“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

edmund burke

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer).

That's the short version, attributed to Burke. A longer version reads as follows:

Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

–Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents 82-83 (1770) in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 1, p. 146 (Liberty Fund ed. 1999).

It's as true today as it was 200 years ago--except for now, in modern times, the sin of giving into political apathy would be extended to women too. Edmund Burke's writings, which laid the intellectual foundations for modern conservatism (a cautious kind of conservatism, to be precise), can be found in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books. You can also download his major work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, through Audible's Free Trial program.

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Comments (49)
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  • Ella says:

    I feel like the information provided above is good but can be more reasearched. The following information can be included when the letter was discovered and by who.

  • Carl Gander says:

    Interesting that the phrase can appear as, The only thing necessary for the TRiUMPh of evil…..

  • Jan says:

    Interesting, but sad, that this quote resurfaced in my memories as I was listening to The Donald vomit forth some of his usual hate-speech.

  • Donna says:

    I appreciate the letterbeing posted on your site. It’s not as though we see this level of script online often.
    BRAVO
    D. Early

  • Mel says:

    While Donald Trump may have a ungentlemanly and sometimes cruel way of speaking the truth, at least he seems to be on the side of the good people taking action against the evil in America. He seems to be pro-life, and the pro-lifers opposing the new New York legislature are good men and women taking action against the triumph of evil.

  • Tracey says:

    This is my favourite phrase.
    It still stands true today. Ive had a time of weakness and assumed as Ive spent my life helping friends and strangers alike that I would be supported. One has helped, the government help is so minimal and difficult to engage. When did the weak become viewed as evil parasites???

  • Pedro Lara says:

    Very True words Mel. He speaks like a street brawler, but is on the side of good.

  • Bubble tea says:

    Wrong, they think they are. Sure they have good intentions but the road to hell and all that jazz, seriously calling pro lifers good is like calling pro choice evil which in itself is evil

  • Joseph schmit says:

    Let us havé every man love every man ans every woman love every woman while we are at lets Kill allo thé babies André every One over60 is this What thé boys at d day hit thé beaches for. I am happy my dad is dead so hé can not see this

  • McChalium says:

    So Joseph and Bubble tea’
    Who gets to decide whether you were born or not. I simply do not trust people to have the wisdom to know which fetus is to be killed for the convenience of whomever. If we had known that you would support fetus killing back just before you were born, would not someone have argued for your abortion? Food for thought.

  • G says:

    By far the most insightful thing anyone has said here yet.

  • steve says:

    I agree with McChalium and you G! Don’t ya just love Godless baby killers calling An elected president “EVIL”? I suppose in their delusional state everyone who didn’t vote for that evil beast Hillery is evil raciest xenophobic homophobic,intolerant, misogynistic, and all the other pejoratives they are told to parrot, like parrots.
    Satan inspired Lib’s & Dem’s fighting hard to stop the Born Alive anti baby kill act best demonstrates their “love” for death & killing! Romans 6-23 tell us non savages “Death is the wages of sin; but the gift of God is Life through Jesus Christ our Lord,”

  • steve says:

    “When bad men combine,[to call Trump evil] the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
    Thanks sinazo for demonstrating Satan inspired “Contemptible”! I wonder how much more Evil & hateful you anti God, anti Creator inspired America, anti white man, anti Trump, anti thinking little boys & girls will get when president Trump is reelected in 2020?
    Our Creator made America great [once] maybe he could, MEGA!

  • JT Smith says:

    Matters not who said the quote in qu stun. It is a truism as far as I am concerned & until the Godless libs & muslim terrorist take over I will keep saying & believing it!! 🇺🇸🙏God Bless America!

  • Linda Myers says:

    Don’t moderate my comment. You have no right.

  • Linda Myers says:

    Looks like I’ve stumbled on a Russian trolling site. They’re censoring any thoughts that are not hate-filled and aimed to inflame and set us against one another. We’ll see if this gets posted.

  • Skengman says:

    Linda love you clearly are not on the right vibe.

    Please stop abusing drugs, I would like to see my kids again.

    Hope we can resolve this soon. Bless up

  • Veronica says:

    All I can say in response to this rhetoric is : God help us and save us”!

  • Hap Donoghue says:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
    ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

    “So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
    ― John F. Kennedy

    “Be excellent to each other.”
    – Bill S. Preston, Esq.
    :)

  • Russ says:

    Since you are pro life, what is your stance on the death penalty?

  • alan wright says:

    All Killing is evil, it matters not if it is some hierarchical power ordering it or an individual making their person choice, taking life is wrong ( EVIL )
    Simple its not complicated.

  • ele says:

    When is pro-life evil? And when is pro-death good?

  • AaronV says:

    “Pro life” is an expression specifically connected to the issue of abortion, a procedure in which an innocent unborn child is murdered. Capital punishment is a sentence of death imposed on someone found guilty of murdering an innocent thus can never be described as “pro death”. “Whoso sheddeth mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man”… There is no conflict between pro life and pro capital punishment. Both are founded on the sanctity of life.

  • Adrian says:

    Lol, you religious losers are absolutely pathetic.

  • Kimberly says:

    What’s pathetic is the resorting to name-calling of those who do not believe the same way you do. Tell me, I am curious to know, why do you state that those who may be religious “are losers and absolutely pathetic”? Why are they losers? Why are they pathetic? Do you even have an answer for that? Or was it just so much easier to be a bully and call someone names because that’s what bullies do?

  • Jeff says:

    Even back then, politicians were trying to convince us that we need them because we’re powerless and stupid. What nonsense. “The only thing that allows evil to prosper is when good men do nothing” quoted by a politician to make folks think that he, somehow, alone knows the secret formula to what needs to be done to stop evil. We need them to stop evil. A ridiculous notion! We need to treat one another with respect, even when we disagree. That stamps out evil, not divisive politics that promotes stamping out those who disagree as if they were evil and we who think another way are good.

  • Wayne Wenzel says:

    Trump is playing “pro-life” evangelical fundamentalists like a harp from hell. Perhaps they will understand when the abortions continue, the poor are poorer, children are sicker, there are fewer opportunities for all but the rich, and basic human rights have been usurped. The tyrant and those who support him are the embodiment of evil, destroying American institutions and caring not about unborn babies or freedom for the people, but only about power and money for themselves. But I will cling to my faith in humanity, fight against the darkness and hope that people wake up to realize that the core of their own faith is against everything that Trump stands for.

  • AKJ says:

    Those who are “pro-life”: I assume then you are ok with the state helping the poor via welfare? And you are also for gun control, which advocates for the sanctity and preciousness of life of _actual_ living, fully born humans? And advocates for their right not to be slaughtered in a mass-shooting, say, at a mall, or a school?

    No? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  • Spartan wolf says:

    I thinks its time for the good to associate. Please dont forget about Christopher dorner. An absolute law abiding citizen who served our country with integrity and was let down in the very system he believed in…. Read his manifesto he was telling the truth!!!!

  • Gray says:

    I think it’s really humorous that we are reading an excerpt about coming together and standing as one , yet people still need to bash on our president no matter what the article. Why not comment on the fact that we have been divided long before trump took over. Also , since when has it ever been the president who is truly in charge ? Never!

  • larry Levin says:

    Trump is a liar and an ignorant man.Selfish beyond, control. Lies at every turn possible.
    This man thinks about 3 things-TRUMP-TRUMP-TRUMP.He gives huge tax breaks to his rich friends. He is obsessed with attacking the former president. His legacy is one of horror
    and disgust.Many of his cabinet members have been involved in bribery or nepotism.
    How could anyone support him ?

  • Chris says:

    I’m below the poverty line. I received a tax break. I talk to several people who claimed to not benefit under President Trump. After several questions their like we’ll yes I guess I did benefit.

    Democrats have been receiving free for so long and oppressed by Democrat politicians so long they have to SAVE FACE. They’ll never admit Trumps a good President. Why would “good people” support the chaos leading under Democrat control. It’s not Republicans destroying America. Democrats are trying a magic trick. They hope with their chaos Republicans will forget to vote. Now that’s funny.

  • Jan Birk says:

    Dear Jan.

    I have a feeling that it is not President Trump you hate, but yourself and what you were created to be by your, probably, lacking parents and teachers. That is how it is by most of the people I treat, and I fear you’re not the exception.
    I may be wrong, but I think you need to go and get some professional help, to get out of the dark spot you’re in.
    Hope the best for you.
    Another Jan.

  • Barbara says:

    Why do you believe that Hillary Clinton is an “evil beast”? Because for thirty years the Right Wing have told you so?
    Ms Clinton was a Republican in her youth – but as an Attorney she fought for the rights of women and went to Alabama of all places to help women who were oppressed and denied their rights to determine what they wanted to do with their bodies
    She was also voted as one of 100 attorneys of the US of stature (Made the Right crazy) A woman god forbid!
    She was a First Lady of Bill Clinton whom the Right hated and balanced the Budget (How dare he)
    Next she was elected as a State Senator and in her capacity as Senator she managed to get money for the aftermath of 911 – getting funding to rebuild and money for our hero’s the Police, Firemen,and survivors of this horrendous act
    Not through then she went on to become Secretary of State and while performing her duties which the office demanded she visited women of all countries to help them – elevate them in jobs, business and go into public offices
    Well as a man you would hate a woman of such statureI as a Business Woman I say Hurrah!!!! and fie on you!

  • Thetrashwhisperer says:

    You never Trumper’s will never like him and believe that Trump is evil. He could hand you 1 million bucks and you will find a way to call him a racist, bigoted, fascist, misogynist and evil. I bet most of you are young white and living in your parents basement. Basically oxygen thieves.

  • Thetrashwhisperer says:

    I am pro life and also pro second amendment. Most gun owners are very law biting citizens. Taking away our Second Amendment rights will not keep crazy people from slaughtering other people – they will find another means. If you want an example of it watch the movie -!We Need to Talk About Kevin. An unborn child is an innocent. I would not kill that fetus as a fetus or an adult and I support Second Amendment rights.

  • Yawningdonkey says:

    Wow. You guys are seriously deluded. Think you totally missed the point of this quotation if you continue to support the Trump led government in your country.

  • Yawningdonkey says:

    BTW. Does anyone on here have any tips on the best way to tuna a banjo? Thanks.

  • Dan says:

    By far, this is the most eloquent comment on this site. Thank you for replying with your articulate and thoughtful comment, in the spirit of Edmund Burke.

    I searched for this quote in the context of a couple imminently being indicted for defending their own home against an angry mob screaming hateful and murderous threats against them. Good men and women must unite against the forces of evil threatening to destroy our society. We must stand against the forces that seek to remove our inalienable rights. The freedom of religion, free exercise thereof, the freedom of speech, the right of the people PEACEABLY to assemble, The right of the people to be secure in their persons and houses, and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. Our forefathers fought and died to give us these freedoms, and now those who stand for them are vilified by some leaders and media. We must stand in the courage and strength of our forefathers or our country will be destroyed.

  • Dan says:

    The above was a response to Hap Donoghue on November 8, 2019 at 10:33 pm Well stated, Mr. Donoghue.

  • Eric says:

    Yawningdonkey, Funny! I am reading these comments and crying cause how far apart we seem to be and finally, someone asked a good question…
    You can find FREE Banjo tuner apps on your phone. They are actually very good and easy to use. Try ‘GuitarTuna’ it will let you select multiple instruments including a Banjo.
    Or, use the Trump version of tuning a banjo: It will tune itself. Since he is in office everything is the best ever and all instruments should be automatically tuned for the first time in the history of the world. Which is great because Obama left all instruments UN-tuned.

  • David says:

    Really? Wow. I mean, don’t you even feel the least bit embarrassed?

  • Thomas says:

    Hello Linda. I came across this message above with a Google search. The quote I was looking for is;
    “All Men are evil. It takes hard work to be good” !
    Too many Humans are too lazy to be good.

  • John Smith says:

    Sounds like you’re the one who is obsessed, sir.

  • Beware Bill says:

    Beware fascism. The formula is common — sow distrust and division, erode faith in institutions, say law and order can only be achieved by belief in a single ‘strongman’ person. When that feels normal, you are in the thrall of fascism. Beware.

  • Jeanette Lenz says:

    YES! I agree. I was looking this quote up because I was responding to someone that believed in all the things that you mentioned about President Trump but said he wasn’t interested in voting.

  • james w smith says:

    No, because she has proven to be so over the years and it started with a video of laughing about the fact that she had won a case for a rapist who she knew to be guilty. As a veteran “ What difference would it have made” sickened me to the core. I find her to be a vile human being and I truly believe she would have been a horrible President. Nothing at all to do with her being a woman and it pains pains me to even refer to her as a woman because it gives her credence she does not deserve!

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