So a while back, Rob linked to this piece at Duck of Minerva, where Charli Carpenter called attention to this essay arguing that a quotation oft-attributed to Edmund Burke was not, in fact, written by Edmund Burke. As Rob noted, the aphorism — some permutation of “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” — doesn’t even sound like something Burke would say or believe. It was all quite interesting, and I was able to use Rob’s and Charli’s posts in my historical methods course as a first-day conversation piece.
Anyhow, I was reminded of all this last night as I was laughing at the ridiculous signage to be discovered at the Orlando “Tea Party,” where literally hundreds of people showed up to . . . um . . . go John Galt or something. Amid the verbal and visual detritus, there was this contrived moment of photo-citizen-journalism:
The resemblance to the bogus Burke quotation strikes me as odd and suspicious. And though I’m not a Jefferson scholar by any stretch, I’d never actually seen this idea attributed to him. But the words show up all over the place, buttressing everything from neo-Confederate to human rights advocacy; you can even buy a t-shirt (worn, one supposes with some unintended irony, by a black dude) that clarifies a great American slaveholder’s one-step solution to defeating tyranny with audible acts of good conscience.
Problem is — as with the spiritually-identical Burke quotation — there doesn’t seem to be an original source. There’s nothing like it that turns up in the Jefferson Digital Archive, and the list of books that include the quotation is not, shall we say, confidence-inspiring. This fellow includes the quotation in the epigraph of his book, sewn awkwardly to another line that actually was written by Jefferson. Chuck Norris, of all people, is the only person on the entire intertubes who appears to have provided a footnote for the quotation, but alas, the relevant pages are restricted in Google Books (and damned if I’m going to buy a copy of Black Belt Patriotism when my daughter’s collection of Thomas the Tank Engine collection still lacks the objectively awesome Mighty Mac.)
So to invoke a scholarly term of art, can I call bullshit here? Or do I need to buy Chuck Norris’ book and follow him down the rabbit hole?
…in comments Ralph Luker points to this follow-up to the Burke article (linked in the first sentence) which is also quite excellent…. And since it includes the Jefferson quote among those permutations attributed to Burke, it would have saved me a bit of time…