Favorite Quotes

History & Governance

The past is never dead. It's not even past.
William Faulker
The future is dark, the present burdensome. Only the past, dead and finished, bears contemplation. Those who look upon it have survived it; they are its product and its victors. No wonder therefore that men concern themselves with history.
G.R. Elton, The Practice of History
In England and the United States, in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, in Switzerland and Canada, democracy is today sounder than ever before. It has defended itself with courage and energy against the assaults of foreign dictatorship, and has not yielded to dictatorship at home. But if war continues to absorb and dominate it, or if the itch to rule the world requires a large military establishment and appropriate, the freedoms of democracy may one by one succumb to the discipline of arms and strife. If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security for all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world.
Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, writing in 1968
The democratic will is vulgar; its laws, imperfect. I admit all this. But if it is true that soon there will be no middle way between the empire of democracy and the yoke of one man, ought we not try rather for the former than submit voluntarily to the latter?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, quoted in Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America
Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.
Winston Churchill, though he attributed it to someone else
When one hears about acts of extraordinary bravery in combat, it is usually a sign that the battle has not been going terribly well. For when wars unfold according to plan and one's own side is winning, acts of exceptional individual heroism are rarely called for. Bravery is required mostly by the desperate side.
Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass
Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks of the river.
Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization
Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill-policed and wretchedly governed. Gentlemen of education, he observed, were pretty much the same in all countries; the condition of the lower orders, the poor especially, was the true mark of national discrimination.
Boswell, Life of Johnson, quoted in Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express
We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished? The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen.
Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, quoted in Michael Benson, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece.
If civilization is to mean anything, people have to acknowledge the humanity of their enemies. 
John Hersey, author of Hiroshima
You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they've tried everything else.
apocryphally attributed to Winston Churchill

Character, Education, & Self-formation

Envy is wishing you were in their place; jealousy is wishing they weren't.
Most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so.
Bertrand Russell
Education is what's left over after everything that has been learnt is forgotten. 
James Bryan Conant, President of Harvard University from 1833--1853
Man, unless he has experienced the influence of learning and philosophy, is subject to impulses worse than those of a wild beast. There is no beast more savage and dangerous than a human being who is swept along by the passions of ambition, greed, anger, envy, extravagance, and sensuality.  
A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. 
Mark Twain
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of intelligent women. 
Leo Tolstoy
Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
Richard M. Nixon (farewell speech)
Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become great. 
Mark Twain
If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. 
Shirley Chisholm, first Black Congresswoman
The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. 
Lorraine Hansberry
You seldom get what you pay for, but you never get what you don't pay for.
Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Michael Benson's Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece


Love your work and the rest is easy.
Frances Sergi, my fourth grade teacher at The Kew-Forest School, New York City
He who seeks rest will find boredom; he who seeks work will find rest.
Dylan Thomas
You may be better [than your undergraduate students] at what you do, but you have something to learn from every one of them.
[UC Berkeley CS professor (and Turing Award winner) Manuel Blum, to UC Berkeley CS Professor (and Turing Award winner) Dick Karp](http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/BEARS/CS_Anniversary/karp-talk.html)
Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
Horace Mann, addressing the Antioch College graduating class of 1859


When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around.
The Police
When it feels like life is fucking you, keep changing positions until it feels good.
John Leguizamo, from Latin History for Morons
Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
Winston Churchill
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.
Winston Churchill
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
Mike Tyson
I have problems today that I did not have yesterday. I had problems yesterday that I do not have today. Admission to the burning ruins, ten cents. 
George C. Tilyou, owner of Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, the day after it burned to the ground
We were speaking of the first steps along a path to which one could affix the sign: REASON IN THE SERVICE OF THE URGES. This because the overwhelming majority of the material products of the mind were channeled into sybaritic pursuits. An ingeniously constructed television set dispensed intellectual garbage; sophisticated transportation technologies made it possible for a degenerate, instead of getting soused in his own backyard, to dress up a tourist and do the same in the vicinity of Saint Peter's basilica. If this tendency were to lead to the invasion of the human body by technological contrivances, undoubtedly the idea would be to expand the gamut of pleasurable sensations to the maximum, and perhaps even to bring into being&emdash;besides sex, narcotics, culinary happiness&emdash;other, as yet unknown, kinds of sensual stimulation and gratification.
Stanis\0142aw Lem, His Master's Voice, translated by Michael Kandel

Religion & Philosophy

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future. 
"The Revelation of Sonmi-451" from David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. For when you look deep into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.   
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Pray: To ask that the laws of the universe be temporarily annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
George Bernard Shaw
[Man is] the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. 
Mark Twain
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir
Only a Christian would think of our Buddha as 'just a man'. Our Buddha is a being which all men can become&emdash;something greater than himself&emdash;if he can overcome all his illusions. You cling to your illusions&emdash;and call them faith.
from Martin Scorsese's film Silence, based on the novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
Seneca the Younger
Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixement.
François de la Rochefoucauld


As an artist, you do not rake in a million marks without performing some sacrifice on the altar of Art.
Franz Liszt, to his biographer

City Life

A man of education cannot live among farmers in the country. The moment you leave the neighborhood of a city you are in the midst of barbarism.
Sidney George Fisher (Philadelphia diarist), 1847
They talk very loud, very fast, and altogether [sic]. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer, they will break out upon you again, and talk away.
John Adams, on his dislike for New Yorkers, quoted in The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, by Deirdre Mask
The kind of beauty that makes Paris charming can only exist where private rights and personal liberty are or have been trampled on. Only where the mob rules, or where kings rule, so that there is at one time absolutely no respect for the property of the rich and at another time for the rights of the poor, can the beauties of Paris be realized. 
Niels Gron, ibid.