22 Choice Quotes from Edmund Burke

Leonard Read, founder and long-time soul of the Foundation for Economic Education, incorporated useful insights from others wherever he could find them, peppering quotations throughout his work.

The person Read quoted most frequently was Edmund Burke (1729-1797). In How Do We Know?, Read said:

I am often criticized—in a friendly way—for so copiously quoting those whose wisdom is far superior to mine, Edmund Burke, for instance…why not share the wisdom of seers—those who have seen what most of us have not—with freedom aspirants!

So as we mark Burke’s January 12 birthday, consider some of Burke’s words that Leonard Read found worth sharing:

  1. “He who profits of a superior understanding, raises his power to…the height of the superior understanding he unites with.”
  2. “How often has public calamity been arrested on the very brink of ruin, by the seasonable energy of a single man?…one vigorous mind without office, without situation, without public function of any kind…confiding in the aid of God, and full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, would first draw to him some few like himself, and then…multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, would appear and troop about him.”
  3. “No government ought to exist for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people or to allow such a principle in its policy.”
  4. “It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”
  5. “It is not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent.”
  6. “I hope to see the surest of all reforms…the ceasing to do ill.”
  7. “Example is the school of mankind. They will learn at no other.”
  8. “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.”
  9. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
  10. “Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither…is safe.”
  11. “Power gradually extirpates from the mind every human and gentle virtue.”
  12. “Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on the rights of others, he has a right to do for himself.”
  13. “All men have equal rights, but not to equal things.”
  14. “The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, that one sees into the future…[and] acts on enduring principles and for immortality.”
  15. “The lovers of freedom will be free.”
  16. “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 of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety 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.”
  17. “Men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
  18. “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
  19. “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.”
  20. “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.”
  21. “Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.”
  22. “The true law-giver ought to have an heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.”

Leonard Read quoted Edmund Burke in roughly two-thirds of his books. And when you consider those quotes in connection to Read’s work, you can see why he esteemed Burke so highly and reflected many of his views.

In The Path of Duty, Read commented on Burke’s views of the American experiment in liberty:

He was sympathetic to and promotive of the American colonies and had no hesitancy in proclaiming his position…seeing into the future: America, home of the free and land of the brave! Here was found the purest practice of freedom in world history, and Burke’s support was based on ‘enduring principles and for immortality.’ In my reading of history, never before or since his time has there been a greater statesman.

In The Freedom Freeway, Read said Edmund Burke saw the solution for disunion more clearly than anyone else, citing this passage: 

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 of 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.

Gary M. Galles
Gary M. Galles

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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