NQC Quotes

Abigail Adams
“I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature, and that power, whether vested in many or few, is ever grasping. . . . The great fish swallow up the small and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.”

On slaveholders advocating independence: “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs.”

John Adams
On War
“Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one. They are wretched conservators of the peace.”

“Men will be too economical of their blood and property to have recourse to them very frequently.”

“Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.”

“Genius in a general is oftener an instrument of divine vengeance than a guardian angel.”

“War necessarily brings with it some virtues, and great and heroic virtues, too. What horrid creatures we men are, that we cannot be virtuous without murdering one another?”

On the Revolution
Before the war: “We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, education, in travel, fortune—in everything.” We can be thankful he was wrong about this, and that he is one of the principal examples of his erroneous statement.

“We cannot insure success, but we can deserve it” (paraphrased from the play Cato).

“If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way.”

“May Heaven grant us victory if we deserve it; if not, patience, humility, and persistence under defeat.”

Asked if he thought America would succeed in its pursuit of independence: “Yes, if we fear God and repent our sins.”

On Government
“There is a danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

“My fundamental maxim of government is never to trust the lamb to the wolf.”

“[I]n every assembly, members will obtain an influence by noise not sense.”

“Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will do it; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”

“How few aim at the good of the whole, without aiming too much at the prosperity of the parts!”

“Still, they shall find, as long as I am in office, candor, integrity, and, as far as there can be any confidence and safety, a pacific and friendly disposition. If the spirit of exterminating vengeance ever arises, it shall be conjured up by them, not me. In this spirit I shall pursue the negotiation.”

Upon moving into the new President’s House (a.k.a. the White House): “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall herein inhabit. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

At the new Capitol Building: “Here may the youth of this extensive country forever look up without disappointment, not only to the monuments and memorials of the dead, but to the examples of the living.”

“If worthless men are sometimes at the head of affairs, it is, I believe, because worthless men are at the tail and the middle.”

On Education
“The true source of our suffering has been our timidity. We have been afraid to think . . . . Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

“The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved. . . .”

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

“[Y]ou will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

On Society
“[I]t’s of more importance to community that innocence should be protected than it is that guilt should be punished.”

“Daughter! Get you an honest man for a husband, and keep him honest. No matter whether his is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and moral character of the man more than all other circumstances. Think of no other greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart. An honest, sensible, humane man, above all the littleness of vanity and extravagances of imagination, laboring to do good rather than be rich, to be useful rather than make a show, living in modest simplicity clearly within his means and free from debts and obligations, is really the most respectable man in society, makes himself and all about him most happy.”

“[L]et no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act.”

“To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man compromised in a few words.”

“[A]mbition [is] the subtlest beast of the intellectual and moral field . . . [and] wonderfully adroit in concealing itself from its owner.”

When he wrote in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights that “all men are by nature free and equal,” he meant “not a physical but a moral equality. . . . Common sense was sufficient to determine that it could not mean that all men were equal in fact, but in right; not all equally tall, strong, wise, handsome, active, but equally men . . the work of the same Artist, children in the same cases entitled to the same justice.”

“[I] work hard, [my] conscience is neat and easy. Content to live and willing to die. . . . Hoping to do a little good.”

“Admire and adore the Author of the telescopic universe, love and esteem the work, do all in your power to lessen ill, and increase good, but never assume to comprehend.”

“Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.”

Dwight David Eisenhower
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Eric Hoffer (from The True Believer; Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements)
“[T]hough ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious.”

“Where power is not joined with faith in the future, it is used mainly to ward off the new and preserve the status quo.”

“[A] mass movement, particularly in its active revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.”

“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding.  When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

“[T]o the frustrated the present is irremediably spoiled.  Comforts and pleasures cannot make it whole.  No real content of comfort can ever arise in their minds but from hope.”

“There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members.”

“The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.”

“Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach.”

“We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.”

“Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure and frustration.”

“Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden.”

“Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses.  Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority.
“Equality without freedom creates a more stable social pattern than freedom without equality.”

“Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

“The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it off and lose it, produce both a readiness to sacrifice the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one’s individual distinctness in a compact collective whole.”

“[Armies’] uniforms, flags, emblems, parades, music, and elaborate etiquette and ritual are designed to separate the soldier from his flesh-and-blood self and mask the overwhelming reality of life and death.”

“To lose one’s life is but to lose the present; and, clearly, to lose a defiled, worthless present is not to lose much.”

“There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience—the knowledge that our mighty deeds will come to the ears of our contemporaries or ‘of those who are to be.’”

“[T]here is no more potent dwarfing of the present that by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future.  Thus, though a mass movement at first turns its back on the past, it eventually develops a vivid awareness, often specious, of a distant glorious past.”

“The conservative doubts that the present can be bettered, and he tries to shape the future in the image of the present.  He goes to the past for reassurance about the present. . . .”

“The reactionary does not believe that man has unfathomed potentialities for good in him.  If a stable and healthy society is to be established, it must be patterned after the proven models of the past.  He sees the future as a glorious restoration rather than an unprecedented innovation.”

“[The reactionary’s] image of the past is based less on what it actually was than on what he wants the future to be.”

“If [the radical] has to employ violence in shaping the new, his view of man’s nature darkens and approaches closer to that of the reactionary.”

“What surprises one, when listening to the frustrated as they decry the present and all its works, is the enormous joy they derive from doing so. Such delight cannot come from the mere venting of a grievance. There must be something more—and there is. By expatiating upon the incurable baseness and vileness of the times, the frustrated soften their feeling of failure and isolation.”

“Those who fail in everyday affairs show a tendency to reach out for the impossible.  It is a device to camouflage their shortcomings.”

“Satan did not digress to tell all he knew when he said: ‘All that a man hath will he give for his life.’  All he hath—yes.  But he sooner dies than yield aught of that which he hath not yet.”

“It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.”

“We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.”

“By kindling and fanning violent passions in the hearts of their followers, mass movements prevent the settling of an inner balance.”

“The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause.”

“[The fanatic] fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause.”

“[The fanatics of various hues] hate each other with the hatred of brothers.  They are as far apart and close together as Saul and Paul.  And it is easier for a fanatic communist to be converted to fascism, chauvinism, or Catholicism than to become a sober liberal.”

“[The fanatic] sees in tolerance a sign of weakness, frivolity and ignorance.”

“Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”

“[L]ike an ideal deity, the ideal devil is omnipotent and omnipresent.”

“To qualify as a devil, a domestic enemy must be given a foreign ancestry.”

“[M]uch of our proselytizing consists perhaps in infecting others not with our brand of faith but with our particular brand of unreasonable hatred.”

“There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.”

“To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred.  Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.”

“There is a deep reassurance for the frustrated in witnessing the downfall of the fortunate and the disgrace of the righteous. They see in a general downfall an approach to the brotherhood of all. Chaos, like the grave, is a haven of equality.”

“[W]hen we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”

“Propaganda by itself succeeds mainly with the frustrated. Their throbbing fears, hopes and passions crowd at the portals of their senses and get between them and the outside world. They cannot see but what they have already imagined, and it is the music of their own souls they hear in the impassioned words of the propagandist. Indeed, it is easier for the frustrated to detect their own imaginings and hear the echo of their own musings in impassioned double-talk and sonorous refrains than in precise words joined together with faultless logic.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership.  What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”

“There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

“When the leader in a free society becomes contemptuous of the people, he sooner or later proceeds on the false and fatal theory that all men are fools, and eventually blunders into defeat.”

Quoting Hermann Rauschning: “Marching diverts men’s thoughts.  Marching kills thought.  Marching makes an end of individuality.”

“Suspicion is given a sharp edge by associating all opposition within the ranks with the enemy threatening the movement from without.”

“It is [the chosen devil’s] voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges.”

“By elevating dogma above reason, the individual’s intelligence is prevented from becoming self-reliant.”

“Whenever we find a dispensation enduring beyond its span of competence, there is either an entire absence of an educated class or an intimate alliance between those in power and the men of words.”

“When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism.  We merely prevent its leaking out at a certain point, with the likely result that it will leak out at some other point.”

“[The man of action (leader of a mass movement in its post-fanatical phase)] inclines, therefore, to rely mainly on drill and coercion.  He finds the assertion that all men are cowards less debatable than that all men are fools, and, in the words of Sir John Maynard, inclines to found the new order on the necks of the people rather than in their hearts.”

“[A]t the end of its vigorous span the movement is an instrument of power for the successful and an opiate for the frustrated.”

“Where unity and self-sacrifice are indispensable for the normal functioning of a society, everyday life is likely to be either religiofied (common tasks turned into holy causes) or militarized.”

John Locke
“Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy.”

George Mason
“As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this [world]. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, [P]rovidence punishes national sins by national calamities.”

“Our zeal works wonders when it seconds our propensity to hatred, cruelty, ambition, avarice, detraction, rebellion.”

From “Of Pedantry”
“We suffer ourselves to lean and rely so strongly upon the arm of another, that we destroy our own strength and vigour.”

“though we could become learned by other men’s learning, a man can never be wise but by his own wisdom.”

“these fellows, to make a parade and to get opinion, mustering the ridiculous knowledge of theirs, that floats on the superficies of the brain, are perpetually perplexing and entangling themselves in their own nonsense.”

“All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of goodness.”

From “Of the Education of Children”
“I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself, who, also, shall, peradventure, be another thing tomorrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me.”

“the greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children.”

“we may whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others.”

“[the student] shall, by reading [great] books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages.”

“The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine.”

From “That it is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity”
“resolutely to condemn anything for false and impossible, is arrogantly and impiously to circumscribe and limit the will of God, and the power of our mother nature, within the bounds of my own capacity. . . .”

“How many unlikely things are there testified by people worthy of faith, which, if we cannot persuade ourselves absolutely to believe, we ought at least to leave them in suspense; for, to condemn them as impossible, is by a temerarious presumption to pretend to know the utmost bounds of possibility.”

From “Of Cannibals”
“every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country.”

From “That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion we Have of Them”
“The confidence in another man’s virtue is no light evidence of a man’s own. . . .”

“not he whom the world believes, but he who believes himself to be so, is content;”

“A straight oar seems crooked in the water.”

From “Upon Some Verses of Virgil”
“few will quarrel with the license of my writings, who have not more to quarrel with in the license of their own thoughts. . . .”

“Every one is wary and discreet in confession, but men ought to be so in action;”

“Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die;”

“there are . . . people . . . who value themselves upon contempt of themselves, and purport to grow better by being worse.”

“Amongst chief deformities I reckon forced and artificial beauties. . . .”

George Orwell
“. . . [Nationalism is] the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”

“A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.”

“. . . [E]very event that happens seems to [the nationalist] a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade.”

“Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.”

“All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages.”

“. . . [T]ransference [of loyalties to an entity (e.g., nation) outside one’s own] . . . makes it possible for [the nationalist] to be much MORE nationalistic—more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest—than he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge.”

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

“Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which it is felt ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied.”

“The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied.”

“What [the nationalist] wants is to FEEL that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.”

“. . . [The nationalist] wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is going in his own favour. In each case there is the same obsessive fixation on a single subject, the same inability to form a genuinely rational opinion based on probabilities.”

“An intelligent man may half-succumb to a belief which he knows to be absurd, and he may keep it out of his mind for long periods, only reverting to it in moments of anger or sentimentality, or when he is certain that no important issues are involved.”

“. . . [E]ach of them simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again, are obviously extreme cases, but we deceive ourselves if we do not realise that we can all resemble them in unguarded moments.”

“. . . [T]he most fair-minded and sweet-tempered person may suddenly be transformed into a vicious partisan, anxious only to ’score’ over his adversary and indifferent as to how many lies he tells or how many logical errors he commits in doing so.”

“. . . [A]s soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power-worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified—still one cannot FEEL that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function.”

William Tecumseh Sherman
“I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers. . . . It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated (friend or foe), that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. . . .”

“There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

Leo Tolstoy
On Prisons
“Terrible were the brutalized jailers, whose occupation is to torment their brothers, and who were certain that they were fulfilling an important and useful duty.”

“[The prisoners] were deprived of the chief motives that induce weak people to live good lives—regard for public opinion, a sense of shame, and the consciousness of human dignity.”

“The only explanation of what was being done was that it aimed at the prevention of crime, at inspiring awe, at correcting offenders, and at dealing out to them ‘lawful justice’ as the books said. But in reality, nothing in the least resembling these results came to pass. Instead of vice being put to a stop, it only spread farther; instead of being frightened, the criminals were encouraged (many a tramp returned to prison of his own free will); instead of correction, every kind of vice was systematically instilled; while the desire for vengeance, far from being weakened by the measures of the government, was instilled into the people, to whom it was not natural.”

“[T]he only certain means of salvation from the terrible evil from which men are suffering is that they should always acknowledge themselves to be guilty before God, and therefore unable to punish or reform others. . . .”

“Vicious men were trying to reform other vicious men, and thought they could do it by mechanical means.”

On High Society
“[S]he thought more of him that anybody else and therefore evidently understood him. This understanding of him, that is, the recognition of his superior worth, was a proof to Nekhlyudov of her good sense and correct judgment.”

“Nekhlyudov . . . felt with his whole being a loathing for the society in which he had lived till then: that society which so carefully hides the sufferings borne by millions to assure ease and pleasure to a small minority, that the people comprising it do not and cannot see these sufferings nor the cruelty and wickedness of their own lives.”

“’But they suffer. You are a Christian and believe in the Gospel teaching and yet you are so pitiless.’
’That has nothing to do with it. The Gospels are the Gospels, but what is disgusting remains disgusting.’”

“It was clear that everything considered important and good was insignificant and repulsive, and that all this glamour and luxury hid the old well-known crimes, which not only remained unpunished but were adorned with all the splendor men can devise.”

“The law . . . is only an instrument for upholding the existing order of things to the advantage of [the ruling] class.”

On Law
“[T]hese people acknowledge as law what is not law, and do not acknowledge as law at all, the eternal, immutable law written by God in the hearts of men.”

On the Carnal Man vs. the Spiritual Man
“[A]ll this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. This he had done because it was too difficult to live believing one’s self: believing one’s self, one had to decide every question, not in favor of one’s animal I, which is always seeking for easy gratification, but in almost every case against it. Believing others, there was nothing to decide; everything had been decided already, and always in favor of the animal I and against the spiritual. Nor was this all. Believing in his own self, he was always exposing himself to the censure of those around him; believing others, he had their approval.”

“All men live and act partly according to their own, partly according to other people’s ideas. The extent to which they do the one or the other is one of the chief things that differentiate men.”

“The tempter that had been speaking to him in the night again raised his voice, trying to lead him out of the realm of his inner life into the realm of his outer life, away from the question of what he should do, to the question of what the consequences would be and what would be practical.”

“In Nekhlyudov, as in every man, there were two beings; one the spiritual, seeking only that kind of happiness for himself which tends towards the happiness of all; the other, the animal man, seeking only his own happiness, and ready to sacrifice it to the happiness of the rest of the world.”

“The husbandmen [in the parable of the vineyard] imagined that the vineyard in which they were sent to work for their master was their own, and all that was in it was made for them, and that their business was to enjoy life in this vineyard—forgetting the master and killing all those who reminded them of his existence.

“Are we not doing the same . . . when we imagine ourselves to be masters of our lives and that life is given us for enjoyment? For evidently this is absurd. We were sent here by someone’s will and for some purpose, and we have concluded that we live only for our own enjoyment. And of course things go ill with us, as they do with laborers when they do not fulfill their master’s orders.”

On Man’s Stewardship for his Fellowman
“It was simple because he was thinking now, not of what would be the results for him, but only of what he ought to do. And, strange to say, what he ought to do for himself he could not decide, but what he ought to do for others he knew indubitably.”

“The earth cannot be anyone’s property; it cannot be bought or sold anymore than water, air, or sunshine. All have an equal right to the advantages it gives to men.”

“If once we admit—be it only for an hour or in some exceptional case—that anything can be more important that a feeling of love for our fellows, then there is no crime which we may not commit with easy minds, free from feelings of guilt.”

On the Military
“Military life in general depraves men. It places them in conditions of complete idleness, that is, absence of all rational and useful work; frees them from their common human duties, which it replaces by merely conventional duties to the honor of the regiment, the uniform, the flag; and while giving them on the one hand absolute power over other men, also puts them into conditions of servile obedience to those of higher ranks than themselves.”

“[The General] had received [the Order of the White Cross], which he greatly prized, while serving in the Caucasus, because a number of Russian peasants, with cropped hair, dressed in uniforms and armed with guns and bayonets, had killed at his command more than a thousand men who were defending their liberty, their homes, and their families.”

“These regulations had inevitably to be fulfilled, and hence it was absolutely useless to think of the consequences of that fulfillment. The old General did not even allow himself to think of such things, counting it his patriotic duty as a soldier not to think of them for fear of becoming weak in the execution of the obligations that seemed to him so very important.”

On Society Generally
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

“[T]he opinion of the [jury] foreman began to gain ground, chiefly because all the jurymen were getting tired, and preferred to take up the view that would bring them sooner to a decision and thus liberate them.”

“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. In order to keep up their view of life, these people instinctively keep to the circle of those who share their views of life and of their own place in it.”

“It was clear that she considered herself a heroine ready to lay down her life for the success of her cause; yet she could hardly have explained what that cause was, or in what its success consisted.”

“[A]ll sorts of violence, cruelty, and inhumanity, are not only tolerated but even sanctioned by Government when it suits its purpose.”

On the Protection of the Church
“It was his [the liaison between the church and the government] duty to maintain, and to defend by external measures not excluding violence, that Church which, by its own declaration, was established by God himself and could not be shaken by the gates of hell or any human effort. This divine and immutable God-established institution had to be sustained and defended by a human institution.”


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