Favorite Quotations

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Never am I less alone than when I am by myself, never am I more active than when I do nothing.

‑Cato the elder (as quoted in Hannah Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Policital Philosophy)


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The good man is an athlete who likes to compete in the nude.  He disdains all those vile ornaments which would hamper the use of his strength, most of which were invented only to hide some deformity.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau from his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (First Discourse)


We shall not readily lose the modern state; and we have really no good reason to suppose that the human race as a whole will survive its passing, if we do do so.  So we do need a theory of how the governments of modern states can least badly be controlled.  But neither shall we readily lose the fiercely demanding images of human fulfilment and human liberty which indict the reality of every modern state and modern society.  To exist, as we are now compelled to do, at the intersection of these incompatible rationalities is to be sentenced politically to a condition of ineradicable bad faith.
If we are all democrats today, it is not a very cheerful fate to share.  Today, in politics, democracy is the name for what we cannot have  — yet cannot cease to want.

-John Dunn from Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future

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Some one may wonder why I go about in private giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in public and advise the state.  I will tell you the reason of this.  You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me. . . .The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician.  And rightly, I think.  For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago, and done no good either to you or to myself.  And don’t be offended at my telling you the truth:  for the truth is, that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.

-Socrates in Plato’s “Apology” [Jowett trans.]

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The virtues required of him (the jazz musician) are undistractability, attention, preparedness and concentration.  He becomes an improviser in a compulsory situation.  The illusionness of his performance is turned into that sporting facility which consists in being unsettled by nothing.  Nothing is more frowned upon than rubato.  Under monopoly conditions the heir to the virtuoso is he who accommodates himself most efficiently to the team.  In so far as he does stand out personally in any way, this is regulated by the function that he performs in the team, in the ideal case by effacing himself, leaping to save a goal and thus serving the collective.  The jazz musician and everyone in front of the microphone or camera are forced to inflict violence upon themselves.
-Theodor Adorno from “The Schema of Mass Culture”

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Political philosophy seems often to reside at a distance from the world.  Principles are one thing, politics another, and even our best efforts to ‘live up’ to our ideals typically founder on the gap between theory and practice.

But if political philosophy is unrealizable in one sense, it is unavoidable in another.  This is the sense in which philosophy inhabits the world from the start; our practices and institutions are embodiments of theory . . . . for all our uncertainties about ultimate questions of political philosophy — of justice and value and the nature of the good life — the one thing we know is that we live some answer all the time.

-Michael Sandel from “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self”

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Liberalism — it is well to recall this today — is the supreme form of generosity; it is the right which the majority concedes to minorities and hence it is the noblest cry that has ever resounded on this planet.  It announces the determination to share existence with the enemy; more than that, with an enemy which is weak.  It was incredible that the human species should have arrived at so noble an attitude, so paradoxical, so refined, so anti-natural.  Hence it is not to be wondered at that this same humanity should soon appear anxious to get rid of it.  It is a discipline too difficult and complex to take firm root on earth.

-Jose Ortega Y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses

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(In the voice of Nature: )

Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit and will severely punish by the pensive melancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception which your pretended discoveries shall meet with when communicated.  Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

-David Hume,  Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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Our freedom must consist of peaceful enjoyment and private independence.  The share which in antiquity everyone held in national sovereignty was by no means an abstract presumption as it is in our own day. . . Lost in the multitude, the individual can almost never perceive the influence he exercises.  Never does his will impress itself upon the whole; nothing confirms in his eyes his own cooperation.

-Benjamin Constant, Political Writings [Fontana trans.]

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