Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Good Men Do Nothing

Courtesy of my friend Nel over on LiveJournal, a link to a fascinating piece (and read the follow-up essay too) on the provenance of a well-known quotation.

Here it is.

Incidentally, the precise subset of the quotation in my post title formed the title of a John Brunner novel.


At 25 October, 2008 15:13, Blogger Persephone said...

This is yet another reason why I beg my elder daughter to use book research to supplement her internet research. I tell her, "Most books are required to footnote; the internet isn't."
I have my 1980 edition of Bartlett's at hand. The "when bad man combine" quote appears early on in the Burke section, while the "only thing necessary" quote appears near the end as "attributed" with a footnote to refer to the Preface which says:
There is also a mystery over the origin of "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." It has been ascribed to Edmund Burke, yet has not been found -- so far -- in his writings. Is it possible that it is a twentieth-century paraphrase of Burke's view that "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle" (from Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, April 23, 1770)? Whatever the credit, it is the shorter version that will continue to be quoted, you may be assured. And misused, apparently.

Book-larnin' over all, I say. (Incidentally, my spell-check is telling me that there is no such word as "unpitied"...)

At 26 October, 2008 12:18, Anonymous Phil said...

That's a great page. I felt quite nostalgic - I remember when the Web seemed to consist mainly of pages like that. (Then I looked at the date - 2002. Eheu fugaces, that's what I say. Eheu fugaces, or I'll tuogh you up.)

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