wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Edmund Burke - Philosophy and GovernmentEdmund Burke - Philosophy and Government


Edmund Burke (1729-97)


Irish-born British Member of Parliament (pictured right).

His views on government

  • have been very influential in both Britain and America.
  • laid the foundations of the modern Conservative Party in Britain.


His most famous book is...

Reflection on the Revolution in France (1790) which attacked the French Revolution.


What did he believe in?

 Edmund Burke - Philosophy and Government

1. Individual liberty

He strongly:

  • defended people’s rights.
  • attacked tyrannical government (“Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny”, he said)
  • supported the freedom of Americans against British rule.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous is the abuse”, he said.


2. Government by consent

The purpose of government is “to provide for human wants”,

People must be persuaded that something is right.Edmund Burke - Philosophy and Government

You can’t force them to do things, because force:

  • is only effective temporarily.
  • causes hostility and the need for continual oppression.

“A nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered”, he said.

So it is vital for politicians to have people’s trust and consent by not abusing their power.


3. Representative government

His speech in 1774 to his electors in Bristol stated that an MP is a representative not a delegate.

He (or she) should make up his (or her) own mind on policy.

“He is not a member of Bristol, but he is a Member of Parliament”, he said.

 Edmund Burke - Philosophy and Government

4. Evolutionary not revolutionary change

A country and its people must adapt and respond to ever changing circumstances

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation”, Burke said

But he supported:

  • order and caution - change in an orderly manner.
  • continuity - keeping the good of the past (like the monarchy and Parliament).

This is why he

  • attacked the French Revolution.
  • believed “compromise and barter” are the foundations of good government.


5. Pragmatic realism

Countries can’t be perfectly equal, loving, or free, because of people’s:

  • moral imperfections.
  • different abilities and ambitions.


  • ideals must always take into account what can be realistically achieved 
  • government must be based on a practical understanding of people not political ideology.


6. Power to privilege

The best people to govern are those with the most experience of governing (i.e. the monarchy and aristocracy with inherited wealth).

 Edmund Burke - Philosophy and Government

7. Goodness and wisdom

People must co-operate to:

  • protect their rights.
  • fight for “humanity, reason and justice”.


The greatest evil is:

“liberty without wisdom and without virtue”.

The most important of all revolutions is:

“a revolution in sentiments, manners and moral opinions”.


Inscribed on his statue in Bristol, England are his words: 

“I wish to be a Member of Parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil”.

Edmund Burke - Philosophy and Government 

8. Toleration

Democracy is based on accepting other people’s views.



Key quotes on politics and government

I wish to be a Member of Parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil (inscribed on his statue in Bristol, England). 

Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants.

A nation is not governed, which is to be perpetually to be conquered.


Key quote on ethics

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


Key quote on freedom

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.


Key quote on business ethics

When bad men combine, the good must associate.


Key quote on education

Education is the cheap defence of nations.


Key quote on strategy

You can never plan the future by the past.


Key quote on learning

Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.


Key quote on society

To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely

Key quote on the past, present and future

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.


Key quotes on God and religion

Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference.

 Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.


Key quote on negotiating

The concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear.

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books