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Edmund Burke
1729 - 1797

Irish political philosopher, statesman, parliamentary orator. Burke championed conservatism in opposition to Jacobinism in his work Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). He was supportive of Irish nationalism and American colonialism, and opposed the violent revolution in France.

Books by Edmund Burke
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Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
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The Portable Edmund Burke
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Click here for essays by Edmund Burke
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?

1756 - from A Vindication of Natural Society
Public calamity is a mighty leveller.

Mar. 22, 1775 - from his speech "On Conciliation with the American Colonies"
Depend upon it, that the lovers of freedom will be free.

No government ought to exist for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people or to allow such a principle in its policy.

Freedom, and not servitude is the cure of anarchy; as religion, and not atheism, is the true remedy for superstition.

Mar. 22, 1775 - from his second speech on conciliation with America
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found.

It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

1769 - from "Observations on the Present State of the Nation"
[Family] ... to love the little platoon we belong to in society ... is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind...

from his first speech on conciliation with the American colonies
By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
To drive men from independence to live on alms, is itself great cruelty.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
I set out with a perfect distrust of my own abilities, a total renunciation of every speculation of my own, and with a profound reverence for the wisdom of our ancestors, who have left us the inheritance of so happy a Constitution and so flourishing an empire, and, what is a thousand times more valuable, the treasury of the maxims and principles which formed the one and obtained the other.

Mar. 22, 1775 - from his speech "On Conciliation with the American Colonies"
It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.

Mar. 22, 1775 - from his second speech on conciliation with America
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.

from A Vindication of Natural Society
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle... 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, shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

from a speech at Buckinghamshire
Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar.

from Letters on a Regicide Peace
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.

Nov. 03, 1774 - from his speech to the electors of Bristol
The resources of intrigue are called in to supply the defects of argument and wit.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. 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 is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

[Revolutionaries] With them it is a sufficient motive to destroy an old scheme because it is old. As to the new one, they are in no sort of fear with regard to the duration of a new building run up in haste; because duration is no object to those who think little or nothing has been done before their time.

Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.

The state includes the dead, the living, and the coming generations.

It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact.

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.

The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts ... the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Apr. 3, 1777 - from a letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol
Custom reconciles us to everything.

1756 - from On the Sublime and Beautiful
Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

Nov. 03, 1774 - from his speech to the electors of Bristol
There is ... a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

1769 - from "Observations on a Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation"
Good order is the foundation of all good things.

... 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.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
Mere parsimony is not economy. ... Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part of true economy.

1796 - from a letter
Slavery they can have everywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil.

Mar. 22, 1775 - from his second speech on conciliation with America
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
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, more or less.

from a letter to Hon. C.J. Fox
All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ... Man acts from motives relative to his interests; and not on metaphysical speculations.

1770 - from "On the Causes of the Present Discontents"
People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.

1790 - from Reflections on the Revolution in France
A law against property is a law against industry.

Dec. 01, 1783 - from his "Speech on Mr. Fox's East India Bill"
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

A populace never rebels from passion for attack, but from impatience of suffering.