Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”

Edmund Burke wrote the pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event, In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris. He did so in 1790 and besides being remembered for his objections to the French Revolution he is remembered for his support of American revolutionaries and their cause. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he is considered one of the best-known intellectuals who attacked the French Revolution and who also contributed to international theory.

Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution"

Edmund Burke. Courtesy of Wikipedia. on the French Revolution.

His pamphlet on the French Revolution was read widely after its publication, although English critics believed he must be mentally unbalanced or a secret Catholic for the conclusions he reached. His work also drew a swift response from Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Men and the Rights of Man written by Thomas Paine. Nevertheless, Burke’s work became popular with reactionaries.

Some of Burke’s quotes from his groundbreaking Reflections on the Revolution in France follow:

ABILITY: “Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.”

ANTAGONISM: “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”

Burke's Pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Burke’s Pamphlet on the French Revolution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

AUTHORSHIP: “Writers, especially when they act in a body and in one direction, have great influence on the public mind.”

BIGOTRY: “These Atheistical fathers [men of letters] have a bigotry of their own; and they have learnt to talk against monks with the spirit of a monk.”

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

CHIVALRY: “The age of chivalry is gone.”

CRIME: “Responsibility prevents crimes.”

DISGRACE: “The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is one.”

FIDELITY: “No man can mortgage his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity.”

GOVERNMENT: “Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.”

HONOUR: “That chastity of honour which felt a stain like a wound.”

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

Reflections on the Revolution in France - demolitio of the Bastille

Demolition of the Bastille. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

JUSTICE: “Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.”

KINGS: “Kings will be tyrants by policy when subjects are rebels from principle.”

MONARCHY: “But the question is not now of the vices of that monarchy, but of its existence.”

MONIED PROPERTY: “The monied property was long looked on with rather an evil eye by the people.”

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: “No acts of the old government of the kings of France are held valid in the National assembly, except its pecuniary engagements; acts of all others of the most ambiguous legality.” 

PREJUDICE: “Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.”

PROPERTY: “Few barbarous conquerors have ever made so terrible a revolution in property.”

RELIGION: “The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience to the will of the sovereign of the world, in a confidence in His declaration, and in imitation of his perfections.”

Reflections on the Revolution in France - storming of the bastille

Storming of the Bastille. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

REVOLUTION: “When all the frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, burnings, murders, confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every description of tyranny and cruelty employed to bring about and to uphold this revolution, have their natural effect, that is, to shock the moral sentiments of all virtuous and sober minds, the abettors of this philosophic system immediately strain their throats in a declamation against the old monarchical government of France.”

STATESMANSHIP: “A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.”

Portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1775. Public domain.

References:

  • Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790
  • The Cyclopaedia of Practical Quotations, 1894

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