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Quotes of the day: Edmund Burke

Published Monday, January 12, 2015 @ 5:25 AM EST
Jan 12 2015

Edmund Burke (January 12, 1729 - July 9, 1797) was an Irish statesman born in Dublin; author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. Mainly, he is remembered for his support of the cause of the American Revolutionaries, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. The latter led to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig party, which he dubbed the "Old Whigs," in opposition to the pro–French Revolution "New Whigs," led by Charles James Fox. Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals in the nineteenth century. Since the twentieth century, he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of conservatism. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.

A definition may be very exact, and yet go but a very little way towards informing us of the nature of the thing defined.

A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.

A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arises from words.

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

All who have ever written on government are unanimous, that among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.

Ambition can creep as well as soar.

Applaud us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover.

As wealth is power, so all power must infallibly draw wealth to itself by some means or other.

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

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.

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.

Custom reconciles us to every thing.

Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.

Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.

Falsehood has a perennial spring.

Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.

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.

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.

Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime speculations; for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent.

I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.

If an idiot were to tell you the same story every day for a year, you would end by believing it.

If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.

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.

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

It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

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.

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

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.

Kings will be tyrants from policy, when subjects are rebels from principle.

Laws, like houses, lean on one another.

Liberty, too, must be limited in order to be possessed.

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

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.

Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.

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.

Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.

No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity.

Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference.

Our patience will achieve more than our force.

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.

People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.

Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement.

Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue. Pity, benevolence, friendship, are things almost unknown in high stations.

Public calamity is a mighty leveler.

Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and over-zealous piety.

Society is indeed a contract... It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are to be born.

Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.

The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.

The concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear.

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 always acts right.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts.

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.

There is a boundary to men's passions when they act from feeling; none when they are under the influence of imagination.

There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

There never was a bad man that had ability for good service.

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.

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance.

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.

Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.

Tyrants seldom want pretexts.

We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.

We must not always judge of the generality of the opinion by the noise of the acclamation.

Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar.

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

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.

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

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

You can never plan the future by the past.


(January 12 is also the birthday of Jack London.)

Categories: Edmund Burke, Quotes of the day


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