From one of my favourite books of all time: Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.
The first few are new here, but I then
attend append – not sure what I was thinking – to the end of the post “Some light weekend contempt” (August 21 2009) and “Some (more) light weekend contempt” (October 25 2009) – because those quotes are mostly excellent, funny and timeless and I have good reason to believe you haven’t seen them before and I hope they delight you as much as they do me.
On the lead-up to May 18
People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck
Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
George Jean Nathan
In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.
Terry M. Townshend, speech 1940
Whatever politicians, activists and manipulators propose, it is the phlegmatic, indifferent, ingrained electorate which disposes.
Don Aitkin, quoted, 1969
On why I don’t trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability and recall
What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665
There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694
The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see of his behind.
General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell
On democracy’s ability to hide underlying power dynamics – and how it is invariably abused by the powerful
A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917
Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.
Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912
Parliaments are the great lie of our times.
Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896
(Hmm, this reminds of something):
That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.
Woodrow Wilson, 1917
On whose fault it is, anyway
Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916
On the (slightly fascist) idea that in as far as democracy allows the views of ‘the average man and women’ to be the dominant view, it is an awful system of government
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
Democracy: a festival of mediocrity.
E. M. Cioran
The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.
Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
A man may have strong humanitarian and democratic principles, but if he happens to have been brought up as a bath-taking, shirt-changing lover of fresh air, he will have to overcome certain physical repugnances before he can bring himself to put these principles into practice.
Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate, 1926
An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.
Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923
Some light weekend contempt
Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.
James Russel Lowell
Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken, 1916
An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.
Simon Cameron, 1860
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke – 1769
A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.
A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.
Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.
David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973
Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.
Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955
What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.
Some (more) light weekend contempt
On the drift to the left in South African policy making:
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
- P. J. O’Rourke
On certain young leaders in South African politics:
Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.
- Thomas Fuller 1732
On the much revered family of North American mythology – and a metaphor for the Ruling Alliance:
Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.
- August Strindberg 1886
On love – and the current state of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance:
The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.
- Henry Haskins 1940
On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?
What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?
- Bertolt Brecht 1928
A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.
- Robert Frost
A woman can look both moral and exciting – if she looks as if it were quite a struggle.
- Edna Ferber 1954
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.
- H.L. Mencken 1956