Quotes Suitable for Framing: Edmund Burke

 

“The temper and character which prevail in our Colonies are, I am afraid, unalterable by any human art. We can not, I fear, 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.”

Edmund Burke, On Conciliation With America, March 22, 1775

 

 

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Published in: on April 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Edmund Burke  
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Quotes Suitable For Framing: Edmund Burke

 

 

Your literary men, and your politicians, and so do the whole clan of the enlightened among us, essentially differ in these points. They have no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own. With them it is a sufficient motive to destroy an old scheme of things, because it is an old one. As to the new, they are in no sort of fear with regard to the duration of a building run up in haste; because duration is no object to those who think little or nothing has been done before their time, and who place all their hopes in discovery. They conceive, very systematically, that all things which give perpetuity are mischievous, and therefore they are at inexpiable war with all establishments. They think that government may vary like modes of dress, and with as little ill effect: that there needs no principle of attachment, except a sense of present conveniency, to any constitution of the state. They always speak as if they were of opinion that there is a singular species of compact between them and their magistrates, which binds the magistrate, but which has nothing reciprocal in it, but that the majesty of the people has a right to dissolve it without any reason, but its will. Their attachment to their country itself, is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of polity which falls in with their momentary opinion.

Edmund Burke, From Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

Published in: on October 3, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable For Framing: Edmund Burke  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Sir Winston Churchill on Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

 

On the one hand [Burke] is revealed as a foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge of political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which actuated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations. His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

Sir Winston Churchill, Consistency in Politics

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Sir Winston Churchill on Edmund Burke  
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Burke v. Paine

 

The things one finds on the internet!  A debate between Edmund Burke, the foremost critic of the French Revolution, and Thomas Paine, an ardent defender of the French Revolution.  Filmed in 1974, the setting of this imaginary debate is a dinner party of playwright Richard Sheridan.  The arguments largely are taken from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Paine’s answering pamphlet, The Rights of Man (1791).  Ironically Paine later would narrowly miss being executed by French Revolutionaries.  Elected to the National Convention he argued against the execution of the King stating instead that he should be exiled to the United States.  His moderate politics, at least moderate in the context of the French Revolution, made Paine a marked man by the radical Jacobins.  Arrested in December 1793 he narrowly missed execution, saved by the fall of Robespierre.

Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Burke v. Paine  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke Quote

 

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.

Edmund Burke,  Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, 1791

 

Published in: on January 14, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Burke’s Speech on India: December 1, 1783

Edmund Burke had four great causes for which he fought in his life:  the Emancipation of Irish Catholics, opposition to English policy in regard to the American Colonies, reform of the British government in India and opposition to the French Revolution.  The unifying theme to these causes is that Burke viewed societies as products of their history, and not to be reshaped by outsiders or artificial theories.  His view of society is well set forth in this quotation from Reflections on the Revolution in France:

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.

Here is the text of Burke’s speech: (more…)

Published in: on April 10, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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Electoral Defeat-1780

 

 

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

(I originally wrote this post in the wake of President’s Obama’s election four years ago.  It tells the story of how the great Edmund Burke suffered electoral defeat in 1780 for standing up for principle.  It reminds us that fighting for that which one believes in, no matter the outcome at the polls, is never a real defeat over time.)

So wrote Edmund Burke, brilliant writer and member of Parliament, of the Catholic penal laws in the Eighteenth Century.  Son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, suspected in his lifetime, probably incorrectly, of being a secret Catholic, Burke was a man who fought during his life for many causes:  reform in Parliament, support for Americans in their fight against oppression by the English government, prosecution of Warren Hastings for his misrule in India, his crusade against the French Revolution, all these and more engaged his formidable intellect and his luminous pen.  However, one cause he championed from the beginning of his career to the end of it:  relief for Catholics in Ireland and England from the Penal Laws.

What were the Penal Laws?  A series of statutes dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and codified and harshened after the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, to transform Irish Catholics into helots in their own land and to keep English Catholics a despised and helpless minority.  Burke summarized the penal laws nicely in a speech to his Bristol constituents on September 6, 1780:

“A statute was fabricated in the year 1699, by which the saying mass (a church service in the Latin tongue, not exactly the same as our liturgy, but very near it, and containing no offence whatsoever against the laws, or against good morals) was forged into a crime, punishable with perpetual imprisonment. The teaching school, an useful and virtuous occupation, even the teaching in a private family, was in every Catholic subjected to the same unproportioned punishment. Your industry, and the bread of your children, was taxed for a pecuniary reward to stimulate avarice to do what Nature refused, to inform and prosecute on this law. Every Roman Catholic was, under the same act, to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy. When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed down to him from those who had been the old inhabitants of that land before him.

Does any one who hears me approve this scheme of things, or think there is common justice, common sense, or common honesty in any part of it? If any does, let him say it, and I am ready to discuss the point with temper and candor. But instead of approving, I perceive a virtuous indignation beginning to rise in your minds on the mere cold stating of the statute.” (more…)

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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The Ever Quotable Edmund Burke

My favorite political philosopher is without a doubt Edmund Burke.  The reasons why I set forth in a post which may be read here.  Any day is a good day for some Burke quotes, and here are a few:

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and amongst many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take place of it.

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” (Burke on the Irish Penal Laws) (more…)

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Edmund Burke and Political Reform

Edmund Burke is the political thinker most central to shaping my own political views.  Regarded as the founder of modern conservatism, Burke was an odd mixture of idealistic philosopher and practical politician.  Although he presents his ideas in luminous prose, he has often been caricatured as a mere reactionary.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Burke realized that societies change all the time, just as individuals change as they proceed through life.  How the change occurred in the political realm was to Burke of the greatest moment.

Rather than a reactionary, Burke was actually a reformer, fighting against abuses in his time, for example the penal laws which treated Irish Catholics as helots in their own land, and English Catholics as foreigners in theirs’.  When the colonists in America carried on a decade long struggle against the colonial policies of the government of George III before rising in revolt, Burke ever spoke on their behalf in a hostile Parliament, and defended his stance before a hostile electorate.  He prosecuted the first British Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, for crimes committed against the native population.

One of the things that has always struck me about Burke is his consistency, whether defending the rights of Irish and English Catholics, of the American colonists, of the Indians under British rule or attacking the tyranny of the French revolutionaries.  He was always against arbitrary power and held that government could not simply uproot societies. (more…)

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Edmund Burke and Political Reform  
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Edmund Burke: Speech to Bristol Electors, 1774

The young lady in the above video gives a spirited rendition of the speech of the great British parliamentarian Edmund Burke to the Bristol electors on November 3, 1774.  In this speech to his electors, Burke stated that he believed that a representative in Paliament could not merely be a mouthpiece for his voters, but that he had to, following his election, speak and vote in what he believed to be the best interests of the nation as a whole.  As it turned out, Burke would eventually lose his seat in Parliament in 1780 due to the opposition of a majority of the Bristol voters to three of the positions of Burke:  his opposition to the attempt by the King’s government to crush the American rebels through military force, his support for Catholic emancipation and his advocacy of free trade with Ireland.  On that occasion he also made a memorable speech to the Bristol electors defending his positions, and I have written about that speech here.

Here is the text of Burke’s speech to the Bristol electors on November 3, 1774: (more…)

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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