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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)

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

7 Comments

  1. Someone at work just sent me an article about how the US NRC isn’t sufficiently innovative with safety regulation. The article ignored the 50+ years of experience acquired in building nuclear regulation – accidents like Windscale, SL-1, Chalk River, TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the almost accident of the Davis Besse hole in the reactor vessel head. This quote from Edmund Burke was therefore most timely. Thank you.
    .
    In the NRC’s own words:
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    “…nor is the novel means for compliance a reason why the regulation would not apply.”
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    Or as Edmund Burke wrote:
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    “They have no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own.”

  2. E. Burke did not use the word narcissism, as we do so often today, but as I read that quote I think of a pandemic of narcissism among the literary class, the politcal class and the enlightened- not just as individuals, but as a whole.

  3. This recalls Jefferson’s letter to Madison, dated significantly 6 September 1789:-
    “[N]o society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation: they may manage it, then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters, too, of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors are extinguished then, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being, till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of thirty-four years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right… This principle, that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead, is of very extensive application and consequences in every country, and most especially in France. It enters into the resolution of the questions, whether the nation may change the descent of lands holden in tail; whether they may change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity; whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue, ecclesiastical and feudal; it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions, to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations, to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences, with a long train of et ceteras; renders the question of reimbursement, a question of generosity and not of right.”
    He was, on recalls, an extravagant hater of tailzies and introduced a bill to abolish them in Virginia.

  4. Jefferson did say the most appalling rubbish at times, and this statement has always struck me as very near the top of the list. Jefferson died a near pauper of course, and his relatives had to sell his slaves, Jefferson not making any arrangements in his will to free his slaves as Washington did. It is unfortunate for the country that Jefferson did not die soon after penning the Declaration of Independence.

    “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
    Edmund Burke

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