If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain

Edmund Burke? Anselme Batbie? Victor Hugo? King Oscar II of Sweden? George Bernard Shaw? François Guizot? Georges Clemenceau? Benjamin Disraeli? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?

batbie04

Dear Quote Investigator: Some individuals change their political orientation as they grow older. There is a family of sayings that present a mordant judgment on this ideological evolution. Here are three examples:

Not to be a républicain at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.

If you’re not a socialist before you’re twenty-five, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after twenty-five, you have no head.

If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart, but if you aren’t a middle-aged conservative, you have no head.

Political terminology has changed over time, and it differs in distinct locales. Within the context of these sayings the terms “républicain”, “socialist”, and “liberal” were all on the left of the political spectrum. Would you please explore this complex topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an 1875 French book of contemporary biographical portraits by Jules Claretie. A section about a prominent jurist and academic named Anselme Polycarpe Batbie included the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

M. Batbie, dans une lettre trop célèbre, citait un jour, pour expliquer ses variations personnelles et bizarres, ce paradoxe de Burke: « Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

Here is one possible translation to English.

Mr. Batbie, in a much-celebrated letter, once quoted the Burke paradox in order to account for his bizarre political shifts: “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.”

Batbie was probably referring to the statesman Edmund Burke who was noted for his support of the American Revolution and later condemnation of the French Revolution. However, QI has not located the quotation under investigation in the writings of Burke. Anselme Batbie lived between 1828 and 1887.

The same quotation with an ascription to Batbie appeared in volume five of the “La Grande Encyclopédie” which was published circa 1888. The title in English of this 31 volume work was “The Great Encyclopedia”, and the statement was printed within the entry for Batbie. 2

This saying is often attributed to the French statesman and historian François Guizot who died in 1874. However, this ascription was based in an entry in “Benham’s Book of Quotations Proverbs and Household Words” which was published many years after the death of Guizot; hence the supporting data is not very strong. Details are given further below in the 1936 citation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1875, Portraits Contemporains by Jules Claretie, Volume: 1, Chapter Topic: M. Casimir Périer, Start Page 51, Quote Page 55, Published by Librairie Illustrée, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. La Grande Encyclopédie: Inventaire Raisonné Des Sciences, Des Lettres et Des Arts, (The Great Encyclopedia: A Systematic Inventory of Science, Letters, and the Arts), by Société de Savants et de Gens de Lettres, Tome Cinquième (Volume 5), From Bailliébe to Belgiojoso, (Date: the 31 Volumes were published between 1886 and 1902; volume 5 was published circa 1888), Entry: “Batbie, Anselme-Polycarpe”, Start Page 705, Quote Page 705, Column 2, Published by H. Lamirault, Paris. (The quotation was nearly identical: “persévère” in 1875 was expanded to “persévère encore” in 1888)(Google Books Full View) link

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing

John F. Kennedy? Edmund Burke? R. Murray Hyslop? Charles F. Aked? John Stuart Mill?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a challenge for you. I have been reading the wonderful book “The Quote Verifier” by Ralph Keyes, and he discusses the mixed-up quotations that President John F. Kennedy sometimes declaimed in his speeches. Here is an example of a famous one with an incorrect attribution [QVE]:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Keyes says that the quote has not been successfully traced:

… which Kennedy attributed to British philosopher Edmund Burke and which recently was judged the most popular quotation of modern times in a poll conducted by editors of “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.” Even though it is clear by now that Burke is unlikely to have made this observation, no one has ever been able to determine who did.

Will you explore this question?

Quote Investigator: First, “The Quote Verifier” volume has my highest recommendation. The impressive research of Keyes is presented in a fascinating, entertaining, and fun manner. Second, yes, QI will try to trace this expression. Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill both produced apothegms that are loosely similar to the quotation under investigation but are unmistakably distinct.

The earliest known citation showing a strong similarity to the modern quote appeared in October of 1916. The researcher J. L. Bell found this important instance. The maxim appeared in a quotation from a speech by the Reverend Charles F. Aked who was calling for restrictions on the use of alcohol [SFCA]:

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.

QI believes that the full name of Aked was Charles Frederic Aked, and he was a prominent preacher and lecturer who moved from England to America. The same expression was attributed to Aked in another periodical in 1920. Details for this cite are given further below.

The earliest attribution of the modern saying to Edmund Burke was found by top researcher Barry Popik. In July of 1920 a man named Sir R. Murray Hyslop delivered an address at a Congregational church conference that included the following [MHEB]:

Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

The search for the origin of this famous quotation has lead to controversy. One disagreement involved the important reference book Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and the well-known word maven William Safire. Below are selected citations in chronological order and a brief discussion of this altercation.

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