Did Isko Moreno misquote Edmund Burke?

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor 

PHOTO: GMA News

Presidential aspirant and Manila Mayor “Isko” Moreno Domagoso has routinely attributed the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke of the maxim: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But is there concrete evidence that Burke said those words?

There is no evidence, to date, that the classic political thinker said those words, nor has the exact quote condemning complacency has been found in his written works and is widely considered spurious, hence the quote is under investigation leading to controversy.

“[He] never said it,” David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English at Yale University and author of “The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke,” clarified to the England-based global information and news provider Reuters.

Bromwich further reiterated that Burke did say something resembling, but it is clearly dissimilar to the quote in his political pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

“I don't know that anyone famous did, but the misattribution has had a long life,” he added.

Richard Bourke, Professor of the History of Political Thought at the University of Cambridge and author of “Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke,” also told Reuters that the is a paraphrase based on the related statement in Burke’s “Thoughts on the Cause of this Present Discontents.”

“I know the quote. I know it’s attributed to Burke. But I know that I have never seen it in his oeuvre,” shared Isaac Kramnick, a professor emeritus at Cornell University who has studied Burke, in an email to The Daily Caller. 

Across the web, the famous quotation, adjudged through a poll by editors of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as the most popular quotation of modern times, is also attributed to John Stuart Mill and Charles F. Aked. 

In 1867, British philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill in an inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews delivered a similar but not identical quote: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

Prominent preacher and lecturer Charles F. Aked also used an expression similar to the quotation under investigation: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”

Isko Moreno is just one of the many notable personalities who misattributed the quote to Burke. In fact, former US President John F. Kennedy, speaking before Canadian lawmakers in Ottawa in May 1961, capped off his speech with the popular expression crediting the Irish philosopher.

The quote, attributed to Edmund Burke, is possibly a paraphrase and a definitive source is still unknown, yet to be found.



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