“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” a Quote Falsely Attributed to Edmund Burke

edmund burke

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It’s a quote routinely attributed to Edmund Burke. But it turns out falsely so. Apparently, he never uttered these words. At best, the essence of the quote can be traced back to the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, who delivered an 1867 inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews and stated: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

If you came to this page looking for Burke to help support ideas of social upheaval, we’d suggest watching the video below, or better yet reading Reflections on the Revolution in France, a fundamental text in the canon of conservative literature where Burke cautioned against abrupt or violent social change.

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Comments (71)
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  • sinazo says:

    Triumph of evil

  • 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.
    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!

  • Lucas says:

    Shut the hell up Jan. You do realize that the “EVIL” mentioned is the the evil, ruinous democratic party and the people who have been in power for decades and have not done anything save for enriching themselves. Democratic cities and states are facing problems from the early 80s and and 90s still. Despite the “efforts” of the Democrats in power. Why is this so hard to see? It’s not trump who is the problem. It’s the people who stand to lose if he succeeds that ate telling YOU he is the problems. Open your eyes.

  • Michael Chabler says:

    Not sure how he is pro-life, unless he helps kill slightly fewer people? But we still haven’t arrived at the total. This quote is especially apt for our time period.

  • Starnie a. Patriot says:

    I feel a rush of different emotions, every single time l encounter the blind ignorance of all those suffering from the media induced brainwashing know as TDS (trump derangement syndrome). God… help you! To you l say: “Truth – is incontrovertible. Malice, may attack it,,, Ignorance, may deride it,,, but in the end – there it is.” . GOD BLESS, DONALD TRUMP !

  • J. Bounds says:

    History is well…history. There is no erasing it, no denying it, no changing it no matter how anyone may want.
    To change the meaning of words, vilify the actions of others over a difference in opinion or viewpoint invalidates what you are saying.
    One man, President or Senator or whoever, cannot create change by him or herself. It takes the will of the majority to do so with the checks and balances put in place by our society and the Constitution of the U.S.
    We may not like our history, but we can’t change it, only learn from it and try to do better.
    Every statement is not racist or xenophobic or whatever label someone wants to apply for their own exhortation to drive others to their own viewpoint. They are labels and labels tend to be negative and inhibit communication and divide.
    Winston S. Churchill stated in World War II, “Victory at all costs,” which may be necessary in a case of ultimate survival, but not in everyday discourse. Absolutes may be useful in mathematics, but not communications. It is not a case of you win or I win, but one of winning together.

  • Martin says:

    He is not on the side of good, he is only on the side of himself. The presidency is just a game to him.

  • T says:

    How can you possibly say the only problem with Trump is that he’s cruel but he’s actually taking on the evil people? He is the evil. Besides the openness regarding his racism, bigotry, corruption, graft, and traitorous acts, he clearly is inept at everything, and I literally mean everything, he attempts to do. He has filled the executive branch with unqualified and corrupt people that are more loyal to his corruption than they are the American people‘s needs. This is an objective truth that any fourth grader can research and write a paper on just by using Trump‘s on words and information. That you think he is fighting evil and isn’t the evil shows exactly what it was like to watch a country descend in to fascism in Germany in the 30s.

  • Brett says:

    As a good man I will not do nothing and let you triumph. It is scum like you that are ruining this world.

  • Brabus Bach says:

    Twice as many abortions under Bush than Obama.

  • Mutsinzi Ceasar says:

    Yeah, open culture as you said, bad guys we have to push them out – I agree!

  • MelvinS says:

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    You are being played by our president. The only witness to her laughing does not claim that it was about the victim of that brutal, wholly despicable crime. If the extensive research, reported in the source I reference below, is correct, it was about the system of justice that she, Hillary Clinton, was operating in as an attorney. For instance, if a person is guilty, lies about it when taking a polygraph test, but the polygraph fails to detect it, that would be reason to scoff at the reliability of a polygraph test when used in the case of a lying and guilty defendant, correct?

    Here is my source, if you would like to learn more about the backstory: https://www.npr.org/2016/11/03/500480069/the-story-behind-a-campaign-line-did-clinton-laugh-at-a-rape-victim

  • Chris Duncan says:

    This is ridiculous. Perpetrate any evil and crime imaginable to fight against someone just because they believe in women and gay rights? You know Trump is evil, but because he is on ‘your side’ you believe it is necessary. You far-right, hyper fundamentalist fake Christian people are the worst scum and will burn longer and hotter than any atheist. I pity the day when Jesus tells you he doesn’t know you no matter how much you squeal that you believe in him and were the best little Pharisee you could be. Matthew 7. Specifically 21-23. I suggest anyone who ‘thinks’ they are a Christian to read it. If you don’t like the laws of the land in which you live, then leave, otherwise, give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Don’t break every law and commandment in order to cheat it as Donald would have you do. You cannot sell your soul to the devil for the power to fight the devil.

  • Thomas Inks says:

    Tonight the 50 State electors voted to confirm Joe Biden as next President of the US.
    As a 75 yr old male who has experienced history, including being tear gassed in ’68 at the Dem Chicago convention, protesting my 2 buddies being killed in Vietnam, you MAGA PEOPLE are SO ignorant of facts and follow a cult leader.

  • Chantal says:

    ARE YOU HIGH??? He throws abortion money at the child virgins he rapes like other men throw money at strippers! Pull the wool off of your eyes, see the truth and the ugliness that has defined Trump his

  • God says:

    Get a life.

  • peter says:

    This didn’t age well.

  • Jose Luis Aldape says:

    Yes, same thought of Trump for his forth coming second coming impeachment, the phrase should come out forward.

  • Gary Sedelbauer says:

    I don’t believe babies are comitinge unspeakable crimes!

  • Chad says:

    Killing unborn children is evil. Period. To defend that, is evil.

  • Daisy Jones says:

    This comments section is absolutely disgusting! As a devout Catholic myself I have to say that the far right fake christians here do not speak for us all and I am pro choice because I choose to follow my religious beliefs but I recognise that other people have different beliefs.

    Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ therefore we must ensure we live our lives putting Him first without forcing others to obey our religious ideals. We will all be judged by the Lord himself when we die but until then, let us love our neighbours rather than condemn them.

  • tyrone bbc says:


  • J. C. Banks says:

    peace, the Republican party claim to be prolife while at the same time suppressing the votes of ethnic minorities. Voting rights are human rights that cover the sanctity of life. It is total hypocrisy to claim to be prolife and not establishing and maintaining social safety programs for the human that are not aborted. The sanctity of life spans the life of a person from womb to tomb.

  • Robert Dobalina says:

    That’s not exactly the same quote. You can’t attribute a quote to a person who used completely different words, even if they mean the same thing. If you allow that, then the dictionary is the master of all quotes.-me

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