Monday, November 17, 2008

Speaking volumes

From "A Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America," in On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters of Edmund Burke, edited by David Bromwich:
A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood. He would feel some apprehension at being called to a tremendous account for engaging in so deep a play, without any sort of knowledge of the game. It is no excuse for presumptuous ignorance, that it is directed by insolent passion. The poorest being that crawls on earth, contending to save itself from injustice and oppression, is an object respectable in the eyes of God and man. But I cannot conceive any existence under heaven, (which in the depths of its wisdom, tolerates all sorts of things) that is more truly odious and disgusting, than an impotent helpless creature, without civil wisdom or military skill, without a consciousness of any other qualification for power but his servility to it, bloated with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to fight, contending for a violent dominion which he can never exercise, and satisfied to be himself mean and miserable, in order to render others contemptible and wretched.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to read any Burke and not come away impressed with the clarity of his prose and his thought. But of that period's political writers, I still find myself drawn more to the energy and personality of Hazlitt, both of which come through in his writing with a force that Burke's can't (and, to be fair, doesn't aim to) match.

    Scott Horton at Harpers has drawn on this letter regularly in writing about the Bush administration's casual approach to warmaking. It's extremely powerful.