Michael DeBow's QUOTES PAGE

Last updated on June 19, 2016.

A frequent reference to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.
                -- North Carolina Constitution, art. I, sec. 35

We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
                -- George Orwell 

Markets or Politics ?

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.
                -- Friedrich Hayek

It is no crime to be ignorant of economics . . . but it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.
                -- Murray Rothbard

It does not of course follow that whenever laissez faire falls short government interference is expedient; since the inevitable drawbacks and disadvantages of the latter may, in any particular case, be worse than the shortcomings of private enterprise.
                -- Henry Sidgwick, The Principles of Political Economy 414 (1901)

The beneficial effect of State intervention, especially in the form of legislation, is direct, immediate, and so to speak visible, whilst its evil effects are gradual and indirect, and lie outside our sight . . . .  Hence the majority of mankind must almost of necessity look with undue favor upon government intervention.  This natural bias can be countenanced only by the existence, in a given society, . . . of a presumption or prejudice in favour of individual liberty, that is of laissez faire.
                -- A.V. Dicey, Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion during the
                    Nineteenth Century 257 (1914)

Faith in the power of benevolent government is very difficult to shake.
                -- Judge Alex Kozinski (1991)

When I was editor of The Journal of Law and Economics, we published a whole series of studies of regulation and its effects.  Almost all the studies -- perhaps all the studies -- suggested that the results of regulation had been bad, that the prices were higher, that the product was worse adapted to the needs of consumers, than it otherwise would have been.  I was not willing to accept the view that all regulation was bound to produce these results.  Therefore, what was my explanation for the results we had?  I argued that the most probable explanation was that the government now operates on such a massive scale that it had reached the stage of what economists call negative marginal returns. Anything additional it does, it messes up.  But that doesn't mean that if we reduce the size of government considerably, we wouldn't find then that there were some activities it did well.  Until we reduce the size of government, we won't know what they are.
                --  Nobel laureate Ronald Coase, interviewed in Reason magazine (1997) (emphasis

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.
                -- Ernest Benn (there's another version attributed to Groucho Marx)

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
                -- H.L. Mencken ("Women as Outlaws," Smart Set, December 1921, reprinted in H.L.
                        Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy 29 (1949)).

Last Saturday the best-known Rolling Stone appeared at a British American Business Association reception. Mick Jagger wanted a low-key do, so it was just me and Mick and about 40 others -- and I was the only one taking notes. . . .
I asked about his early Stones days as a student at the London School of Economics, and he laughed. "Oh, it was government stuff," he said. "In those days they taught socialism, Marxism. Nothing that had to do with anything."
                -- David Lewis's "Reporter's Notebook" column in the Sept. 20, 1994 Rocky Mountain News, reprinted in the Wall
                    Street Journal's "Notable & Quotable" feature, Nov. 16, 1994.

A politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies.
                -- Friedrich Nietzsche 

An election is nothing more than an advance auction of stolen goods.
                -- Ambrose Bierce

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
                -- Frederic Bastiat

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.
                -- George Bernard Shaw

The more laws, the less justice.
                -- Cicero (107-43 B.C.E.)

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.
                -- Tacitus (56-117 C.E.)

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.
                -- John Locke   

On "what sort of despotism democratic nations have to fear":
Democratic government grown into "an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure [individuals'] gratifications and to watch over their fate.  That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild."  Such a government "covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform."  The result would be a "power [that] does not destroy" but rather "compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."
                -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. II, bk. 4, ch. 6 (1840)

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
                -- Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington (1788)

I am not a friend to a very energetic government.  It is always oppressive.
                -- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison (1787)

[I]t is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.
                -- David Hume

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent . . . . The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
                -- Justice Louis Brandeis (1928), dissenting in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 479

Paradox of voting and prisoner's dilemma illustrated in a short space

    "The reason I don't vote is: My vote is not going to make a difference," he [Joseph Heller] says, "and since I don't enjoy waiting on line and answering questions and signing my name just to pull a lever that gives me no satisfaction, it became irrational for me to vote.  I do have preferences in most elections."
    But what, he's asked, if your preferred candidate lost by one vote?
    "You go back to your files," he says, "and find me a case in which somebody lost a city, state or federal election by one vote."
    The conversation is beginning to sound like a scene from "Catch-22," specifically the scene in which Yossarian says he's done more than enough fighting and wants to quit.  "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way," says Major Major.  Yossarian replies: "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way."
    Suppose all voters felt the way you do?
    "Then I would vote," Heller says.  "If I knew nobody else would vote, of course I would vote."
                -- Peter Carlson, "The Heights of Absurdity," Washington Post, March 19, 1998, p. D1
                        (interview of Joseph Heller, the author of "Catch-22").  (The conversation between
                        Yossarian and Major Major is at the end of chapter nine.) 


More from Tom Wolfe

    [Bill] Moyers:  I recently did for this series an interview with Noam Chomsky.  And he repeated what he and Herbert Marcuse were espousing in the sixties, that this has, as Tom Wolfe says, been the freest period ever in any society: that Americans are more free that any other people.  But that in a political sense this freedom is meaningless -- no matter how much personal prosperity it brings -- it's meaningless politically because a corporate structure, private and public power, so dominates the landscape that it dictates the options from which people can choose and those options are not really that much contrasting.  And therefore the personal freedom can be spent on trivial things, but is lost on politicial things.  What do you think about that?
    Wolfe:  Well, in short, I think it's absolute rubbish.  Marcuse invented the marvelous term "repressive tolerancre."  And this is what is known as abjectival repression.  And his idea was: these people are so free it's an instrument that the masters use to repress them.  And so it's abjectival fascism.  In this country there's always abjectival fascism; usually concocted by writers and thinkers.  I think what happened to Marcuse, was here's a guy from Europe, he ends up in La Jolla, California-- that's where he did his deep thinking -- he walked along the beach, he comes to Wind and Sea Beach.  And here were these fabulous-looking young men and women, and they're bursting with vitality and power.  They look like the people that Marcuse as a young man saw on the strike posters in Europe, the proletarian breaking the -- Prometheus breaking the bonds of capitalism.  And he looked at them as the young rebels.  Instead they were surfing.  And he said, "They're free, they're strong, the masters have ruined them, they wanted to go surfing and smoke a little dope."  He says it's a repressive time.  That's absolutely rubbish.  This is the old cabal theory that somewhere there's a room with a beige-covered desk, and there are a bunch of capitalists sitting around, and they're pulling strings.  These rooms don't exist.  I mean, I hate to tell Noam Chomsky this.
    Moyers:  You don't share that --
    Wolfe:  I think it is the most absolute rubbish I've ever heard.  This is the current fashion in the universities.  I mean, a lot of it is at -- you find it at places like Harvard and others; the notion that the masters -- and this is a term you'll hear, the masters.  It's another term for the establishment, the cabal, which is never located, incidentally, but that's the term -- controls us not through military power, police power, and the obvious means, but by controlling the way we think.  Frankly, I can't remember a period in which politics were more removed from corporate influence.  Corporations are pussycats right now in the political arena, they're terrified.
                -- From an interview broadcast on PBS in 1988, reprinted in Conversations with
                    Tom Wolfe (Dorothy Scura, ed. 1990).

Knothead Poetry Corner

Rudyard Kipling, The Gods of the Copybook Headings (1919)
    Is described and read by John Derbyshire, here.

W.B. Yeats, Politics (1938)


A final word from H.L. Mencken (1926):

[T]he true charm of democracy is not for the democrat but for the spectator.  That spectator, it seems to me, is favoured with a show of the first cut and calibre.  Try to imagine anything more heroically absurd!  What grotesque false pretenses!  What a parade of obvious imbecilities!  What a welter of fraud!  But is fraud unamusing?

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