Government Of Nations
"The Maxims And Reflections Of Burke" selected and edited by F.W. Rafferty

Nobody shall persuade me, when a whole people are concerned, that acts of lenity are not means of conciliation. — American Taxation (II. 137).

The sense of a whole people . . . never ought to be condemned by wise and beneficent rulers; whatever may be the abstract claims, or even rights, of the supreme power. We have been too early instructed, and too long habituated to believe, that the only firm seat of all authority is in the minds, affections, and interests of the people, to change our opinions on the theoretic reasonings of speculative men, or for the convenience of a mere temporary arrangement of state. It is not consistent with equity or wisdom to set at defiance the general feelings of great communities, and of all the orders which compose them. Much power is tolerated, and passes unquestioned, where much is yielded to opinion. All is disputed, where everything is enforced. — Address to the King (V. 350).

A constitution on sufferance is a constitution condemned. Sentence is already passed upon it. The execution is only delayed. On the principles of these gentlemen it neither has, nor ought to have, any security. So far as regards them, it is left naked, without friends, partisans, assertors, or protectors.— Appeal (V. 117).

The object of the state is (as far as may be) the happiness of the whole. Whatever makes multitudes of men utterly miserable can never answer that object; indeed it contradicts it wholly and entirely; and the happiness or misery of mankind, estimated by their feelings and sentiments, and not by any theories of their rights, is, and ought to be, the standard for the conduct of legislators towards the people. This naturally and necessarily conducts us to the peculiar and characteristic situation of a people, and to a knowledge of their opinions, prejudices, habits, and all the circumstances that diversify and colour life. The first question a good statesman would ask himself, therefore, would be, how and in what circumstances do you find the society, and to act upon them.— Speech on Unitarians (III. 320).

Perhaps, sir, I am mistaken in my idea of an empire, as distinguished from a single state or kingdom. But my idea of it is this; that an empire is the aggregate of many states under one common head; whether this head he a monarch, or a presiding republic.— Conciliation (II. 199).

Prescription is the most solid of all titles, not only to property, but, which is to secure that property, to government. They harmonise with each other, and give mutual aid to one another—Speech on Reform (III. 355).

My opinion is against an over-doing of any sort of administration, and more especially against this most momentous of all meddling on the part of authority; the meddling with the subsistence of the people.— Scarcity (VI. 32).

The benefits of heaven to any community ought never to be connected with political arrangements, or made to depend on the personal conduct of princes; in which the mistake, or error, or neglect, or distress, or passion of a moment on either side, may bring famine on millions, and ruin an innocent nation perhaps for ages. The means of the subsistence of mankind should be as immutable as the laws of nature, let power and dominion take what course they may.— Arcot (III. 251).

We lay too much weight upon the formality of treaties and compacts. We do not act much more wisely when we trust to the interests of men as guarantees of their engagements. The interests frequently tear to pieces the engagements; and the passions trample upon both. Entirely to trust to either, is to disregard our own safety, or not to know mankind. Men are not tied to one another by papers and seals. They are led to associate by resemblances, by conformities, by sympathies. It is with nations as with individuals. Nothing is so strong a tie of amity between nation and nation as correspondence in laws, customs, manners, and habits of life. They have more than the force of treaties in themselves. They are obligations written in the heart. They approximate men to men, without their knowledge, and sometimes against their intentions. The secret, unseen, but irrefragable bond of habitual intercourse holds them together, even when their perverse and litigious nature sets them to equivocate, scuffle, and fight, about the terms of their written obligations.— Regicide Peace (VI. 155).

But this I know, that a great state ought to have some regard to its ancient maxims: especially where they indicate its dignity; where they concur with the rules of prudence; and, above all, where the circumstances of the time require that a spirit of innovation should be resisted, which leads to the humiliation of sovereign powers. It would be ridiculous to assert that those powers have suffered nothing in their estimation. I admit tbat the great interests of the state will for a moment supersede all other considerations: but if there was a rule that a sovereign never should let down his dignity without a sure payment to his interest, the dignity of kings would be held high enough.— Regicide Peace (VI. 108).

Obedience is what makes government, and not the names by which it is called.— Conciliation (II. 192).

When any political institution 'is praised, in spite of great and prominent faults of every kind, and in all its parts, it must be supposed to have something excellent in its fundamental principles. It must be shown that it is right though imperfect; that it is not only by possibility susceptible of improvement, but that it contains in it a principle tending to its melioration.— Appeal(V. 21).

Neither England nor France, without infinite detriment to them, as well in the event as in the experiment, could be brought into a republican form; but everything republican which can be introduced with safety into either of them, must be built upon a monarchy; built upon a real, not a nominal monarchy, as its essential basis; all such institutions, whether aristocratic or democratic, must originate from their crown, and in all their proceedings must refer to it; by the energy of that mainspring alone those republican parts must be set in action, and from thence must derive their whole legal effect (as amongst us they actually do), or the whole would fall into confusion. These republican members have no other point but the crown in which they can possibly unite.— Appeal(V. 44).

The state of civil society, which necessarily generates this aristocracy, is a state of nature; and much more truly so than a savage and incoherent mode of life. For man is by nature reasonable; and he is never perfectly in his natural state, but when he is placed where reason may be best cultivated, and most predominates. Art is man's nature. We are as much, at least, in a state of nature in formed manhood, as in inmature and helpless infancy.— Appeal (V. 101).

I am well aware that men love to hear of their power, but have an extreme disrelish to be told of their duty. This is of course; because every duty is a limitation of some power. Indeed arbitrary power is so much to the depraved taste of the vulgar, of the vulgar of every description, that almost all the dissensions, which lacerate the commonwealth, are not concerning the manner in which it is to be exercised, but concerning the hands in which it is to be placed. Somewhere they are resolved to have it. Whether they desire it to be vested in the many or the few, depends with most men upon the chance which they imagine they themselves may have of partaking in the exercise of that arbitrary sway, in the one mode or in the other—Appeal (V. 91).

A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths. To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one's infancy; to be taught to respect one's self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the widespread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned wherever they are to be found ;—to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honour and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight, and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity, and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequences— to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man —to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind—to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenuous art—to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice—these are the circumstances of men, that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.— Appeal (V. 100).

I am no friend to aristocracy, in the sense at least in which that word is usually understood. If it were not a bad habit to moot cases on the supposed ruin of the constitution, I should be free to declare that, if it must perish, I would rather by far see it resolved into any other form, than lost in that austere and insolent domination. But, whatever my dislikes may be, my fears are not upon that quarter—Present Discontents (II. 22).

Lawyers, I know, cannot make the distinction for which I contend; because they have their strict rule to go by. But legislators ought to do what lawyers cannot; for they have no other rules to bind them, but the great principles of reason and equity, and the general sense of mankind. These they are bound to obey and follow; and rather to enlarge and enlighten law by the liberality of legislative reason, than to fetter and bind their higher capacity by the narrow constructions of subordinate, artificial justice—Letter to Sheriffs (II. 247).

A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that he can be made subject to punishment.—Reflections (IV. 102).

The press, in reality, has made every government, in its spirit, almost democratic.—Regicide Peace (VI. 208).

Republics have many things in the spirit of absolute monarchy, but none more than this; a shining merit is ever hated or suspected in a popular assembly as well as in a court; and all services done the state are looked upon as dangerous to the rulers, whether sultans or senators.—Natural Society (I. 31).

To obtain empire is common; to govern it well has been rare indeed.—Warren Hastings . Speech 4th day.

Few are the partisans of departed tyranny; and to be a Whig on the business of an hundred years ago is very consistent with every advantage of present servility. This retrospective wisdom, and historical patriotism, are things of wonderful convenience: and serve admirably to reconcile the old quarrel between speculation and practice. Many a stern republican, after gorging himself with a full feast of admiration of the Grecian commonwealths and of our true Saxon constitution, and discharging all the splendid bile of his virtuous indignation on King John and King James, sits down perfectly satisfied to the coarsest work and homeliest job of the day he lives in. I believe there was no professed admirer of Henry VIII among the instruments of the last King James; nor in the court of Henry VIII was there, I dare say, to be found a single advocate for the favourites of Richard 11.—Present Discontents (II. 9).

Faithful watchmen we ought to be over the rights and privileges of the people. But our duty, if we are qualified for it as we ought, is to give them information, and not to receive it from them; we are not to go to school to them to learn the principles of law and government.— Speech on Duration of Parliaments (III. 341).

Nations are governed by the same methods, and on the same principles, by which an individual without authority is often able to govern those who are his equals or his superiors; by a knowledge of their temper, and by a judicious management of it; I mean,—when public affairs are steadily and quietly conducted; and when government is nothing but a continued scuffle between the magistrate and the multitude; in which sometimes the one and sometimes the other is uppermost; in which they alternately yield and prevail, in a series of contemptible victories, and scandalous submissions. The temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of a statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn .—Present Discontents (II. 4).

I think that in a thousand cases for one it would be far less mischievous to the public, and full as little dishonourable to themselves, to be polluted with direct bribery, than thus to become a standing auxiliary to the oppression, usury, and peculation of multitudes, in order to obtain a corrupt support to their power. It is by bribing, not so often by being bribed, that wicked politicians bring ruin on mankind. Avarice is a rival to the pursuits of many. It finds a multitude of checks, and many opposers, in every walk of life. But the objects of ambition are for the few; and every person who aims at indirect profit, and therefore wants other protection than innocence and law, instead of its rival becomes its instrument.—Arcot (III. 264).

To govern according to the sense and agreeably to the interests of the people is a great and glorious object of government. This object cannot be obtained but through the medium of popular election; and popular election is a mighty evil.— Speech on Duration of Parliaments (III. 339)

If any ask me what a free government is, I answer, that, for any practical purpose, it is what the people think so; and that they, and not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges of this matter.—Letter to Sheriffs (II. 273).

If there is any one eminent criterion, which above all the rest distinguishes a wise government from an administration weak and improvident, it is this—" Well to know the best time and manner of yielding what itis impossible to keep."— Economical Reform II. 314).

Among all the great men of antiquity Procrustes shall never be my hero of legislation; with his iron bed, the allegory of his government, and the type of some modern policy, by which the long limb was to be cut short, and the short tortured into length. Such was the state-bed of uniformity!— State of the Nation (I. 311).

Has any of these gentlemen, who are so eager to govern all mankind, shown himself possessed of the first qualification towards government, some knowledge of the object, and of the difficulties which occur in the task they have undertaken?—Letter to Sheriffs (II. 257).

In that state of affairs, and of the public with relation to them, the first thing that government owes to us, the people, is information; the next is timely coercion :—the one to guide our judgment; the other to regulate our tempers—Scarcity (VI. 3).

Tyranny is a poor provider. It knows neither how to accumulate, nor how to extract .— American Taxation (II. 151).

Massacres only increase the ferocity of men, and teach them to regard their own lives and those of others as of little value; whereas the great policy of government is to teach the people to think both of great importance in the eyes of God and the state, and never to be sacrificed or even hazarded to gratify their passions, or for anything but the duties prescribed by the rules of morality, and under the direction of public law and public authority.— The Allies (V. 283).

I do not often quote Bolingbroke, nor have his works in general left any permanent impression on my mind. He is a presumptuous and a superficial writer. But he has one observation, which, in my opinion, is not without depth and solidity. He says, that he prefers a monarchy to other governments; because you can better ingraft any description of republic on a monarchy, than anything of monarchy upon the republican forms. I think him perfectly in the right. The fact is so historically ; and it agrees well with the speculation—Reflections (IV. 138).

I am no lover of names; I contend for the substance of good and protecting government, let it come from what quarter it will —Fox's India Bill(III. 128).

The people of England were then [time of Charles II], as they are now, called upon to make government strong. They thought it a great deal better to make it wise and honest .— Letter to Sheriffs (II. 266).

I consider the moral basis as everything; the formal arrangements, further than as they promote the moral principles of government, and the keeping desperately wicked persons as the subjects of laws and not the makers of them, to be of little importance.—Regicide Peace (VI. 363).

The great use of government is as a restraint.— Scarcity (VI. 3).

Discontent will increase with misery; and there are critical moments in the fortune of all states, when they who are too weak to contribute to your prosperity, may be strong enough to complete your ruin. Spoliatis arma supersunt.Conciliation II. 196).

We may rest assured, that when the maxims of any government establish among its resources extraordinary means, and those exerted with a strong hand, that strong hand will provide those extraordinary means for itself—Fox's India Bill (III. 101).