“We set ourselves to bite the hand that feeds us.”*

*from “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770), by Edmund Burke.

From the website The Basics of Philosophy:

Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) was an Anglo-Irish philosopher, statesman and political theorist of the Age of Enlightenment.

He served for many years in the British House of Commons, and was one of the leading figures within the Conservative faction of the Whig party. He was a strong supporter of the American colonies, and a staunch opponent of the French Revolution. He is often regarded as the philosophical founder of Anglo-American Conservatism.

Burke’s first published work, “A Vindication of Natural Society” (subtitled “A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind”), appeared in 1756. It was perhaps the first serious defense of Anarchism (although Burke later, with a government appointment at stake, characterized it as a satire), and was taken quite seriously by later anarchists such as William Godwin (1756 – 1836).

In 1757, he published a treatise on Aesthetics, “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, which attracted the attention of prominent Continental thinkers such as Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784) and Immanuel Kant.

In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” of 1790, Burke described the French Revolution as a violent rebellion against tradition and proper authority, and as an experiment disconnected from the complex realities of human society. He vehemently disagreed with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the “Popular Will”, believing instead that most men in a nation are not qualified to govern it. He believed the country should look to men of finer upbringing and higher Christian education, or risk a move away from personal merit and distinction and towards an unprincipled, enervating mediocrity. The intemperate language and factual inaccuracies of the “Reflections” convinced many readers that Burke had lost his judgment but, after his death, when his predictions were proven largely correct, it grew to become his best-known and most influential work.

In economics, he was a strong supporter of the free market system (believing that trade should be fair and benefit both parties, but that governments should not interfere any more than necessary), but was wary of industrialization. The pioneering economist, Adam Smith, was a strong supporter of his ground-breaking views; the socialist Karl Marx was a radical opponent of them. Over time, Burke has come to be regarded as one of the fathers of modern Conservatism in the English-speaking world, and his thinking has exerted considerable influence over the political philosophy of modern classical Liberals.

A very common quotation mistakenly attributed to Burke is: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (or several similar variations). There is no definite source for the quotation, but it may be a paraphrasing of Burke’s “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”.”

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