“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.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

A His­to­ry of Ideas: Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain The­o­ries of Simone de Beau­voir, Edmund Burke & Oth­er Philoso­phers

What Books Did Wun­derkind Philoso­pher J.S. Mill Read Between Ages 3 and 7?: Plato’s Apol­o­gy (in Ancient Greek), Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote & Much More

Jere­my Bentham’s Mum­mi­fied Body Is Still on Display–Much Like Oth­er Aging British Rock Stars

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.