Anatomy of the sentence:

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing

I know this is the origin of "all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is that good men do nothing", and I know exactly what the latter sentence means. The thing is I don't know how it is relate with the sentence in the title. Can anyone decompose and explain it, especially for the phrase "compass their ends" and the structure "A need nothing more to do than B should do"? Just a simple explanation would be appreciated.

  • Please include in your question a note about which parts of the quote you already understand and which seem weird - and if possible, why it seems weird. – Lawrence Feb 20 at 3:48

This is an archaic meaning of compass:

compassed; compassing; compasses Definition of compass (Entry 1 of 3) transitive verb

1: to devise or contrive often with craft or skill : PLOT " … persons … who have compassed my destruction … " — Charles Dickens 2: ENCOMPASS a lake compassed by mountains 3a: BRING ABOUT, ACHIEVE


"A need nothing more to do than B should do"

I don't think that paraphrase is quite accurate. The phrase "that good men should look on and do nothing" is acting as a noun, so it's more "A needs have nothing more" than "A needs to do nothing more". A need nothing more" is another archaic feature; in modern English, it's more standard to say "Don't need anything more" than to say "Need nothing more". "should" is used to emphasize the subjunctive nature of "look on and do nothing". In phrasing more standard with regard to current norms, it would be "To accomplish their ends, bad men do not need anything more than that good men look on and do nothing".

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