"Bite The Hand That Fed Them"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burke was a stanch believer in a strong government and a secure political order. He did not, however, believe that the central government had the prerogative to enact extensive social and economic legislation. The government owes its constituents, he says, information and timely coercion: "the one to guide our judgment; the other to regulate our tempers. To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of the government. . . . The people maintain them, and not they the people." In other words, Burke avers that the magistrate has nothing to do with the province of human mercy: "His interference is a violation of the property which it is his office to protect." Speaking specifically against a discretionary tax on labor and public granaries for governmental distribution of grain, Burke cites the primary danger as the development of a lackadaisical dependence on government support:

. . . If once they are habituated to it, though but for one half-year, they will never be satisfied to have it otherwise. And having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them. To avoid that evil, government will redouble the causes of it; and then it will become inveterate and incurable.