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? Jules Claretie? Georges Clemenceau? Benjamin Disraeli? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?

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 strong match known to QI appeared in a history book titled “Histoire de la Révolution de 1870-71” by French literary figure Jules Claretie. The book included a reprint of a public 1872 letter from academic and politician Anselme Polycarpe Batbie who employed the saying. Interestingly, Batbie, credited the remark to “Burke”. Below is an excerpt in French followed by an English translation. Boldface has been added: 1

Plusieurs de mes amis m’engageaient à répondre par le trait célèbre 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. »

Several of my friends urged me to respond with Burke’s famous line: “Anyone who is not a republican at twenty casts doubt on the generosity of his soul; but he who, after thirty years, perseveres, casts doubt on 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 his 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.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  1. 1874, Histoire de la Révolution de 1870-71 par Jules Claretie, Livre Second, Chapitre 2, Comment on letter: Le Conservateur du Gers publiait à ce propos la lettre de M. Batbie (On this subject, the Conservateur du Gers published Mr. Batbie’s letter), Letter location: Versailles, Letter date: 3 décembre 1872 (December 3, 1872), Quote Page 482, Column 1, Dépot Général de Vente a la Librairie Polo, Paris, France. (HathiTrust Full View) link