Talk:Edmund Burke

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Possible misquotation.[edit]

Proper quotation may read: "The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

This very extensively used statement may be a paraphrase of some of Burke's ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared it. An extraordinary number of variations exist, all without any definite original source. See some of the admirable research done on this matter at these two links: Burkequote & Burkequote2. I intend to do some work on this page in the next few hours, and will add some more quotes, including more that are attributed to him. ~ Kalki 11:31, 26 Oct 2004 (UTC)
That's the second longest list I've ever seen; the other being "700 Hobo Names" in John Hodgman's book. 08:16, 9 March 2007 (UTC)Reply

Seems like it may have arisen out of confusion / mixing with the Thomas Jefferson quote:

  • "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."

Simple: All a bad person needs to become a leader is for the good people to do nothing.

Do we really need to list all the variations? Why not just say that these variations include common substitutions, like:

substitution of "for good men to do nothing" in place of "that good men do nothing".
substitution of "for evil to triumph" in place of "for the triumph of evil".
substitution of "succeed", "prosper", or "win in the world" in place of "triumph".
addition of qualifiers such as "some good men", "a few good men", "enough good men", or "all good men", in place of "good men"
substitution of phrases like "All that is essential", "All that is needed", "All that is required", or "All that it takes" in place of "All that is necessary".
substitution of "the forces of evil" in place of "evil".
substitution of "The only thing" in place of "All", or in place of "All that is".
the addition of "and women" after "men", sometimes in brackets or as a parenthetical.
rearrangement of clauses so that the phrase begins with "For evil to triumph".

BD2412 T 20:26, 10 May 2011 (UTC)Reply

The example of variants this statement provides is the most extensive on wikiquote, but I believe we should retain them — as a means of providing search engine hits for people searching for any of these variants, and to emphasize that this is indeed most likely a misattribution, despite the pervasive variants attributed to Burke. ~ Kalki (talk · contributions) 21:01, 10 May 2011 (UTC)Reply
There is no doubt it is a very popular saying with numerous variants, but this list does seem excessive. The pair of cited essays survey variants found on the www, but I wonder how many are citable to print attributions. When debunking misattributions and variants, I think it is valuable to note errors that circulate in sources that could reasonably be considered reliable. I think it is less valuable to note every mistake or variation found on the web, for it seems the only thing that contains more misinformation than the web today is the web tomorrow. We might also consider whether copying such an extensive list from someone else's research could be a copyright violation.

If I were inclined to spend time researching this, I would try to find citations for attributions in notable works or by prominent persons, and discard variants for which such citations are unavailable. ~ Ningauble 15:19, 11 May 2011 (UTC)Reply

It's better to cite variations of this popular quotation and to continue work researching it than to delete it and condemn work on it. Richardc020 (talk) 15:51, 9 May 2012 (UTC)Reply
I purchased the complete set of Burke's works several years ago, primarily to see if I can find that popular quote attributed to him. The closest that I can find, which you can find in Google Books*, is "When bad men combine, the good must associate..." 2600:1012:b127:23b4:1917:4c2:18fa:37fa (talk) 23:40, 25 December 2017 (edit) (undo)

Man is not a finished creation[edit] It seems the quote comes from India instead of from Burke --Histo 15:23, 29 November 2008 (UTC)Reply

Laughter of the gods[edit]

  • Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
    • Preface to Brissot's Address (1794)

Can someone provide the precise location within the preface to Brissot's Address where this quote is located? I cannot find it in online texts of that work. The quote is also commonly attributed to Albert Einstein. Coleopterous 01:56, 23 January 2010 (UTC)Reply

I can confirm that this quote is not in the Preface to Brissot's Address. Not sure why there is a discrepancy on its origin, or if the real author is even known to begin with. Empyrian 08:22, 21 March 2011 (UTC)Reply

I can find no attribution of this to Burke in an any Google Book searches — but many to Einstein, and have located a definite citation to where it originated among Einstein's writings. I will thus remove it from the page, rather than placing it in a Misattributed section, and update the Einstein page as well. ~ Kalki (talk · contributions) 09:23, 21 March 2011 (UTC)Reply


Wikiquote no longer allows unsourced quotations, and they are in process of being removed from our pages (see Wikiquote:Limits on quotations); but if you can provide a reliable and precise source for any quote on this list please move it to Edmund Burke. --Antiquary 19:11, 22 February 2009 (UTC)Reply

  • By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.
  • If we have equity, wisdom, and justice, it will belong to this country; if we have it not, it will not belong to this country.
    • On whether America should belong to Britain
  • Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.
  • No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
  • Religion is essentially the art and the theory of the remaking of man. Man is not a finished creation.
  • To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
    • Variant: Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
  • What ever disunites man from God also disunites man from man.

Turn over a new leaf.[edit]

While Burke may have used this phrase, no one should think that he's the originator of it, which begs the question of why this is even listed here as a famous "quote". From what other sites are telling me, this expression has been around in one form or another since some time in the 16th century.

Per the “Dictionary of Cliches” editor Eric Partridge advises that the phrase dates from 1597. (Based on anecdote here: )

This site concurs: "...turn over a new leaf dates from the late 16th century." ( )

Though I can't seem to pull it up myself, Google lists this content on this page: "Recorded from the late 16th century, it now always means to alter for the better, ..." ( )

The only dissenting opionion I found was this site which gives an even earlier date: "The earlier form of the expression, which originates from the first half of the 16th century, is simply 'turn the leaf' and was rather clearer." ( ) 09:15, 12 July 2009 (UTC)Reply

The Oxford English Dictionary confirms that "turn over a new leaf" is known from 1597, with similar forms coming slightly earlier. Here are the first usages they cite:
1577-87 HOLINSHED Chron. I. 21/2 He must turne the leafe, and take out a new lesson, by changing his former trade of liuing into better. 1581 MULCASTER Positions xxxvii. (1887) 148 The state is now altered,..the preferment that way hath turned a new leafe. 1597 BEARD Theatre God's Judgem. (1631) 92 But as soone as he was exalted to honor, he turned ouer a new leafe, and began..furiously to afflict..the..faithfull seruants of Christ.
I'll remove the quote from the Edmund Burke page since there really seems no good reason for it to be there. --Antiquary 09:43, 12 July 2009 (UTC)Reply

Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.[edit]

From WikiAnswers - Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." - Does anyone know the source, not able to find it. thanks Petersam 02:21, 29 August 2009 (UTC)Reply

I just reviewed all the texts available here on Project Gutenberg, and none of the occurrences of the word "repeat" (or related words such as repeated, repeatedly, etc.) match something like this quote. It's possible this is a misquote based on the Santayana quote here, or that there is a similar Burke quote which does not use the word "repeat" in it, or that the Burke text that contains the quote is not on Gutenberg. My guess is a Santayana mixup, but confirmation would be great. -- Tarheelcoxn 22:13, 11 November 2011 (UTC)Reply
Just passing through and realize this page may be too old for anyone to be checking. But here's a longer quote from Burke, Reflections which may be a seed for the misquoting:
"We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury." Para 242
"But history in the nineteenth century, better understood, and better employed, will, I trust, teach a civilized posterity to abhor the misdeeds of both these barbarous ages. It will teach future priests and magistrates not to retaliate upon the speculative and inactive atheists of future times, the enormities committed by the present practical zealots and furious fanatics of that wretched error, which, in its quiescent state, is more than punished, whenever it is embraced. It will teach posterity not to make war upon either religion or philosophy, for the abuse which the hypocrites of both have made of the two most valuable blessings conferred upon us by the bounty of the universal Patron, who in all things eminently favours and protects the race of man." para 244
From here: 22:07, 25 May 2022 (UTC)Reply
Can anyone provide a citation? There are hundreds of references to the Burke quote on the web, but no indication of where it comes from. The Wikipedia article on George Santayana indicates that his quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (Life of Reason, Vol. 1) is based on Burke's earlier quote. It would be nice to have the correct attribution, but not without a proper citation. --- wbforbes 20:02, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

According to Barlett's Familiar Quotations, Burke said "People will not look forward to prosperity who never look backward to their ancestors." From Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.

A link to this quote from Burke can be found here: part 1, page 18, second paragraph, which starts: "This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or rather the happy effect of..." (accessed 2018-09)