This is a collection of quotations that reflect the way I think about the world. They express ideas that I value. Some are cynical, others hopeful. Some are beautiful in the way they encapsulate principles in just a few words. Nearly all of them require that you know the implicit background ideas on which they are founded.
This is a work in progress. Do visit from time to time.
(Most recent update: Apr 19, 2020. Prior update Oct 13, 2019.)
It may well be that the chemist or physiologist is right when he decides that he will become a better chemist or physiologist if he concentrates on his subject at the expense of his general education. But in the study of society exclusive concentration on a speciality has a peculiarly baneful effect: it will not merely prevent us from being attractive company or good citizens but may impair our competence in our proper field—or at least for some of the most important tasks we have to perform. The physicist who is only a physicist can still be a first class physicist and a most valuable member of society. But nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist—and I am even tempted to add that the economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.
Friedrich Hayek, Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
“It is as difficult to make a people free that is resolved to live in servitude, as it is to subject a people to servitude that is determined to be free.”
To usurp supreme and absolute authority in a free State and subject it to tyranny, the people must have already become corrupt by gradual steps from generation to generation. And therefore all such as desire to make a change in the government of a republic, whether in favor of liberty or in favor of tyranny, must well examine the condition of things, and from that judge of the difficulties of their undertaking. For it is as difficult to make a people free that is resolved to live in servitude, as it is to subject a people to servitude that is determined to be free. In any such attempts men should well consider the state of the times and govern themselves accordingly.
From “Discourses” by Machiavelli “On the Books of Titus Livius.”
Intelligent individuals learn from every thing and every one; average people, from their experiences. The stupid already have all the answers.
You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.
From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.
Abraham Lincoln 1837
Climbing a tree will get you closer to the moon but will not actually get you there.
If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
If men should cease and desist from their talk about and their search for evil men and commence to look instead at the institutions manned by ordinary people, wide avenues for genuine social reform might appear.
James Buchanan The Limits of Liberty
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights. Liberty is my foremost passion. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.
Equality is a slogan based on envy. It signifies in the heart of every republican: “Nobody is going to occupy a place higher than I.”
Alexis de Tocqueville
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.”
Will and Ariel Durant
The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.
To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.
Henri Poincaré, La Science et la Hypothèse
The great obstacle to discover[y]… was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.
The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself
Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
Robert A. Heinlein
The first person to throw an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.
Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.
Marie Curie to reporters
A cold-blooded, calculating, unprincipled usurper, without a virtue; no statesman, knowing nothing of commerce, political economy, or civil government, and supplying ignorance by bold presumption.
Thomas Jefferson on Napoleon Bonaparte
A multitude of laws in a country is like a great number of physicians, a sign of weakness and malady.
Politics—the art of living in a polis—is not an activity that can be dispensed with by those who prefer private life: it is not like seafaring or sculpture which those who do not wish to do so need not undertake. Political conduct is intrinsic to being a human being at a certain stage of civilization, and what it demands is intrinsic to living a successful human life.
It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.
The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.
Bertrand de Jouvenel
When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.
I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.
Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.
It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.
Arnold J. Toynbee
“I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave.”
Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 BCE – 323 BCE), to Alexander when asked why he was looking at a pile of bones.
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.
Friedrich A Hayek. (1899 – 1991) — The Fatal Conceit
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
There was a great Marxist named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in,
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.
Robert Conquest (1917 – 2015)
To perplex the opinion of the publick many artifices have been used, which, as usually happens, when falsehood is to be maintained by fraud, lose their force by counteracting one another.
Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784)
“Go! Profit from exile to see and listen. Walk. Pause beside wise mean. Question savages and madmen, and listen to stories. It’s always pleasant, and sometimes it improves you.”
Vyasa’s advise to the Pandavas. From the screenplay of Peter Brook’s 1989 film, “The Mahabharata”
“Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.
Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.
The United States is like the guy at the party who gives cocaine to everybody and still nobody likes him.
Fame is proof that people are gullible.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.
“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
“Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. It is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
H. L. Mencken