. Not any reform proposed yet that did not appear to him highly hazardous. The least exceptionable that of Lord Chatham's "adding fifty Knights of the shire": but this, as well as the rest already proposed, not to be thought upon in such times as these, or perhaps, ever.
    • Reform of Parliament, p. 52
  • Mr. Burke's Enemies often endeavoured to convince the World that he had been bred up in the Catholic Faith, & that his Family were of it, & that he himself had been educated at St. Omer—but this was false, as his father was a regular practitioner of the Law at Dublin, which he could not be unless of the Established Church: & it so happened that though Mr. B— was twice at Paris, he never happened to go through the Town of St. Omer.
    • Religion, pp. 52-53
  • Habit & Experience should teach all persons their place in Society—a Levelling Principle should be discouraged both with respect to rank, & Superiority of every Kind.
    • Subordination, p. 59
  • Are chiefly cherished in Provinces far from Capitals. They are the standing Wisdom of a Country, though frequently Preposterous on a first view of them.
    • Customs, p. 62



Misattributed: Quotes widely associated with an author or work but sourced to another author or work. Read more at Wikiquote:Sourced and Unsourced sections.

  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
    • This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. They closely resemble remarks known to have been made by the Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews (1 February 1867) : Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. The very extensively used remarks attributed to Burke might be based on a paraphrase of some of his ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in so succinct a manner in any of his writings. It has been suggested that they may have been adapted from these lines of Burke's in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." (see above)
This purported quote bears a resemblance to the narrated theme of Sergei Bondarchuk's Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, produced in 1966. In it the narrator declares "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing", although since the original is in Russian various translations to English are possible. This purported quote also bears resemblance to a quote widely attributed to Plato, that said "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." It also bears resemblance to what Albert Einstein wrote as part of his tribute to Pablo Casals: "The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it."
More research done on this matter is available at these two links: Burkequote & Burkequote2 — as the information at these links indicates, there are many variants of this statement, probably because there is no known original by Burke. In addition, an exhaustive examination of this quote has been done at the following link: QuoteInvestigator.
  • Applause is the spur of noble minds, the end and aim of weak ones.
    • Not found in Burke's writings. It was almost certainly first published in Charles Caleb Colton's Lacon (1820), vol. 1, no. 324
  • Beauty is the promise of happiness.
    • Actually by Stendhal: "La beauté n'est que la promesse du bonheur" (Beauty is no more than the promise of happiness), in De L'Amour (1822), chapter 17
  • If you can be well without health, you may be happy without virtue.
    • First known in Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs (1732), but not found in the writings of Edmund Burke.
  • Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.
  • Society can overlook murder, adultery or swindling — it never forgives the preaching of a new gospel.
    • Actually from Frederic Harrison's essay "Ruskin as Prophet", in his Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill, and Other Literary Estimates (1899).
  • Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
    • Not found in Burke's writings. Appears to be a paraphrase of "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little." sourced to Sydney Smith (1771 - 1845).

Quotes about Burke

It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man. ~ William Hazlitt
You could not stand five minutes with that man beneath a shed while it rained, but you must be convinced you had been standing with the greatest man you had ever yet seen. ~ Samuel Johnson
Burke’s Vindication was perhaps the first modern expression of rationalistic and individualistic anarchism. ~ Murray Rothbard
Sorted alphabetically by author
  • Mr. Macknight, who is himself chiefly known as a pamphleteer, has given most prominence to Burke's political writings, and has scarcely done justice to his most remarkable literary production, the Abridgment of English History. The most learned of all the writers on the same subject, Lappenberg, says, speaking of this book, that if Burke had devoted himself continuously to historical pursuits, England might have possessed a history worthy to rank with the masterpieces of the Attic and the Tuscan historians. If we may believe the story that Burke desisted from the undertaking because Hume had taken up the same subject, it must ever be regretted that the reverse did not occur, and that the philosopher did not give way to the politician. We should certainly have had a much better History of England; for there is very little doubt that as Burke was our greatest statesman, so he would have been the first of our historians. In that part of the work which he completed, he speaks of mediaeval institutions with an intelligence and appreciation which in his time were almost equally rare among Catholics, Protestants, and infidels... At the age of thirty, Burke proved himself superior to that system of prejudice and ignorance which was then universal, and which is not yet completely dissipated.
    • Lord Acton, 'The Life and Times of Edmund Burke', The Rambler. A Catholic Journal and Review, New Series. Vol. IX, Part LII (April 1858), p. 270
  • As for politics I leave you as my legacy the request that you will read Burke's speeches from 1790 to 1795. They are the law and the prophets.
    • Lord Acton to Richard Simpson (4 February 1859), quoted in Abbot Gasqeut (ed.), Lord Acton and His Circle (1906), p. 60
  • You can hardly imagine what Burke is for all of us who think about politics, and are not wrapped in the blaze and the whirlwind of Rousseau. Systems of scientific thought have been built up by famous scholars on the fragments that fell from his table. Great literary fortunes have been made by men who traded on the hundredth part of him. Brougham and Lowe lived by the vitality of his ideas. Mackintosh and Macaulay are only Burke trimmed and stripped of all that touched the skies. Montalembert, borrowing a hint from Dollinger, says that Burke and Shakespeare were the two greatest Englishmen.
    • Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (27 December 1880), quoted in Herbert Paul (ed.), Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1904), pp. 54-55
  • I do think that, of the three greatest Liberals, Burke is equally good in speaking and writing; Macaulay better in writing, and Mr. Gladstone better in speaking.
    • Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (27 December 1880), quoted in Herbert Paul (ed.), Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1904), p. 57
  • Mr. Burke talked in very high terms of Dr. Adam Smith; praised the clearness and depth of his understanding, his profound and extensive learning, and the vast accession that had accrued to British literature and philosophy from these exertions, and described his heart as being equally good with his head and his manners as peculiarly pleasing. Mr. Smith, he said, told him, after they had conversed on subjects of political economy, that he was the only man, who, without communication, thought on these topics exactly as he did.
    • Robert Bisset, The Life of Edmund Burke, Volume II (1800), pp. 428-429
  • Burke was not antirevolutionary per se: he defended a people's right to revolution, albeit as a last resort, when possibilities were exhausted and reformation circumvented... Burke was, throughout his life, a consistent opponent of oppression in multitudinous forms, and he was a consistent defender of the oppressed... His generosity toward the poor is still proverbial in Beaconsfield, where an anecdote still circulates about his cook's complaint that Burke had given the evening meal (a side of beef) to a hungry man. In England, he defended the right of religious dissenters to practice their own religion privately (not, however, those he believed were trying to subvert the English constitution), and he defended homosexuals from social persecution (they could be prosecuted and pilloried). In addition, he...drew up a plan for the eventual abolition of the slave trade... He also supported the Americans in their remonstrances against exorbitant British interference...and he opposed Protestant oppression of Catholics in Ireland and the exploitation of the people of India by the East India Company. None of these was a popular position identified with the status quo; in fact, if Burke had not opposed the French Revolution, he would likely be remembered as "progressive".
    • Steven Blakemore, 'Burke and the Revolution: Bicentennial Reflections', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), pp. 144-145
  • In Burke's thinking, the hierarchic links lead man from his "littlest platoon"—his family and place in his community—to his larger place in his country, uniting him with the connecting links of European civilization and ultimately with the Logos. He believed that attachment to our littlest platoon connects us to larger battalions of existence, uniting us with all that makes us fully human.
    • Steven Blakemore, 'Burke and the Revolution: Bicentennial Reflections', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 149
  • Burke insists throughout his antirevolutionary works that the Revolution is unprecedented in its oppressive scope, its militarization of society, and its hostile, interventionist nature... He describes the nationalization of the country into a war economy, the state's intrusive regimentation of individual life, and its promotion of an "armed doctrine"—a hostile, alien ideology that propels invading Jacobin armies into Europe's Christian commonwealths. Whether Burke was right or wrong, whether he was prescient, lucky, or an inspired exaggerator, his analyses of revolutionary France approximate what is suggested by the adjective "totalitarian".
    • Steven Blakemore, 'Burke and the Revolution: Bicentennial Reflections', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 159
  • For nearly the whole period during which he survived the commencement of the revolution,—for five of those seven years,—all his predictions, save one momentary expression, had been more than fulfilled: anarchy and bloodshed had borne sway in France; conquest and convulsion had desolated Europe... The providence of mortals is not often able to penetrate so far as this into futurity.
    • Henry Brougham, Historical Sketches of Statesmen who Flourished in the Time of George III (1839), p. 98
  • I own myself entirely of Mrs. Montagu's opinion about Mr. Burke's book; it is the noblest, deepest, most animated, and exalted work that I think I have ever read.
    • Frances Burney (23 November 1790) after reading Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, quoted in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay: Vol. V. 1789-1793 (1842), p. 170
  • Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), the first classic of the counter-revolution, is among other things a polemic against intellectuals: it claims that it is presumptuous for individuals to seek through reason to challenge the state, a mystic organism symbolised by the domestic hearth as well as the throne and the altar. The radical intellectual becomes a bogey-man... The Burkean positives are family affections and loyalties, hearth and home; hence, by extension, the greater family made by the nation, a hierarchy with the king at its head; and continuity with the past, especially with the inherited creed which it is the Church's business to preserve. Against this imaginative concept of an organic nation, Burke is able to depict as puny and unwholesome the intellectuals, French and English, who want to change the fabric or body of the state: he is in effect anti-individualist and anti-rationalist.
    • Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background, 1760–1830 (1981), pp. 55, 180
  • [I]t was Edmund Burke who—having recovered contact with the historical achievements of Restoration England—exerted the presiding influence over the historical movement of the nineteenth century.
    • Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship (1955), p. 18
  • From first to last he [Lord Acton] seems to have recognised that, behind this whole aspect of the historical movement, there stands the figure of Edmund Burke; and if, in his youth he found Burke the ideal political teacher (especially for a Catholic) and the ideal expositor of the British constitution, he was equally prepared to say that "he would have been the first of our historians". The student of the history of historiography who reads Burke's early work entitled The Abridgement of English History can hardly fail to realise the significance it possesses in view of its place in the chronological series; and it is doubtful whether the student of the general thought of Burke has paid sufficient attention to this work, when one considers to what a degree the historical views which it embodies must actually entail the characteristic features of the man's political outlook.
    • Herbert Butterfield, Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship (1955), pp. 68-69
  • Burke's last works and words [are] still the manual of my politics.
    • George Canning, letter to HRH Monsieur of France (1 February 1823), quoted in E. J. Stapleton (ed.), Some Official Correspondence of George Canning. Volume I (1887), p. 74.
  • Mr. Burke—no mean authority—published a book on the French Revolution, almost every sentence of which, however canvassed and disputed at the time, has been justified by the course of subsequent events; and almost every prophecy has been strictly fulfilled.
  • Edmund Burke possessed and had sedulously sharpened that eye, which sees all things, actions, and events, in relation to the laws that determine their existence and circumscribe their possibility. He referred habitually to principles. He was a scientific statesman; and therefore a seer.
  • Burke's writings in the 1790s were an attack, made before they had prevailed, on almost all the assumptions that dominate public discussion in the modern world. The attack was made from mixed motives in a political context but is not for that reason less useful in demonstrating that what has been held up for conservation by even the most Conservative of thinkers since Burke has been the Jacobinism that Burke attacked, and that Burke's importance for present purposes lies not in his counter-revolutionary politics but in the fact that it was he who made the most striking statement of the religious problem... [I]n defending the ancien régime he was led into affirming of Christianity what he had affirmed of religion in writing A Vindication of Natural Society, of Roman Catholicism in writing about Ireland and of Islam and Hinduism in writing about India – that it was crucial to it. Having come to demand a British effort to re-establish Christianity in France, he so far transcended Anglican assumptions as to make Pitt's central duty the use of force to ensure its re-establishment in Europe.
    • Maurice Cowling, Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England, Volume II: Assaults (1985), p. 5
  • Feeling and providing as an "Englishman," Burke works continually to protect the English national character from the plague of revolutionary France... [For Burke] English feelings remain native and natural; they ensure maintenance of "liberal and manly morals"; and the reverence of the English for God, kings, parliaments, magistrates, priests, and nobility is not a slavery, as the radicals would have it, but the basis of their fitness for "rational liberty". The English national character finds its authentic expression and counterpart in the English constitution... For the English, then, to remain loyal to their constitution is to remain true to their essential national character.
    • Tom Furniss, 'Cementing the nation: Burke's Reflections on nationalism and national identity', in John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays (2000), pp. 131-133
  • [I]n characteristic nationalist fashion, Burke assures his readers that the English constitution he is describing, perhaps partly inventing, has its roots deep in the past. English liberties are not a new invention but have been the central concern of the English constitution from time immemorial. The continuity over time that characterizes English history and its constitution is not simply a formal or legal one. Burke figures England as a huge family which extends across time as well as space... Families are held together in the present through bonds of blood, love, and property relations, and to the past through memory and inherited property. Burke imagines the English nation as being locked together through analogous ties and affections... Burke is here engaged in consecrating the nation through a kind of ancestor worship. He is also seeking to make the English aristocracy appear to be the custodians of the national family heritage rather than being alien to the national tradition (as radical nationalism asserted).
    • Tom Furniss, 'Cementing the nation: Burke's Reflections on nationalism and national identity', in John Whale (ed.), Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays (2000), pp. 133-134
  • I know that there is no Man who calls himself a Gentleman that must not think himself obliged to you, for you have supported the cause of the Gentlemen.
    • George III to Burke at a levee (3 February 1791), quoted in Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume VI: July 1789–December 1791 (1967), p. 239
  • Burke's book is a most admirable medication against the French disease, which has made too much progress even in this happy country. I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can even forgive his superstition.
    • Edward Gibbon, letter to Lord Sheffield (5 February 1791), quoted in J. E. Norton (ed.), The Letters of Edward Gibbon: Volume Three 1784-1794 (1956), p. 216
  • December 18.—Read Burke; what a magazine of wisdom on Ireland and America. January 9.—Made many extracts from Burke—sometimes almost divine.
    • William Ewart Gladstone's diary entries for 1885-6, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone. Volume III (1903), p. 280
  • I gradually became at Oxford a hard worker and read Rousseau's Contrat Social which had no influence upon me, and the writings of Burke which had a great deal. I remember heartily assenting to the observation of a good and clever undergraduate friend, a Thornton, when he said “I want no Toryism beyond that of Burke”. But I was thus as completely under his mastery with regard to the French Revolution as he was (I think) under the influence of a thoroughly one-sided view of French history: while his views of reform in Parliament, in combination with those of Mr. Canning, formed a most dangerous preparation for the coming crisis in the history of my ideas.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, ‘My Earlier Political Opinions. (I) The Descent’ (12 July 1892), quoted in John Brooke and Mary Sorensen (eds.), The Prime Minister's Papers: W. E. Gladstone. I: Autobiographica (1971), p. 36
  • Burke's last writings, especially in the awesome Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796), project an apocalyptic, nightmare vision of lawless, relentless power, a horrible inversion of the hitherto 'natural' order in civilised states. Here coercion dispenses with allegiance... [T]he Regicide Peace...signals with prophetic accuracy the arrival of a new era in politics. Burke's horrified imaginings were realised to the letter in the slave-states of the 20th century.
    • R. A. D. Grant, 'Edmund Burke', The Salisbury Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (January 1986), quoted in Roger Scruton (ed.), Conservative Thinkers (1988), pp. 82-83
  • We find in Burke the view that revelation was authentic. Related to this are a series of opinions about nature, which share the common term that nature does not treat people in the same way but instead makes distinctions between them. In Burke's view, nature founded inequality in society. Inequality of this sort was also a condition of improvement. He located examples of improvement under the aegis of the bearers of inequality, the aristocracy and the church. Improvement was necessary to bring man's nature to the highest pitch: in that sense nature lay in the perfection of an unequal order... He argued that human nature, as constructed by God, encouraged some to lead and others to follow, for the passions of ambition and imitation disposed men in this way. Hence inequality in society was authorised by nature. This arrangement was beneficial, he thought, because it produced both social cohesion (through imitation) and improvement (through ambition).
    • Ian Harris, 'Paine and Burke: God, nature and politics', in Michael Bentley (ed.), Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History presented to Maurice Cowling (1993), pp. 42-43
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France is the application of Burke's principles to a concrete case. The case was a violation of his condition of civilisation. In the slogan of égalité he read not merely the end of privilege at law but chiefly the end of the inequalities in religion and society which he understood to be the bases of improvement. For the National Assembly was unfitted to govern and would do the work of two subversive groups... One was men of commerce, whom the peculiarities of the French polity had prevented from bringing their wealth to rest in land. Since their ambition for a leading role in society could find no place in the existing order, they were open to suggestions for an alternative. The alternative was supplied by the other group, which consisted of men of letters. They were deists and hated God's order. All combined to attack inequality, social and religious, whether the aristocracy and monarchy or the Church. These institutions had been the source of everything in society that Burke upheld. For him the Revolution, in a word, was the destruction of the proper order of things.
    • Ian Harris, 'Paine and Burke: God, nature and politics', in Michael Bentley (ed.), Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History presented to Maurice Cowling (1993), pp. 55-56
  • It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man. Of all the persons of this description that I have ever known, I never met with above one or two who would make this concession; whether it was that party feelings ran too high to admit of any real candour, or whether it was owing to an essential vulgarity in their habits of thinking, they all seemed to be of opinion that he was a wild enthusiast, or a hollow sophist, who was to be answered by bits of facts, by smart logic, by shrewd questions, and idle songs. They looked upon him as a man of disordered intellects, because he reasoned in a style to which they had not been used, and which confounded their dim preceptions.
    • William Hazlitt, The Eloquence of the British Senate : Being a Selection of the Best Speeches of the Most Distinguished English, Irish, and Scotch Parliamentary Speakers, from the Beginning of the Reign of Charles I to the Present Time (1810), p. 210
  • You could not stand five minutes with that man beneath a shed while it rained, but you must be convinced you had been standing with the greatest man you had ever yet seen.
    • Samuel Johnson, quoted in Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. During the Last Twenty Years of His Life by Hester Thrale (1786)
  • His goods are all in the present—peace and quiet, friendship and affections, family life and those small acts of charity whereby one individual may sometimes help his fellows. He does not think of the race as marching through blood and fire to great and glorious goods in the distant future; there is, for him, no great political millennium to be helped and forwarded by present effort and present sacrifice ... This may not be the right attitude of mind. But whether or not the great political ideals which have inspired men in the past are madness and delusion they have provided a more powerful motive force than anything which Burke has to offer ... For all his passions and speech-making, it is the academic reasoner and philosopher who offers us these carefully guarded and qualified precepts, not the leader of men. Statesmen must learn wisdom in the school of Burke; if they wish to put it to great and difficult purpose, the essentials of leadership they must seek elsewhere.
  • [Burke's thought was] permeated by a power of compassion and a fund of common sense both of which are beyond all praise... [His capacity of mind gave] forth a radiant light... [He was] a lovable, not less than a remarkable man... [There was] no atom of malice in his (Burke's) disposition...he never gave way to envy or jealousy. He was never petty minded... with all his faults, he was in every sense of the word, a very great man.
    • Harold Laski, speech to the Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin, quoted in Harold Laski, Edmund Burke (1947), pp. 6, 9, 10, 14
  • Burke saw beyond his own age to a view of colonial policy, the significance of which we are only just beginning to apply... He saw clearly the moral vice of predatory imperialism, and he stood by his principles in the face of obloquy, indifference and neglect. He made a lonely and impressive protest against the hypocrisy of those who think that the superior abilities of the white man justify a policy towards the native races of oppression and rapacity and corruption as long as profits can be extorted from their misery.
    • Harold Laski, speech to the Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin, quoted in Harold Laski, Edmund Burke (1947), p. 7
  • In his own epoch, I do not think that anyone, save perhaps Chatham, can compete with him in energy of mind; none certainly in the combination of energy of mind with the power of profound reflection. He was often wrong; he was often prejudiced; he was sometimes carried away by those gusts of passion which not seldom mark, as they did in him, the weakness of a noble nature. Your founder at any rate devoted all his immense capacity to the single purpose of improving the condition of mankind. That was his major ambition; it is notable in how large a degree he achieved it. Nil tetigit quod non ornavit can be said of him as of few figures in the combined history of our two nations for the two centuries that have elapsed since he wrote down the minutes of your meetings. May what he did be an example and an inspiration to those who follow him along the difficult road he had the courage to tread.
    • Harold Laski, speech to the Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin, quoted in Harold Laski, Edmund Burke (1947), p. 14
  • Mr. Burke assuredly possessed an understanding admirably fitted for the investigation of truth, an understanding stronger than that of any statesman, active or speculative, of the eighteenth century, stronger than every thing, except his own fierce and ungovernable sensibility. Hence he generally chose his side like a fanatic, and defended it like a philosopher.
    • Thomas Macaulay, 'Southey's Colloquies', The Edinburgh Review (January 1830), quoted in Thomas Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays Contributed to The Edinburgh Review (1852), p. 97
  • Hindostan, with its vast cities, its gorgeous pagodas, its infinite swarms of dusky population, its long descended dynasties, its stately etiquette, excited in a mind so capacious, so imaginative, and so susceptible, the most intense interest. The peculiarities of the costume, of the manners, and of the laws, the very mystery which hung over the language and origin of the people, seized his imagination. To plead under the ancient arches of Westminster Hall, in the name of the English people, at the bar of the English nobles, for great nations and kings separated from him by half the world, seemed to him the height of human glory.
    • Thomas Macaulay, 'Southey's Colloquies', The Edinburgh Review (January 1830), quoted in Thomas Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays Contributed to The Edinburgh Review (1852), pp. 97-98
  • I have now finished reading again most of Burke's works. Admirable! The greatest man since Milton.
    • Thomas Macaulay, diary entry (6 February 1854), quoted in Sir George Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Volume II (1876), p. 318
  • Burke is one of those extraordinary contradictions which could only have been produced in England. He was an almost fanatical believer in justice and good government, and his sympathies went beyond his own country; they embraced humanity at large. But he was passionately attached to the order of things as then existing. He fondled error and fostered paradox until he came to be the defender of rotten boroughs and close corporations. His “Reflections on the French Revolution” had probably a greater influence on English history than any other pamphlet or piece of writing. They marked a turn in the tide; then came the September Massacres and the execution of the king. A cry of horror arose in England, and Burke's voice rose higher. “This,” men cried, “is the end of Reform! Are we, too, to drift to the same end—the same excesses?” The propertied classes, the Church, everyone who had anything to lose, declaimed against the Revolution, and the cause of Reform was postponed for forty years.
    • Philip James Macdonell, ‘The Historic Basis of Liberalism’, in Essays in Liberalism by Six Oxford Men (1897), pp. 227–228
  • Of Burke he spoke with rapture, declaring that he was in, in his estimation, without any parallel in any age or country, except, perhaps, Lord Bacon and Cicero; that his works contained an ampler store of political and moral wisdom than could be found in any other writer whatever.
    • James Mackintosh's opinion of Burke recorded in Thomas Green's diary (13 June 1799), quoted in Robert James Mackintosh (ed.), Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir John Mackintosh: Volume I (1835), p. 91
  • Burke...is held by every party in England as the paragon of British statesmen.
    • Karl Marx, New-York Daily Tribune (12 January 1856), quoted in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works: Volume 14 (2010), p. 587
  • The sycophant — who in the pay of the English oligarchy played the romantic laudator temporis acti against the French Revolution just as, in the pay of the North American colonies at the beginning of the American troubles, he had played the liberal against the English oligarchy — was an out-and-out vulgar bourgeois.
  • My theme is the cultural struggle between the idea of a process, and that of a starting point... This cultural struggle is found at its liveliest in the field of politics, and one of its particular skirmishes is Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. The issue raised by that book may be simplified into the question: is revolution or tradition the idea by which the process of politics may be best understood? Burke was confronted by a body of men who sought in every possible way to create an unbridgeable gap between the ancien régime and the new order being unfolded in France during the 1790s. They renamed streets and months, abolished the historic provinces of France, and set up temples for the new cults they espoused. Burke argued that this was both unwise and impossible, insisting on the ubiquity of tradition in a manner similar to that in which he had previously insisted upon the ubiquity of law in the case of Warren Hastings. We are all, Burke argued, the products of tradition, and the illusion that we can escape from our past is entirely crippling. The melodramatic turbulence with which men attempted to break out of their pasts appeared merely as a colossal folly.
    • Kenneth Minogue, 'Revolution, Tradition and Political Continuity', in Preston King and B. C. Parekh (eds.), Politics and Experience: Essays Presented to Professor Michael Oakeshott on the Occasion of His Retirement (1968), pp. 283-284
  • The distinction between nature and artifice belongs to the philosophy of the Enlightenment... Burke recognised this point, and met it head on by insisting that artifice was human nature. "We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms. We fear God; we look up with awe to kings, with affection to parliaments, with duty to magistrates, with reverence to priests, and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected..." Indeed, in prefacing these rhetorical remarks with "We preserve the whole of our feelings still native and entire, unsophisticated by pedantry and infidelity" he attempted to reverse the criteria of nature and artifice, so that it was the revolutionaries who appeared corrupt and artificial.
    • Kenneth Minogue, 'Revolution, Tradition and Political Continuity', in Preston King and B. C. Parekh (eds.), Politics and Experience: Essays Presented to Professor Michael Oakeshott on the Occasion of His Retirement (1968), p. 298
  • But what a mind was Burke's! Macaulay was right, the greatest mind since Milton.
    • John Morley's remarks to John Hartman Morgan (15 February 1918), quoted in J. H. Morgan, John, Viscount Morley: An Appreciation and Some Reminiscences (1924), p. 83
  • He is a great theme. What a mind! His fame grows greater with time. Macaulay was right when he said of certain passages, “How divine!” Who can compare with him? Taine? Tocqueville? No.
    • John Morley's remarks to John Hartman Morgan, quoted in J. H. Morgan, John, Viscount Morley: An Appreciation and Some Reminiscences (1924), p. 85
  • The greatest, most profound, mightiest and most human of all statesmen of all times and of all nations...I say it with pride, he belongs more to us than to the British. I glory in the fact that my own ideas of the State...are hopeful children of his mind. He is recognized in Germany as the most influential and happiest mediator, between separation and unity of powers and of labor, between the principles of nobility and that of the bourgeoisie, and thus, no matter how influential his deeds may have been for Great Britain, his glory belongs to the German sphere.
    • Adam Müller, Vorlesungen über die deutsche Wissenschaft und Literatur [1807] (Kraiser, 1920), pp. 165-166, quoted in Rod Preece, 'Edmund Burke and his European reception', The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn 1980), p. 261
  • Burke squarely contended that party-divisions were, for good or evil, "things inseparable from free government"; and in his well-known eulogy of party as a union of men endeavouring to promote the national interest on a common principle, gave a forecast of parliamentary government. Men so connected, he wrote, must strive "to carry their common plan into execution with all the power and authority of the State"; in forming an administration give "their party preference in all things"; and not "accept any offers of power in which the whole body is not included". While professing adherence to the Revolution Settlement, by implication he eliminated the rights of the Crown, and obliquely argued that in fact the royal executive had ceased to exist, replaced by the monstrous contraption of a cabal set on separating "the Court from Administration". The "double Cabinet", a product of Burke's fertile, disordered, and malignant imagination, long bedevilled his own party and their spiritual descendants.
    • Lewis Namier, 'Monarchy and the Party System', Romanes Lecture (1952), quoted in Lewis Namier, Crossroads of Power: Essays on Eighteenth-Century England (1962), p. 219
  • Burke [has] the palm of political prophecy.
    • Lord Palmerston, letter (24 December 1807), quoted in Kenneth Bourne (ed.), The Letters of the Third Viscount Palmerston to Laurence and Elizabeth Sulivan. 1804–1863 (1979), p. 97
  • I return Burke's letter, which is like other rhapsodies from the same pen, in which there is much to admire, and nothing to agree with.
    • William Pitt the Younger to Lord Auckland (8 November 1795) on Burke's 30 October 1795 letter to Auckland protesting against peace with revolutionary France, quoted in The Journal and Correspondence of William, Lord Auckland: Vol. III (1862), p. 320
  • We consider that our especial commendation and the testimony of our heart may be justly claimed by those who, in this time of apostasy and impiety, have exerted the force of their genius that they might write in defence of the cause of right... Amongst them you have stood out as one of the foremost, in that you have composed a famous work to overthrow and utterly destroy the fictions of the new philosophers of France, and have exhorted your fellow country-men...to show indulgences to Catholics born in the realm of Great Britain... [T]herefore it is our wish that you should accept with joyful and cheerful heart our congratulations and praises, which have this especial object—that you should more and more exert yourself to protect the cause of civilization.
    • Pope Pius VI to Burke (7 September 1793), quoted in H. F. V. Somerset, 'Edmund Burke, England, and the Papacy', Dublin Review, CCII (January 1938), pp. 138-148
  • Ever since 1953, when Russell Kirk produced its intellectual coat of arms, conservatism has been "what Edmund Burke wrote." This is the equivalent of Arthur Danto's institutional theory of art — art is whatever the art world says it is. But it's also a cop-out. Instead of analyzing conservatism in an Aristotelian way, instead of asking how we use the term in real life, we just describe Burke. In the process, don't we risk fleeing into what Tanenhaus calls an "alternative universe"? If conservatives are "glaringly disconnected from the realities now besetting America," as Tanenhaus says, why is the solution to be more like a man who wore a powdered wig? Liberals have problems of their own, but, to their credit, they don't sit around debating whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards is the "real Rousseauian."
  • Chivalry for Burke reverses the all-too-human tendency to believe that "might makes right." Chivalry requires the powerful—those capable of inspiring others with the fear of death, terror, and the other aspects of the sublime—to subordinate their power to the interests and needs of the weak.
    • Daniel E. Ritchie, 'Desire and Sympathy, Passion and Providence: The Moral Imaginations of Burke and Rousseau', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 132
  • Burke believes that individuals achieve their humanity only within their particular, inherited traditions, including social customs, manners, narratives, and even prejudices, which on balance are useful in shaping and extending human sympathies.
    • Daniel E. Ritchie, 'Desire and Sympathy, Passion and Providence: The Moral Imaginations of Burke and Rousseau', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 138
  • In 1756 Edmund Burke published his first work: Vindication of Natural Society. Curiously enough it has been almost completely ignored in the current Burke revival. This work contrasts sharply with Burke's other writings, for it is hardly in keeping with the current image of the Father of the New Conservatism. A less conservative work could hardly be imagined; in fact, Burke's Vindication was perhaps the first modern expression of rationalistic and individualistic anarchism. ... "Anarchism" is an extreme term, but no other can adequately describe Burke's thesis. Again and again, he emphatically denounces any and all government, and not just specific forms of government... All government, Burke adds, is founded on one "grand error." It was observed that men sometimes commit violence against one another, and that it is therefore necessary to guard against such violence. As a result, men appoint governors among them. But who is to defend the people against the governors? ... The anarchism of Burke's Vindication is negative, rather than positive. It consists of an attack on the State rather than a positive blueprint of the type of society which Burke would regard as ideal. Consequently, both the communist and the individualist wings of anarchism have drawn sustenance from this work.
  • Mr. Burke has made himself very considerable. He is the most ingenious debater I ever heard, and at least as strong in the reply as in the opening.
    • Lord George Sackville to General Irwin (2 March 1757), quoted in Report on the Manuscripts of Mrs. Stopford-Sackville, of Drayton House, Northamptonshire, Volume I (1904), p. 120
  • In Burke's eyes the self-righteous contempt for ancestors which characterized the Revolutionaries was also a disinheriting of the unborn. Rightly understood, he argued, society is a partnership among the dead, the living, and the unborn, and without what he called the “hereditary principle,” according to which rights could be inherited as well as acquired, both the dead and the unborn would be disenfranchized. Indeed, respect for the dead was, in Burke's view, the only real safeguard that the unborn could obtain, in a world that gave all its privileges to the living. His preferred vision of society was not as a contract, in fact, but as a trust, with the living members as trustees of an inheritance that they must strive to enhance and pass on. I was more exhilarated by those ideas than by anything else in Burke, since they seemed to explain with the utmost clarity the dim intuitions that I had had in 1968, as I watched the riots from my window... In those deft, cool thoughts, Burke summarized all my instinctive doubts about the cry for liberation, all my hesitations about progress and about the unscrupulous belief in the future that has dominated and perverted modern politics.
  • The wise policy is to accept the arrangements, however imperfect, that have evolved through custom and inheritance, to improve them by small adjustments, but not to jeopardise them by large-scale alterations the consequences of which nobody can really envisage. The case for this approach was unanswerably set before us by Burke in his Reflections on the French Revolution, and subsequent history has repeatedly confirmed his view of things. The lesson that we should draw, therefore, is that since the nation state has proved to be a stable foundation of democratic government and secular jurisdiction, we ought to improve it, adjust it, even to dilute it, but not to throw it away.
    • Roger Scruton, England and the Need for Nations (2004; second edition, 2006), p. 3
  • To put Burke's point in a modern idiom somewhat removed from his own majestic periods: the knowledge that we need in the unforeseeable circumstances of human life is neither derived from nor contained in the experience of a single person, nor can it be deduced a priori from universal laws. This knowledge is bequeathed to us by customs, institutions, and habits of thought that have shaped themselves over generations, through the trials and errors of people many of whom have perished in the course of acquiring it.
    • Roger Scruton, 'Hayek and conservatism', in Edward Feser (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hayek (2006), p. 218
  • The conservative icon Edmund Burke complained that the French Revolution was unlike others because it had been led by "Jew brokers contending with each other who could best remedy with fraudulent circulation and depreciated paper the wretchedness and ruin brought on their country by their degenerate councils"...From antiquity to the modern era, Jews have proven tremendously useful as an external enemy, or as a scapegoat for society's ills.
  • A story was told me by the late Earl Grey relating to himself and Mr. Burke. Lord Grey told me that on one occasion when in the House of Commons, as Mr. Grey, he had been speaking with considerable force of language and greater vehemence of tone than some persons might have thought seemly. On resuming his seat, he said to Mr. Burke, “I hope I have not shown much temper.” “Temper!” replied Mr. Burke, “temper, sir, is the state of mind suited to the occasion!”
    • Lord Shaftesbury, quoted in Edwin Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, K.G. Vol. III (1886), pp. 160–161
  • The sublime is particularly important as an aesthetic of the terrifying, which at a small remove is fascinating: "The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature," writes Edmund Burke in his seminal treatise on the sublime, "is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror."
    • Rebecca Solnit As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art (2001)
  • Burke argued that all the nations of Europe had evolved from some fusion of Roman law, Christian morality, and Teutonic customs and manners, and that this complex of nations constituted a "commonwealth of Europe," the product of slow historical development over many centuries. Burke did not believe that history, as "the known march of the ordinary providence of God," contained any law of necessary progress, but he did believe that improvements in the civil-social life of the Europeans could and did continue to occur. He regarded all the basic institutions of society—family, church, state, schools, guilds, commercial organizations—all corporate bodies, as the necessary instrumental means for the full development of human nature in its spiritual and temporal dimensions. All such institutions were "natural"; that is, normal for man, the product of his will and reason, created artfully for his improvement. Burke summarized his defense of the institutions of civilization in an epigram: "Art is man's nature."
    • Peter J. Stanlis, 'Burke, Rousseau, and the French Revolution', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 101
  • Burke believed that when all the basic institutions of society were stripped away, and men were thrown upon nothing but the resources of their private passions and reason, the result would be precisely the social anarchy, violence, terror, and wars that France experienced under the Revolution.
    • Peter J. Stanlis, 'Burke, Rousseau, and the French Revolution', in Steven Blakemore (ed.), Burke and the French Revolution: Bicentennial Essays (1992), p. 105
  • His Reflections were written in 1790, before there had been any degeneration in the moral fervours of the politicians in Paris, while Louis XVI still reigned and Robespierre was unheard of; and it was the arrival of the dooms Burke had prophesied that made him a major figure of his time. He spent the best part of the decade in a kind of mental thunderstorm, ending it with a plea that the place of his burial should be kept secret, lest vindictive democrats dug up his bones for desecration. On the whole, whatever the merit of these ringing arguments, his influence was bad. His opinions on the horrors of social revolution, and on the impropriety of any change at all, became the commonplaces of dinner-tables, and both the ethos and the methods of the landowners of England hardened accordingly.
  • "We cannot, I fear," he says proudly of the colonies, "we cannot falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition; your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery." Does not your blood stir at these passages? And is it not because, besides loving what is nobly written, you feel that every word strikes towards the heart of the things that have made your blood what it has proved to be in the history of our race?
    • Woodrow Wilson, 'The Interpreter of English Liberty', Mere Literature and Other Essays (1896), p. 107
  • [T]he things he hated are truly hateful. He hated the French revolutionary philosophy and deemed it unfit for free men. And that philosophy is in fact radically evil and corrupting. No state can ever be conducted on its principles. For it holds that government is a matter of contract and deliberate arrangement, whereas in fact it is an institute of habit, bound together by innumerable threads of association, scarcely one of which has been deliberately placed. It holds that the object of government is liberty, whereas the true object of government is justice; not the advantage of one class, even though that class constitute the majority, but right equity in the adjustment of the interests of all classes. It assumes that government can be made over at will, but assumes it without the slightest historical foundation. For governments have never been successfully and permanently changed except by slow modification operating from generation to generation. It contradicted every principle that had been so laboriously brought to light in the slow stages of the growth of liberty in the only land in which liberty had then grown to great proportions. The history of England is a continuous thesis against revolution; and Burke would have been no true Englishman, had he not roused himself, even fanatically, if there were need, to keep such puerile doctrine out.
    • Woodrow Wilson, 'The Interpreter of English Liberty', Mere Literature and Other Essays (1896), pp. 155-156
  • He was applying the same principles to the case of France and to the case of India that he had applied to the case of the colonies. He meant to save the empire, not by changing its constitution, as was the method in France, and so shaking every foundation in order to dislodge an abuse, but by administering it uprightly and in a liberal spirit. He was persuaded "that government was a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind, and not to furnish out a spectacle of uniformity to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians. Our business," he said, "was to rule, not to wrangle; and it would be a poor compensation that we had triumphed in a dispute, whilst we had lost an empire." The monarchy must be saved and the constitution vindicated by keeping the empire pure in all parts, even in the remotest provinces. Hastings must be crushed in order that the world might know that no English governor could afford to be unjust. Good government, like all virtue, he deemed to be a practical habit of conduct, and not a matter of constitutional structure. It is a great ideal, a thoroughly English ideal; and it constitutes the leading thought of all Burke's career.
    • Woodrow Wilson, 'The Interpreter of English Liberty', Mere Literature and Other Essays (1896), pp. 156-157
  • [Burke was] the most sagacious Politician of his age... Time has verified his predictions.
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Russia DostoyevskyDuginHavelSolzhenitsyn
Ummah AsadFardidKhameneiKhomeiniQutbShariati
Other / Mixed Alamariu (Bronze Age Pervert)ConradEliadeEysenckHayekHazonyHoppeMannheimMishimaMolnarSantayanaStraussTalmon