Commonplace 2011


“[Pope] Nicholas [V] was a polymath and bibliophile of extraordinary range; his friend and eventual successor, the fun-loving Pius II (the only Pope, as far as we know, who wrote an erotic novel), said of him that ‘what he does not know is outside the range of human knowledge.’”

(from God’s Librarians, by Daniel Mendelsohn, in the New Yorker, January 3; is this the source of the rhyme about Benjamin Jowett: ‘what I don’t know isn’t knowledge’?)


On Education and Jobs

“This is the best-educated generation in Spanish history, and they are entering a job market in which they are underutilized,” said Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the leader of the Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain’s two largest labor unions. “It is a tragedy for the country.”

“I’m a repentant college graduate,” she [Francesca Esposito] said. “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t go to college and would just start working.”                                                                                                                      (from NYT report on unemployed graduates in Europe, January 2)

“Competing in a global economy requires spare-no-expense effort to improve education.”                                                                                                                 (NYT Editorial, January 2)


“When we arrive at a state of competition, somebody may well go broke. Some large company, if it is not managed well, might go under. But there has to be some alternative to a system that is designed to make sure nobody goes broke, no matter how badly they are run.”                   (Alfred E.  Kahn, head of the Civil Aeronautics Board, in 1978, quoted in NYT, January 2)


“Oxford really has a genius loci of great power, which I began to feel. It is the perfect example of a place that is greater than the sum of the people inside it. Many of the dons use this force to shore up themselves – becoming imitation landed-gentry or clubmen; but the place carries them along with it, a little distance anyway, and even the most recalcitrant undergraduate is somewhat changed. It isn’t possible to spend three years inside those walls without emerging a little les brutish than before.”                              (from J. P. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger, p 126)


“It was astonishing, the selflessness of human beings, when they’re convinced that what they’re doing is worth while, and no one is taking advantage of them.”                                                                                                                   (from J. P. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger, p 143)


“To be perceptively kind about his work is the greatest service one writer can do for another.”                                                                  (from J. P. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger, p 158)


“I haven’t any conclusions to offer. I mistrust other people’s too much to try any of my own. A man believes different things at different times, or perhaps different versions of the same thing. Most of us try to suspend the question and try to live in the present which is only today’s version of the past.”                                                    (from J. P. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger, p 212)


“Once you’ve experienced the infinite significance of another person’s life you feel something of the same for all lives, and for your own. There remains in the world this infinite significance and to every event we owe a responsibility. Also we must forgive ourselves. You can construct a universe out of that, a heaven and a hell.”     (from J. P. Kavanagh’s The Perfect Stranger, p 212)


Life and Death in Mao’s China

“Two days into the New Year, Zhou emerged from his coma and appeared to be in better spirits. A ‘glimmer of life returned,’ as, several times, he invited his staff to read and reread Mao’s poems, listening quietly and uttering a mere word or two of reaction. Upon hearing the lines ‘Don’t fart any more! Look the world is being turned upside down,’ uttered by a wayward sparrow in ‘Two Birds,’ Zhou broke into a smile, and was heard to murmur, probably sardonically, ‘China produced a Mao Zedong!’

Six days later, on January 8, 1976, Zhou Enlai, the Premier of China, died.”                                                           (the conclusion to Gao Wenqian’s Zhou Enlai, The Last Perfect Revolutionary)

“Failure to increase the limit would be deeply irresponsible. Given the gravity of the challenges facing the U.S. and world economies, the world’s confidence in our creditworthiness is even more critical today.”                                                                                                      (from Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s letter to Congress, reported in NYT, January 6)


“It [Haddon] looked no less lovely when lived in again, and at dinner I asked the sister of the owner, my old friend Lady Diana Cooper, next to whom I was sitting, if she was not very attached to it, and she said, yes, adding, ‘But roots are our of fashion now.’ . . . So they were, and so, more than ever, they are: but through hidden, they can still strengthen, just as they can on occasion enfeeble the character.”                                                                                                                                                      (Osbert Sitwell, in Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 1, Chapter 1)


“And it is must be remembered that to move mountains is easier, often, than to influence those around you, and that the actual moving of them, with the illusion of power it affords – similar to that experienced by Xerxes when he ordered the sea to be flogged – offers concrete compensation for lack of success in other, more human, directions.”                                                                                                 (Osbert Sitwell, in Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 1, Chapter 1)


“To be financially safe, he [Osbert’s father] felt, one should be friendless. (‘Such a mistake,’ he remarked to me once, without explanation, ‘to have friends!’)”                                                                                                           (Osbert Sitwell, in Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 1, Chapter 2)


“No gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers.”                                                                                                                                    (Richard Heber, according to Osbert Sitwell, in Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 1, Chapter 2)


More on Dead Parrots

“The parrot, too, had long been dead and stuffed so as to give the illusion of life, and to prevent the storm that, even then, would have rained down on the heads of her retainers had she discovered that they had allowed this lovely creature to die. She was too old, unfortunately, to tell the difference between animate and inanimate.”                                                                                                     (Osbert Sitwell, on Lady Worcester, later Duchess of Beaufort, who took ‘her pet parrot out for a drive in the New Forest’, from his Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 1, Chapter 3)


“In Davis’s attitude can be distinguished that commonsense view of war which prevailed in England among the working classes from the time of the Norman invasion until the end of the nineteenth century (an outlook similar to the Chinese, which saw soldiering a low and disgraceful profession), the same which in medieval times had made the villeins shake their sides with laughter as they saw their ridiculous masters strutting off to the wars; while in the opposing attitude of my grandmother and mother would perhaps be seen the survival of that same fire which had caused the nobles to kill each other off for no reason, except an exaggerated sense of honor and loyalty, during such struggles as the Wars of the Roses.”                                                                                       (Osbert Sitwell, in Left Hand, Right Hand!, Book 2, Chapter 4)


Conan Doyle, Are You Listening?

“The mischief arising from pretended communications with the spirit world cannot well be over-estimated: and if, for the sake of argument, it were allowed that some so-called spiritualists really and honestly believe themselves to be possessed of the powers which they assume, they should be among the first to encourage prosecutions such as we have indicated.”   (from the Daily Telegraph for Tuesday, January 13, 1880, on Sir George Sitwell’s and Herr Carl von Buch’s detection of fraud at a séance, reported in Osbert Sitwell’s Left Hand, Right Hand!, Appendix A)


“No country becomes a nation without a common accepted narrative that goes beyond individuals. Hence the U.S. and its Mayflower, Tea Party, the War of Independence, the Wild West stories. When there is a narrative that provides a sense of sharedness, then the sense of nationhood cements itself.”                                                         (Maina Kiai, Kenya human rights advocate, on the referendum on independence for South Sudan, quoted in NYT, January 9)


“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.”                                                                                                                        (Johan Norberg, in the Spectator, January 1)


“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”                                                        (Lady Thatcher, according to Johan Norberg in the Spectator, January 1)


“The mere fact of collective self-government, or egalitarian distribution of consumer durables, does not make you either more sophisticated or more tolerant of others. Indeed, to the extent that it contributes to an extraordinary smugness of self-regard, it actually reinforces the worst kind of ethnic solipsism.”                                      (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 11)


The Intellectual Shows Disdain for Commerce…..

“As for those who came after, it is depressing to record how quickly and in what numbers the graduates of the 1970s and since resorted to the world of private banking, commerce, and the dire remunerative reaches of the law.”             (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 16)


…. And Mistakes a Mechanism for an Ideology

“But ‘the market’ – like ‘dialectical materialism’ – is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question). It has its true believers – mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow-travelers – who may privately doubt the claims of its dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom on the US especially have dutifully swallowed the pill, and proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.”                                                                                         (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 20)


“..I was once asked what I thought were America’s three strongest assets. I replied without hesitation: ‘Thomas Jefferson, Chuck Berry, and the New York Review of Books.”                                                                                                          (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 22)


“In academic life, the word [‘identity’] has comparably mischievous uses. Undergraduates today can select from a swathe of identity studies: ‘gender studies,’ ‘women’s studies,’ ‘Asian-Pacific-American studies,’ and dozens of others. The shortcoming of all of these para-academic programs is not that they concentrate on a given ethnic or geographical minority; it is that they encourage members of that minority to study themselves – thereby simultaneously negating the goals of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine. All too frequently, such programs are job-creation schemes for their incumbents, and outside interest is actively discouraged. Blacks study blacks, gays study gays, and so forth.”                                                                                 (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 23)


“In this sense, American Jews are instinctively correct to indulge their Holocaust obsession: it provides reference, liturgy, example, and moral instruction – as well as historical proximity. And yet they are making a terrible mistake: they have confused a means of remembering with a reason to do so. Are we really Jews for no better reason than that Hitler sought to exterminate our grandparents? If we fail to rise above this consideration, our grandchildren will have little cause too identify with us.”                                   (Tony Judt, in The Memory Chalet, Chapter 24)


“Few adults, very few, are aware to what extent children watch their parents, constantly on the lookout for some sign of how they should approach the world; how sharp and vibrant their intelligence is in the years leading up to the disaster of puberty, how quick to summarize, to draw broad conclusions. Very few adults realize that every child, naturally, instinctively, is a philosopher.”                   (Michel Houellebecq, in Public Enemies, quoted in NYT, January 12)


“My passionate interest in social justice and social responsibility has always stood in curious contrast to a marked lack of desire for direct association with men and women.”                                                                          (Alfred Einstein, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“This subject brings me to that vilest offspring of the herd mind – the odious militia. The man who enjoys marching in line and file to the strains of music falls below my contempt; he received his great brain by mistake – the spinal cord would have been sufficient. Heroism at command, senseless violence, the accursed bombast of patriotism – how intensely I despise them!”                                   (Alfred Einstein, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“Theism is rich in comforts. It is associated with the dream of life after death and of reward for virtue unrewarded on earth. On the latter point, and the correlative threat of hellfire, religion has been a boon to society, promoting charity and reducing crime. These social benefits, unlike mere wishful thinking, are a sound reason for promoting religious doctrine. Whether they are a sufficient reason, I hesitate to say; but they afford no evidence of truth.”                                                                                                   (W. V. Quine, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating and to end with something so paradoxical that no-one will believe it.”                                                                                               (Bertrand Russell, quoted in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“If the intellectual has any function in society, it is to preserve a cool and unbiased judgment in the face of all solicitations to passion.”                                                                                                                                             (Bertrand Russell, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“Much of the hatred in the world springs from bad digestion and inadequate functioning of the glands, which is the result of oppression and thwarting in youth.”                                                                                                            (Bertrand Russell, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“The premises of this philosophy make it possible to gratify all the baser impulses under a cloak of propriety by saying ‘I am a rich man, but I have this and that individual sorrow which keeps me a saved and spiritual man. It is true that the source and extent of my wealth are such that others have to go poor in order that I should have it, but this is a good thing, as it provides them with the barrier between them and their desires which is necessary for salvation.’”                                                                              (Rebecca West, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“It might perfectly well happen that some scientific discovery and some change in the environment might put women into a position of power over men, and that women might find it immensely stimulating to develop a theory, and enforce it in practice, that men were happiest if they ran about on all fours with their posteriors painted like mandrils and were never allowed to learn to read. There is no end to the cantrips we may indulge in if we do not eradicate this cruelty from our nature, or to the deterioration of our history that may result; for if cruelty is a stimulus to action, it also determines the quality of our actions.“                                                                                                                                (Rebecca West, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“He [St. Augustine] therefore found great pleasure in imagining a gross drama in which the devil held humanity in his power by reason of its sins and would have condemned it to death wholesale has he not killed Christ, after which he could not claim the blood of humanity since in the divine life of Christ he had been paid so much more than it owed him. Since God is omnipotent, He is of course responsible for this whole arrangement, and Augustine admits that He could have arranged for the redemption of man by other means, and the He chose this one only because it proved His love for humanity. In fact, a crime which should have shamed humanity into virtue is shown to be the contrivance of the highest good, and the criminals to have served the most mystical and exalted of ends. This doctrine involves so many absurdities that no church, neither Protestant nor Catholic, has ever formulated it precisely and adopted it. But vaguely as it is held, it nevertheless has poisoned the Western mind with the suggestion implied in the word atonement. Cruelty has made the forces of its chief enemy work in its service.”                                               (Rebecca West, in What I Believe, edited by Mark Booth)


“Evergreen’s joint-venture factory in Wuhan occupies a long, warehouselike concrete building in an industrial park located in an inauspicious neighborhood. A local employee said the municipal police had used the site for mass executions into the 1980s.”                                                                 (from a report on Evergreen Solar’s moving its manufacturing of solar panels from Massachusetts to China because of government aid and reduced prices, in NYT, January 15)


“The man that hath not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery …., affecting incidents, just thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings, and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem, may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talent and much reading, who … has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for  a natural poetic genius… But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination… [It] may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned.”                                                                                        (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Bibliographia Literaria, p 153, quoted by A. Alvarez in The Writer’s Voice, Chapter 2)


“Censorship is the mother of metaphor.”                                                                                                                                (Borges [where?], quoted by A. Alvarez in The Writer’s Voice, Chapter 3)


“None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”                                                                                                                       (Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, when replying to a question about what market research had gone into the development of the iPad, from NYT, January 19)


“Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”                                (Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama in his inauguration speech, quoted in NYT, January 20)


“There is no place in striving humanity for the unpractical aesthetician or the ‘escapist’. Loyalties offered to beautiful delusions, especially delusions concerning values no longer in fashion, are counted as treason against marching progress, as blasphemy against the god of our day, the all-hallowed clock.”                                                                                                                        (from Christopher Sykes’s The Inspiration of a Persian, in Four Studies in Loyalty)


“The Greeks, in contrast with the English, are lacking in that quality of self-deception which so assists a moral people in its dubious enterprises.”      (Robert Byron, in The Byzantine Achievement, quoted by Christopher Sykes in Robert Byron, from Four Studies in Loyalty)


“Scruples and sloth make happy bedfellows. The Nazis were already steeped in the blood of innocents and were turning hungry eyes on the vulnerable British Empire, yet English people continued to be so preoccupied with their own guilt in the bloodshed of the last war that they deemed it sinful to cast the first stone. That we were rich seemed to be infamous, that we ruled an Empire seemed embarrassingly wicked, that we had a minute army and a large navy seemed heavy charges against our pretensions to be a virtuous state. England, threatened with swift destruction, remained pacifist.”                                                                                                                                              (from Christopher Sykes’s Robert Byron, in Four Studies in Loyalty)


“It would be as inept as ungracious for an Englishman to lecture France in the resumption of her most poisonous political traditions at the same time as our own country joyfully celebrated the victory of freedom by renewing her most unintelligent ones; both our countries have one error of reasoning in common: a belief that freedom is much honoured by organized mutual loathing.”                              (from Christopher Sykes’s In Times of Stress, from Four Studies in Loyalty)


“Hamlet can sound self-pitying. He’s always whining, something being rotten in Denmark and the world so awful. To get over that, Michael suggested that because Hamlet himself had a large intellect, that he turned those complaining moments into a kind of wonderment and would analyze everything as a fresh discovery. It was a superb way of getting rid of the danger of self-pity, and an astounding piece of direction because it was valuable throughout the play.”                                                                                                              (Christopher Plummer on the advice that director Michael Langham gave him in 1957, from the latter’s NYT obituary, January 23)


“Let life be its own answer. You learn to live mainly by living — and making a lot of mistakes.” Or, if that’s too hard, try this: “Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted.”                                                                               (Sarah Bakewell, in NYT Book Review, January 23)

“If William [James] is often said to be novelistic, that’s because he is widely — but wrongly — thought to write well,” the philosopher Jerry Fodor told me. “If Henry [James] is said to be philosophical, that’s because he is widely — but wrongly — thought to write badly.”                                                                                       (James Ryerson, in NYT Book Review, January 23)


“In its more enlightened form, this reticence about racial murder reflected a principled hesitation to endorse Hitler’s racist understanding of the world. The Jews were not citizens of any one country, went the reasoning, and thus to group them together, went the fear, was to acknowledge their unity as a race, and to accept Hitler’s racial view of the world. In its less enlightened form, this view was a concession to popular anti-Semitism – very much present in the Soviet Union, Poland, Britain, and the United States.”   (from Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Chapter 11)


“It is far more inviting, at least today in the West, to identify with the victims than to understand the historical setting that they shared with their perpetrators and bystanders in the bloodlands. The identification with the victim affirms a radical separation from the perpetrator. The Treblinka guard who starts the engine or the NKVD officer who pulls the trigger is not me, he is the person who kills someone like myself. Yet it is unclear whether this identification with victims brings much knowledge, or whether this kind of alienation from the murderer is an ethical stance. It is not at all obvious that reducing history to morality plays makes anyone moral.

Unfortunately, claiming victim status does not itself bring sound ethical choices.”                                                                                                  (from Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Conclusion)


“The dead are remembered, but the dead do not remember. Someone else had the power, and someone else decided how they died. Later on, someone else decides why. When meaning is drawn from killing, the risk is that more killing will bring more meaning.”                                                                                                                    (from Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Conclusion)


“The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate, some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision. It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.”                                                             (from Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Conclusion)



Humour in the Kremlin

“Act of the Secretariat of the CCRCP dated May 23, 1924. Comrade [Ramsay] Macdonald to be appointed secretary of the Ukom in Kyshtym, passage being guaranteed on the same ticket with Comrade Urquhart [British president of the Lena Goldfields concession in Siberia].

Comrade Tomsky to be appointed Premier in London, at the same time two starched collars being provided for his use.”        (spoof Politburo resolution drafted by Bukharin, after discussion of Macdonald’s uselessness as PM, but effective contributor to the Communist cause, witnessed by Boris Bajanov, and recorded by Gordon Brook-Shepherd in The Storm Petrels, Chapter 3)


“The rest, including the authorities in London, regarded him [Boris Bajanov] at the time of his escape not as the absolutely priceless capture he would be seen as today, but with indifference mixed with disdain. A gentleman, we can almost hear them murmuring, just does not turn his coat, even if that garment had been a violent Bolshevik red.”                                                                                                            (from Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s The Storm Petrels, Chapter 3)


“Ah, ma’am, when husband and wife splits, it’s the horses that suffer.”                                          (line from The New York Idea, by Langston Mitchell, quoted in NYT review, January 27)


“The lovely Nymphes have oft times seene him swimme,

And closely stole his clothes from off the brim,

Because the wanton wenches would so fayne

See him come naked to his clothes againe.”                                       (from Francis Beaumont’s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, ll 89-92; cf. Mark Twain in November 2010 Commonplace)


“Frank Zappa once said that if you want to be a nation you need to have an airline and a beer.”                                                                                                                (from NYT,  January 30)


“Astaire is the subversive American whose gunfire-like feet and jazzy rhythms undermine the well-ordered politeness of English high society. (They remind me of Balanchine’s wicked explanation of about why he was probably not dignified enough to have settled in England: there, ‘if you are awake, it is already vulgar.’)”                        (Alistair Macaulay, in NYT, January 30)


“The mixed-race identity is not a transcendence of race, it’s a new tribe. A new Balkanization of race.”                                                                (Professor Rainier Spence, director of the Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, quoted in NYT, January 30)

“There are devils behind every door.

Americans don’t like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils. “                                              (Ross Douthat, in NYT, January 31)




“The reason love is so painful is that it always amounts to two people wanting more than two people can give.”                                                   (Edna O’Brien, in Saints and Sinners)


“Mr. Wills’s literary style . . . is not uniformly bad. Indeed, again and again he shows himself capable of constructing a grammatical, even an elegant, sentence.”                 (Evelyn Waugh in The National Review, quoted by Christopher Hitchens in Blood, Class and Empire, Chapter 2)


“The tortured Anglophile Woodrow Wilson, who inaugurated a faculty at the university [Princeton], once wrote that everything rested upon the selection of men who were ’companionable and clubbable . . . If their qualities as gentlemen and as scholars conflict, the former will win them their place.’”                                                                                                                                                  (from Christopher Hitchens’s Blood, Class and Empire, Chapter 4)


“The British had to spend – are still spending – much time in winning back American trust. Matters were made several times worse by the realization that Philby and his associates had survived as long as they had because of the features – clubbability, class membership, wit, and polish – that were supposed to be so admirable in the British setup. From the time of their defection, such sentimental attachments and symbols were at a definite discount.”                                                                     (from Christopher Hitchens’s Blood, Class and Empire, Chapter 12)


“You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs – except in England, of course.”                                        (Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, Chapter 1)


“No one would think about making an after-dinner speech without the help of poetry. It used to be the classics, now it’s lyric verse.”                                                                                                                                                           (Dennis Barlow, in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, Chapter 9)


“Do you know what Queen Elizabeth said to her Archbishop – an essentially non-sectarian character, incidentally? ‘Little man, little man, “Must” is not a word to be used to princes.’”                                                            (Dennis Barlow, in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, Chapter 10)

[Compare: “When Mr. Obama said on Tuesday that an ‘orderly transition’ in Egypt ‘must begin now’, for instance, Mr. Brzezinski winced. ‘I wish he’d said “should begin now.”’ (from NYT, February 6)]


“But the fact is that a secret agent’s existence, whenever he is at work, is a lie from beginning to end, and the truth is a thing he can seldom tell. The better an agent is, the more thorough are his lies. He is trained with such care to shut away truth in a dark corner of his mind that he loses his natural instinct to tell the truth, for its own sake, on the few occasions when it can do no harm.”                                                                                (David Howarth, in We Die Alone, Chapter 4)


“Certainly the mental processes of Lapps are very strange. They do not seem to grasp the idea of expressing an opinion. On a matter of fact which is within their own experience they will be quite dogmatic and clear-headed; but their minds do not work in terms of probabilities, and if they are asked whether something is likely to happen, they are genuinely puzzled and think the question is foolish. People tell the story of a Norwegian tourist who wanted to fish for salmon and asked a Lapp is he thought he would be able to get one in a particular local river; and the Lapp, who knew him well, shook his head with a sigh, and answered: ‘Really, I sometimes think you Norwegians are crazy. How could I answer a question like that? Of course there are plenty of salmon in the river, but why should you think I can tell you if you can catch them?’”                                                                                           (David Howarth, in We Die Alone, Chapter 14)


“We imagine, in the modern world, that heroes are accidental heroes. But, historically, many of the people who were heroes in their society set out to be heroes. They emulated other heroes, were obsessed with being a hero, wanted to be godlike. In contemporary society, that disqualifies you. If you’re trying to be a hero, you almost by definition can’t be.”                                                                                             (Rory Stewart, interviewed in Telegraph Magazine, February 5)


“If we can do less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.”                                                               (Rory Stewart on Afghanistan, interviewed in Telegraph Magazine, February 5)


“Al-Qaeda, or whoever it might be, are nihilistic; their pathology is incomprehensible to us. Whereas what was so fascinating about Karla and Smiley, for example, is that they were just two sides of the same coin. There is really nothing in common between [Dame Eliza] Manningham-Buller and Osama bin Laden.”                                                                                         (Charles Cumming, author of The Trinity Six, quoted in The Daily Telegraph, February 12)


“Every conflict in the world today has its origin in the imagination of British map drawers.”                                                                                                                                                 (character in the 12-part drama The Great Game, according to Maureen Dowd in NYT, February 16)


“Spend these fleeting moments as Nature would have you spend them, and then go on to your rest with a good grace, as an olive falls in season, with a blessing for the earth that bore it and a thanksgiving to the tree that gave it life.”                                                                                                                            (Marcus Aurelius, quoted by Peter Jones in the Spectator, January 29)


“An article last Thursday about the complexities of classifying Americans by race and ethnicity referred incompletely to the designation that the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would use for a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent. The agency would classify the student as Asian racially and as Hispanic ethnically — not only as Asian.”                                                                                                                                    (from a ‘Correction’ in NYT,  February 17)


“Your grandparents are your era but your great-grandparents are history. “              (Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, quoted in NYT, February 19)


“A country that cannot provide clean water for its citizens should not be in the business of regulating film dialogue.”                                                                                                 (Edward Glaser on Mumbai, from his book Triumph of the City, excerpted in The Atlantic, March 2011)


“Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI [Artificial Intelligence], rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.” (Douglas Hofstadter, quoted by Brian Christian in The Atlantic, March 2011)


“But even the politics on Saturday were tied up in a larger sense of grievance, a feeling of being marginalized and willfully misunderstood. Expressions of this feeling led to some rather unexpected analogies, like when Kelley Barrow, a teacher from Georgia, declared that people of Confederate heritage ‘have been forced to go to the back of the bus.’”                                                                                                                     (from report  on celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jefferson Davis’s swearing in as president of the Confederacy, in NYT, February 21)


“[Percy] Grainger was an unabashed racist who regretted the tainting of English stock with Norman blood.”                                                                   (from Prospect, February 2011)


“Everyone has a time when they are in the prime of their life. Everyone has as little as one year when they are the best they will ever be, the healthiest, the strongest, most handsome, most full of energy and hope, when they might do anything and it can be seen upon them, this prime, in their eyes, on their skin, in their walk. But they do not know it. Perhaps they cannot know it.” (Eve, in Susan Hill’s A Kind Man, quoted by Amanda Craig in Prospect review, February 2011)


“Shakespeare’s plays are rarely overtly self-reflexive: he wrote as if he thought that there were more interesting (or at least more dramatic) things in life to do than write plays.”                                                                                                (from Stephen Greenblatt’s Will Of The World, Chapter 12)




Echoes of Graham Greene and Kim Philby

“’It’s very hair-raising to read about your mother being given a code name and moved around like a chess piece,’ the daughter added. ‘Was she a spy? I think it’s another question that I ask: Was she part of a community that felt that they were going to bring, by their actions, an age of peace and justice and an equal share for all and the abolishing of color lines and class lines?’

‘If these were things that she actually did, she was not defining them as espionage,’ Ms. Socolov continued. ‘If you feel that what you’re doing answers to a higher ideal, it’s not treason.’”  (Emily Socolov, on the spying activities of her mother, Judith, from the latter’s NYT obituary, March 2)


“Nothing happens, and it keeps not happening for ever.” (Professor Brian Cox on the end of the universe, from the television programme, Wonder of the Universe, shown on BBC2 on March 6)


“The mere glorification of the military, without moral content and elevated aim, is nauseating.”    (Theodore Fontane [where?], quoted by Daniel Mendelsohn in the New Yorker, March 7)


“Hidden behind a pillar, I saw a man crying, which shook me more than three acts of tragedy.”                                        (Theodore Fontane, ‘following a particularly unsatisfactory performance of  “Iphigenia in Tauris”’, according to Daniel Mendelsohn in the New Yorker, March 7)


“If there is a person who has a passion for women and loves them almost twice as much when he encounters their weaknesses and confusions, the whole enchantment of their womanhood in full flight, that person is I.”                                                                                               (Theodore Fontane in 1894, according to Daniel Mendelsohn in the New Yorker, March 7)


‘“Bling-Bling history’ is how Nicolas Offenstadt, a young history professor at the Sorbonne, described it. ‘Sarkozy said this was a museum to give French people a stronger sense of identity,’ he continued, ‘that history is the cement that binds together French people. Whose history? “Soul” is not a subject for scientists and historians. It is a moral and political concept.’”                                                                                                                                   (from NYT, March 9)


“Luc Ferry, the philosopher and a former education minister, lectured Mr. Hessel in an open letter that indignation is the last passion needed in France at the moment. “This sentiment is one that is applied only to others, never to oneself, and real morality starts with demands one makes on oneself,” he wrote. “ (on Stéphane Hessel’s ‘Indignez-Vous!’, from the NYT, March 10)


“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism.. [and] anti-homosexuality. We are not grossly intolerant of pseudoscience… This is kind of a strange message, but go out and be more tolerant.”                                                                      (Sir John Beddington, UK government chief scientist, quoted by Mark Henderson in March Eureka, monthly supplement of the Times)


An Insult to the Whole Melanesian Frog Worshipping Community

“Speaking personally, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, said the judges were wrong to say religion was a matter of private individual beliefs. ‘They are treating religion like Richard Dawkins does, as if Christian faith was on a parallel with Melanesian frog worship,’ he said. ‘The judgment asserts that there is no hierarchy of rights, but itself implies there is one in which the right to practice one’s religion is subordinated to the secular assumptions about equality.””         (from the Daily Telegraph, February, undated)



“’Look at us,’ I said, growing exasperated. ‘Here we are, two highly educated, worldly writers talking about God in heaven. It’s all complete mumbo-jumbo, Peter, all of it.  If you want to feel better you might as well sacrifice a goat to the sun-god Ra. It makes just as much sense as what you’re saying.’”                                                                                                                              (Logan Mountstuart to Peter Scabius, from William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, p 224)


“I said that, in America, good manners were a way of furthering and promoting social contact, whereas in England they were a way of protecting your privacy.”                                                                                                (Logan Mountstuart in William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, p 316)


“I have to say that as an admirer of style – a loaded word, but best thought of as a synonym for individuality – VN’s [Vladimir Nabokov’s] mannered artfulness, his refusal to let a sleeping word lie, become sin this book more and more like a nervous tic than a natural, individual voice, however fruity and sonorous. The studied opulence, the ornament for the sake of ornament, grows wearing and one longs for a simple, elegant, discursive sentence. This is the key difference: in good prose precision must always triumph over decoration. Wilful decoration is a sign that the stylist has entered a decadent phase.”                                                                                                                                    (Logan Mountstuart, in William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, p 455)


“That’s all that life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience.”                           (Logan Mountstuart, in William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, p 460)


“The idea of a priori moral judgements (‘It is morally wrong to inflict gratuitous pain’) is completely acceptable to the vast majority of human beings. Only a few philosophers would disagree.”                                 (Logan Mountstuart, in William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, p 464)


“’It’s a masterpiece of understatement,’ Winston Churchill told the Flare Path [by Terence Rattigan] cast after one performance. ‘But we’re rather good at that, aren’t we?’”                                                                                                                (David Benedict in Prospect, March 2011)


“Between the wars Britain was a society obsessed with its bowels.”                                                                                                            (from Martin Pugh’s We Danced All Night, Chapter 3)


“We are all psychoanalysts now.”                                                                                                       (the Daily News in 1922, quoted by Martin Pugh in We Danced All Night, Chapter 3)


“Customers were invited to live ‘amid the fairyland of Surrey’ (Tattenham Corner) and to hear ‘the nightingale singing in Carshalton’.”                                                                               (builders’ advertisements in 1934, quoted by Martin Pugh in We Danced All Night, Chapter 4)


“’Look boy, you may be developing into a useful copper, but you haven’t learned about women. She doesn’t mind a belting from her old man, but she won’t stand for a copper pinching him for it.”                                                                                                                             (Edward Lyscom’s sergeant to Lyscom, quoted by Martin Pugh in We Danced All Night, Chapter 6)


“The better we know a great work, the more it surprises us.”                                                                                    (Alfred Brendel, according to Michael Henderson, in the Spectator, March 19)


“One knows people of that sort but does not marry them.”[where else have I read that recently?]                                                              (from John Betjeman’s Ghastly Good Taste, Chapter 1)


“In a word – Architecture is the poetry of construction.”                                                                                                                              (from John Betjeman’s Ghastly Good Taste, Chapter 2)


“The only hope that I can put forward is that England will emerge from its present state of intense individualism and become another Christendom. Not until it is united in belief will its architecture regain coherence. That union cannot come until a return of Christendom. Whether that Christendom will be a Union of Soviet Republics, a League of Socialistic Nations or an Ecclesiastical Union, it is not for me to say. I only know, like everyone else, that we are changing in a new and terrifying manner to some new form of civilization which will demand new architectural expression.”     (from John Betjeman’s Ghastly Good Taste, Chapter 2)


Gandhi the Wealth-Creator?

“At least one businessman at Friday’s event paid Mr. Buffett a lofty compliment, noting that his pledge to give away most of his fortune showed he has a “Gandhian approach to wealth.’”                                                                       (description of an event in India, from NYT, March 26)


“Influence is more important than power, both to nations and individuals.”                                                                                                 (Siegmund Warburg, according to Richard Davenport-Hines in his review of Niall Ferguson’s High Financier, in History Today, March 2011)


“There’s nothing more definitive than something provisional.”                                                                                            (‘an often-used Italian saying’, according to report in NYT, March 31)


“When it comes to redress and reward, bank shareholders should be at the back of the line, behind taxpayers who stand behind too-big-to-fail banks and behind homeowners who are bearing the brunt of a housing debacle for which banks bear considerable responsibility.”              (from NYT editorial suggesting, among other things, that banks are under-capitalized, March 31)


“Are the Chamber’s members, as citizens or business owners and executives, in a better place today because the F.A.A. regulates air safety, because the states regulate insurance companies, because the federal government enforces antitrust statutes? Of course they are. And so is this country.”                                                                   (Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s nominee for setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reported in NYT, March 31)




“I even imagined a kinship with Dorothy Edwards, who wrote two remarkable books in the late 1920s, was taken up by Bloomsbury and then killed herself, giving as her reason (or so I had been told) that she had too many friends and didn’t like them.”                                                                                                                                     (from Francis Wyndham’s The Ground Hostess)


“He [Maurice Merleau-Ponty] loved the poise and style of English manners. The politeness that seemed to her to cloak the simplest transaction under a veneer of insincerity struck him as an elaborate code of civility and restraint which he hoped would rub off him when he got back to France.”                                              (from Part 3 of The Girl from the Fiction Department, by Hilary Spurling; compare item from William Boyd’s Any Human Heart in February)


“One of the first things she [Sonia Orwell] had to learn was to accept in theory if not in practice the difference – so difficult for even an English cradle Catholic to grasp – between love and un amour (‘the fact that these two words are not an exact translation of each other,’ she wrote in retrospect, ‘has caused more confusion between the English and the French than most of the wars of politics and religion’.) Like Sartre and de Beauvoir, Maurice and his wife had negotiated a modern variation on the traditional French Catholic etiquette that distinguishes sharply between wife and mistress, while firmly discouraging any attempt to confuse the roles. If Sonia was to be his titular mistress, she must see that she could not also be his wife.”                                                                               (from Part 3 of The Girl from the Fiction Department, by Hilary Spurling)


“Many years ago, some forty years ago Morgan Foster, trying to guide me through some miserable love affair, wrote to me ‘But happiness may not be your deepest need’ . . . He himself is a happy man, he has cultivated his garden. For many of us, at any rate for me, that has not been possible, but why? It is an unanswerable question . . .  I have never been happy, I believe, not ever can be, I was not equipped to be that, though what my ‘deepest need’ was and is I do not know. These are things I never say, but I can say them to you, who understand so well . . . were it not for one’s friends, life would be past bearing indeed.”                      (Joe Ackerley, in a letter to Sonia Orwell, quoted by Hilary Spurling in Part 4 of The Girl from the Fiction Department)


“The best way for a poet to make a living is by giving lectures on how difficult it is for a poet to make a living.”                                      (Stephen Spender in Washington Post, February 25, 1964, quoted by David Leeming in his Stephen Spender: a Study in Modernism, Chapter 9)

“In ‘Who Could Blame G.E.?’ (column, April 5), Joe Nocera says America’s corporations have a fiduciary duty to maximize profit for their shareholders. Who says so? This has become the modern mantra of business-school professors and chief executives. But the corporation is not chartered by the shareholders. It is chartered by the state. The state charters corporations because it believes they may provide benefits to the society and not just to the shareholders.

It is interesting to note that as recently as the 1980s, the Business Roundtable’s chief executive mission statement asserted that the chief executive had a duty to care for customers, employees, communities and the nation (the stakeholders, in other words) as well as the shareholders.

This mission statement was changed in the mid-1990s to conform to the present shareholder value fetish. General Electric and other corporations that practice this fetish do so at their own and the country’s long-term peril.”                       (letter from Clyde Prestowitz in NYT, April 10)


“The English discover what they have decided by seeing what they have done. The French analyze and then act, they think: the English act and then justify their actions.” (Frederic Raphael in Ifs and Buts: Personal Terms 5, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in the Spectator, April 9)


“Never since Christ was born in the Manger was the outlook for the universal brotherhood of man brighter than it is today.”                                                            (‘a Maine newspaper’, on July 30, 1914, quoted by William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 1)


“The United States believed that American moral idealism could be extended outwards, that American Christian democratic ideals could and should be universally applied. The sense of national mission was combined with a new consciousness of national power. The United States was aggressively peaceful. Admiral Mahan had compared the duty of America to repress evil abroad with that of the rich to wipe out slums; this view carried with it the assumption of unique American virtue, which had the ironic effect of making it the duty of ‘peace-loving’ Americans to resort to killing to impose virtue abroad. The culmination of a a long political tradition of emphasis on sacrifice and decisive moral combat, the war was embraced as that final struggle where the righteous would do battle for the Lord.”                                                                                                                (William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 1)


“The moralist unquestionably secures wide popular support; but he also wearies his audience, and many a voter has turned from Wilson in the spirit that led the Athenian to vote for the ostracism of Aristides, because he was tired of hearing him called ‘the Just’.”            (Charles Seymour, quoted by William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 5)


“It was the misfortune of the world and, ironically, a curse for the United States that the American economy was too well balanced to let the nation play the role of creditor.

If the United States was to function as a creditor nation, it had to import more than it exported. But the country moved in precisely the opposite direction.”                                                                                                (William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 6)


“If I am convinced of anything, it is that Doing Good is in bad taste.”                    (H. L. Mencken, quoted by William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 9)


“The hedonism of the period was less a solution than a pathological symptom of what Walter Lippmann called a ‘vast dissolution of ancient habits’, and it rarely proved as satisfying as people hoped. ‘Sons and daughters of the puritans, the artists and writers and utopians who flocked  to Greenwich Village to find a  frank and free life for their emotions and  senses, felt at their backs the icy breath of the monster they were escaping’, wrote Joseph Freeman.  ‘Because they could not abandon themselves to pleasure without a feeling of guilt,, they exaggerate the importance of pleasure, idealized it and even sanctified it.’”                                                                                     (William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 9)


“… the liberal Protestant publication, Christian Century, observed that protestants could not ‘look with unconcern upon the seating of a representative of an alien culture, of  a mediaeval Latin mentality, of an undemocratic hierarchy and of a foreign potentate in the great office of President of the United States.’”                                               (on the candidacy of the Catholic Alfred E. Smith: William E. Leuchtenburg in The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32, Chapter 12)


Pay Up, Juniors!

“It is not courageous to provide additional tax breaks for millionaires while ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and sticking seniors with the cost of rising healthcare.”                                                                                                                                             (Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the budget committee, quoted in NYT, April 16)


“… after Mr. Obama’s speech excoriated Mr Ryan’s proposal to take money from older people with health problems and give it to millionaires.”                 (John Harwood in NYT, April 18)


“The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised.”                                                                                                     (Freya Stark, quoted by Claudia Roth Pierpont in the New Yorker, April 18)


“You can write human history in a variety of ways, but one way of writing it would be to consider how, age after age, humanity has met the problem of What to do with our Sons.”                                                                (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 4)


“Modern democracy is not only legalism and equalitarianism; it is socialism. It sets its face against all abuse of the advantages of ownership.”                                                                                                                                         (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 6)


“The whole question turns upon the Chosen People idea, which this remnant cherishes and sustains, which it is the ‘mission’ of the remnant to cherish and sustain. It is difficult to regard that idea as a conspiracy against the rest of the world. It is essentially a bad tradition, and the fact that for two thousand years the Jews on the whole have been very roughly treated by the rest of mankind does not make it any less bad. Almost every community with which the orthodox Jews have come into contact has sooner or later developed and acted upon that conspiracy idea.”                                                                     (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 12)


“In contact with the Arab, the Koran-taught Arab from the desert, who shares the Jew’s cosmogony, who practises similar dietetic taboos, who is equally free from Trinitarian theology and sacrificial bloodshed, and has indeed a much greater claim to be called Semitic, the angry reaction to the theory and practice of a Chosen People, to the practice much more than the theory, is just as violent as it is in any other part of the world.”                                                                                                                      (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 12)

(compare the following nonsense)

“There are some Jews, who, though their ancestors have lived for centuries in European ghettoes, are born with certain characteristics which the sun and the sand of the desert beat into the bodies and minds of Semites. The heat of the desert burns their bodies until they are tempered like steel: it tempers their minds until they seem to be purified of all spiritual grit, leaving in mind and soul only pure, undiluted, austere, fanatical passion.” (Leonard Woolf describing S. S. Kotelianski in Beginning Again, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 9)


“Miss Rebecca West has a rough and caustic wit. She is eminently free from racial prejudices but she had listened with a growing impatience to these demands [from Israel Zangwill, at the House of Commons in 1919or 1920], and suddenly she was inspired to a concentrated expression of our general impatience. ‘Mr. Chairman,’ she said, ‘should I be in order if I moved a pogrom?’”                                                              (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 12)


“The Catholic Church emerged from these formative centuries as an organization of very considerable tenacity, but intellectually it was already the most extraordinary jumble of absurdities and incompatibilities that has ever exercised and perplexed the human intelligence.”                                                                      (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 13)


“Derision is the deadly enemy of Catholicism; it drives it to indignant persecution, indignant silence or indignant flight, according to the exigences of the situation.”                                                                                                   (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 13)


“A God who is not a personality is a contradiction in terms. But because of the ribald and ungenteel associations of the word ‘Atheist’, a great number of atheistic thinkers and teachers and writers have clung ambiguously to the entirely deflated name of ‘God’. God, they say, is the Absolute, he is a force not ourselves making for righteousness, he is the whisper of conscience, he is the brainless Thinker responsible for the mathematical order of the world, he is immanence. These are mere subterfuges, God-shaped vacuums.”                                                                                                                             (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 14)


“Deliberate cruelty is not a characteristic of limitless strength. Great strength may be heedless and unconsciously cruel, but not ingeniously and appreciatively cruel. It would get no thrill out of it. That is reserved for men and women who are inwardly afraid. It is sensitive people who seek to sustain and fix themselves by outrages.”                                                                                                                                             (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 15)


“He [Marx] invented a phantom, more insubstantial than the Holy Ghost, the Proletariat. The ever-blessed proletariat would see to it all.”                                                                                                                                                     (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 21)


“In the last three years in Britain there have been three magnetic movements with an unaccountable attraction for unemployed vitality. Fascism, a fourth possibility, was happily made repellently ridiculous for our sons in the person of Sir Oswald Mosely, but the impressionable young men who did not succumb to the God-guided woosh of Buchmanism or the high-toned Anglo-Catholicism of T. S. Eliot, fell very readily to the worship of the Hammer-and-Sickle God. They joined the Party, surrendered themselves to tasks and strategies. They felt they had the revolution and all Russia behind them.”                                                                                                                                 (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 21)


“… how intensely I detest Karl Marx and how greatly my mind has been irritated by the narrowly dogmatic communism of the young. Yet I am forced to a recognition of the real advance Russia has made since the revolution, nor merely in material things.”                                                                                                (H. G. Wells in The Fate of Homo Sapiens, Chapter 21)


“Debt, as the Germans know all too well, has consequences. Britain, a deeply indebted country, should pay attention. Funding an expanding welfare state in the absence of the kind of wealth creation provided by Germany’s world class manufacturing base led to the British government’s unfortunate love affair with the cash cow that was the City of London.”                                                                                                              (Paul Lay, in History Today editorial, April 2011)


“I am sure that if one could look deep into the minds of those who are on the Left in politics (including myself), Liberals, revolutionaries, socialists, communists, pacifists, and humanitarians, one would find that their political beliefs and desires were connected with some very strange goings on down among their ids and their unconscious.”                                   (Leonard Woolf, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 10)


“We are all psychoanalysts now.”                                                                          (New Statesman in 1923, according to Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 11)


“’I have to be very strict, very strict. Of course I can’t object to them wearing their uniforms at night to solicit men, because to them it’s a most glamorous dress. But I’ve had to put my foot down and tell them they must not give birth to their babies on the parade-ground!’ Bella [Lady Southorn, née Woolf] was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the Girl Guide movement.”                (from Victoria Glendinning’s Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 11)


‘Nothing Matters’ (Leonard Woolf’s motto)

“I think your anti-suicide recipe [‘nothing matters’] is admirable for a stoic. It needs a little modification for novelists because it’s precisely when we get the feeling that nothing matters that the river looks most attractive at its deepest.”                                 (Alice Ritchie in a letter to Leonard Woolf, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 11)


“From the first moment of the Balfour Declaration [1912] I was against Zionism on the grounds that to introduce Jews into an Arab occupied territory with the ultimate prospect of establishing an independent Jewish state would lead to racial trouble.”                         (Leonard Woolf to Archbishop Fisher, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 16)


“Life is not an orderly progression. Self-contained like a musical scale or a quadratic equation … If one is to record one’s life truthfully, one must aim at getting into the record of it something of the disorderly discontinuity which makes it so absurd, unpredictable, bearable.”                                                                                                                         (Leonard Woolf in The Journey Not the Arrival Matters, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 18)


“The state of the world would be exactly the same if I had played pingpong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda.”                                                                   (Leonard Woolf, quoted by Victoria Glendinning in Leonard Woolf: A Biography, Chapter 18)


“Members of Kyrgyzstan’s divided Parliament slaughtered seven rams before their morning session on Thursday, a sacrifice that they said they hoped would banish ‘evil spirits’ disrupting their work…… ‘We decided to resort to popular customs, in order for this building not to see bloodshed any more,’ Myktybek Abdyldayev, a member of Parliament, said after the sacrifice.”                                                                                                         (from report in NYT, April 22)


“You should never trust a man who pretends he isn’t bald.”                                                                                                       (Richard Littlejohn [referring to Donald Trump] in the Spectator, April 16)


“Life is service and the foundation of service is integrity and it is because Eton teaches integrity to her sons that we hold the proud conceit that as Eton flourishes so too does the country.”                                                                                                                                          (Lord Home, at an Eton Ramblers’ dinner, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 2)


“… almost without exception, the leaders of revolutions may be classified as unqualified scoundrels or tiresome and ill-informed pedants. A hereditary monarchy by the law of averages produces a certain number of good rulers, but a democratic upheaval ensures only that the reins of government are given over into the hands of the  morally and intellectually deficient.”                                                                                                          (Anthony Powell, in review of a life of Marat by Sydney L. Phipson, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 3)


“After a hundred lovers women still have drawn no conclusion about life – Nothing is so humiliating as to be liked for the qualities one hasn’t got, and women always do it – Some women seem to imagine that one has nothing better to do than sit up all night listening to anecdotes about their first husband – It is an illusion of every woman that she is less tiresome than other women.”                                                                                                    (Anthony Powell, in A Writer’s Notebook, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 6)


“A literary (or left-wing) erstwhile well-wisher would

Seek vainly now for Auden or for Isherwood

The Dog-beneath-the-skin has had the brains

To save it, Norris-like, by changing trains.”                (Anthony Powell, published in the New Statesman, 17 February, 1940, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 7)


“The Beveridge Report, production of one of the most conceited of men that ever lived, had become  scarcely distinguishable from Holy Writ…

I cannot have been alone in feeling that, whatever I was fighting for, it was not socialism or equality. Like many of my Oxford friends, I hoped that post-war Britain would be a better place than pre-war Britain, but – again, like most of them – I did not actually feel that I was actually fighting to make it better, rather to prevent it from being much worse. We took the King’s shilling to stop the swastika from flying on Buckingham Palace, not to implement the Beveridge Report.”                                                                                         (Robert Blake, in Cambridge Review, 30 January, 1976, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 9)


“Lust gives that grim pounding feeling, like heavy guns in the distance.”                (Anthony Powell in A Writer’s Notebook, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 12)


“He [Anthony Powell] thought we were in far greater danger today ‘from the ascetic, quasi-scientific, self-righteous, power-worshipping megalomaniac than from the old-fashioned, easy-going, self-indulgent tyrant who sought power merely to gratify the flesh’.”                                                                                              (Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 12)


“One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be.”                (Hugh Moreland, in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 12)


“When I think of [Elise], I feel that married love has nothing to do with sympathy, with sensuality, with passion, with friendship, or with love. It alone is adequate to itself and cannot be reduced to one or another of those different feelings. It has its own nature, its particular essence, and its unique mode which depends on the couple that it brings together.”                                                                              (the French writer, Marcel Jouhandeau, quoted by Anthony Powell in Punch, 12 October 1955, and re-quoted by Michael Barber in Antony Powell: A Life, Chapter 13)


“Instead, the Windsors have taken a deliberate, collective decision to allow their bluest of blue blood to be mixed with the entrepreneurial, striving, hard-working but undeniably bourgeois blood of the Middleton family.”                      (Andrew Roberts, in the Spectator, 23/30 April)


“There was no doubt in my mind that we were all going to die. It’s just the way the Lord done it. You can’t question the Lord. He don’t make mistakes.”                                                                                                                                    (Darwin Hathcock, police chief of Smithville, Mississippi, on the April 27th tornado that killed at least twenty residents, quoted in NYT, April 30)




“If classical mechanics is George Eliot, quantum mechanics is Kafka.”                                                                                                                                (Rivka Galchen, in the New Yorker, May 2)


“British security is symbolized by a very fine veneer on top and utter departmental confusion beneath.”                                                                                                                                       (Klaus Fuchs, in prison interview, quoted by Chapman Pincher in Treachery. Chapter 46)


“The simple explanation is that I was a cretin. Communism was like a religion, a revealed religion – with myths and rites to explain it. It was the absolute absence of logic. I was naïve. After a few years I understood what an idiot I was.”                           (atom spy Bruno Pontecorvo, in 1992, a year before he died, quoted by Chapman Pincher in Treachery, Chapter 48)


“Following previous reviews of the nation’s security arrangement, it had long been recognized that the director general of MI5 should have ‘unusual experience and a rare combination of qualities.’ Instead, a university dropout with no foreign languages, little field experience, an appalling counter-espionage record, a negative personality, mediocre qualities of leadership, doubtful health, and a mistress installed in his office found himself in charge of the nation’s first lien of defense against spies and saboteurs. It was to be a unique position of uncontrolled power because successive home secretaries, to whom Hollis would be responsible, took little interest in MI5.”                                                                (from Chapman Pincher’s Treachery, Chapter 58)


“Most secret operations come and go, but Operation Cover-up goes on forever.”                                                                (from Chapman Pincher’s Treachery, Chapter 58: final sentence of book)


“I belong to no tribe, I follow no creed, I subscribe to no ideology, and I despise nationalism. I have lived in many places but wherever I go I am a paying guest.”                                                                                                          (Alfred Brendel to Michael Henderson, from the Spectator, May 7)


“But the United States will ultimately fail if it forgets its fundamental responsibility to people who are living under the boot of repression, and seek the freedoms Americans already have.”                                                                             (Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, June 2011)


“He became one of the first of that sad little band of Western intellectuals who fell head over heels for the Soviet Union. Unlike most of them, he did not deny the stories of atrocities leaking out of the workers’ paradise. Even more chilling, he simply believed them necessary to bring about the great changes to come. He never wavered from his infamous first impression of the U.S.S.R., ‘I have seen the future, and it works.’ Instead, living comfortably on money he made from the stock market, he insisted that ‘nothing must jar our perfect loyalty to the party and its leaders,’ and that ‘the notion of liberty . . . is false, a hangover from our Western tyranny.’”                                                                                              (Kevin Baker, in review of Peter Hartshorn’s I Have Seen The Future, a Life of Lincoln Steffens, in NYT Book Review, May 15)


“Depression is a chronic disease of the competitive system.”                                                                                                                                    (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 1)


“Murderers and hangmen must get to the top in a society of planning, says Hayek. The palatability of this sour prejudice owes most to its argument that the successful businessman, and all those aspiring to be successful, are rendering a greater economic service to the public than planners could ever do; that, indeed, by acting as enterprisers they hold the banners high.”                                                                           (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 1)


“Indeed, Mrs Sidney Webb asked me, ‘Would it not have been better for America if there had been no Franklin D. Roosevelt and no New Deal?’ For then, she believed, there would have been a revolution, and it would have been interesting to watch the social results – to see whether the United States was as virile as the U.S.S.R. or as decadent as Great Britain!”                                                                                                        (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 1)


“Reconstruction has many sides, international and domestic. On the domestic side one can define its aims best by naming five giant evils to be destroyed – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.”                                                                                                           (Sir William Beveridge, in address on July 30, 1942, quoted by Herman Finer in Road to Reaction, Chapter 1)


“To expect, indeed, that the freedom of trade should ever be entirely restored in Great Britain is as absurd as to expect that an Oceania or utopia should ever be established in it. Not only the prejudices of the public, but what is more unconquerable, the private interests of many individuals irresistibly oppose it.”                                                                                                                                              (Adam Smith, quoted by Herman Finer in Road to Reaction, Chapter 5)


“Fascism and Nazism did not arise out of socialism. Only if we exclude from socialism its generous and equalizing humanitarian purpose, its democratic evolution, its solicitude and kindness to men and women, its profound sense of justice, its love of literature and the arts, its celebration of family joys, and if, especially concentrating on British socialism, we exclude from it the impulses and restraints of its Christian origins and fostering – if, in short, we exclude all ends and all spirit – we might, by some stretch of a nightmare, think as Hayek talks.”                                                                                                   (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 6)


“Is Russia a case of socialist planning, and therefore dictatorship? Russia is socialist, and Russia is a planned economy.”                               (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 6)


“The leaders of the professions have a remarkable grasp of the technique of enterprise, and present comprehension, clarity, skill, and knowledge are tremendous.”                                                                                                                       (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 7)


“It is not irrelevant to observe that not only is property an important guarantee of freedom, but that murder, falsehood, bribery, theft, breach of faith, and the power of imprisoning other people are also guarantees of freedom. Yet society has set bounds to them.”                                                                                                                         (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 8)


“The unbalanced economy will return to equilibrium. All we will then see is prosperity – and some debris. The trouble with this theory [that competition leads to turmoil of companies being replaced by new ones] is that the debris consists of men and women. In order not to be debris, they refuse to wait for the long run; and so all bankers, manufacturers, merchants, farmers, and workers – all – set up rigidities against being debris, that is against the long run. There was a time when the capitalists, being in full possession of the state, whose militia was at their service, could dissolve the rigidities of the people. Now the workers, as well as they, declare with J. M. Keynes: ‘In the long run we shall all be dead.’ Hence they all chisel into competition. They want security, not competition.”                            (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 8)


“What has now to be said has been long known, and it is widely understood: private enterprise is not innocent; it is guilty and sick.”                      (Herman Finer, in Road to Reaction, Chapter 9)


“Universities are like the General Motors of the 1970s.”                                                                                                                                           (venture capitalist Peter Thiel, in NYT, May 20)


“If I find men who worship trees, not because they are symbols of fertility or because they are divine, with a mysterious life and powers of their own, or because this grove is sacred to Athena – but only because they are made of wood; and if when I ask them why they worship wood they say ‘Because it is wood’ and give no other answer; then I do not know what they mean. If they are human, they are not beings with whom I can communicate – there is a real barrier. They are not human for me. I cannot even call their values subjective if I cannot conceive what it would be like to pursue such a life.”                                       (Isaiah Berlin, in The Pursuit of the Ideal)


“If progress is the goal, for whom are we working? Who is the Moloch who, as the toilers approach  him, instead of rewarding them, draws back; and as a consolation to the exhausted and doomed multitudes, shouting ‘morituri te salutant’, can only give the … mocking answer that after their death all will be beautiful on earth.”                                                           (Alexander Herzen in From the Other Shore, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in The Pursuit of the Ideal)


“Last but not least is the ambition of those who wish to know how we, the present generation, came to be what we are, who our ancestors have been, what they have done, what were the consequences of their activities, what was the nature of the interplay between these activities, what were their hopes and fears and goals, and the natural forces with which they had to content; for it seems obvious that only barbarians feel no curiosity about the sources of their own forms of life and civilization, their place in the world order as determined by the antecedent experiences of their ancestors, which alone can give a sense of identity to their successors.”                                                           (Isaiah Berlin, in Giambattists Vico and Cultural History)


“Unless we are able to escape from the ideological prisons of class or nation or doctrine, we shall not be able to avoid seeing alien institutions or customs as either too strange to make any sense to us, or as tissues of error, lying inventions of unscrupulous priests; the doors which, according to Vico, myth and fable and language open to us will remain romantic delusions.”                                                    (Isaiah Berlin in Alleged Relativism in Eighteenth-Century European Thought)


“The Constitution of 1795, just like its predecessors, was made for man. But there is no such thing as man in the world. In the course of my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians etc.; I know, too, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian. But, as for man, I declare that I have never met him in my life; if he exists, he is unknown to me.”                                            (Joseph de Maistre, I74, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism)


“They [‘the fashionable philosophers of the age’] believed that all good and desirable things were necessarily compatible, and more than this – that all values were connected by a network of indestructible, logically interlocking relationships. The most empirically-minded among them were sure that a science of human nature could be developed no less than a science of inanimate things, and that ethical and political questions, provided that they were genuine, could in principle be answered with no less certainty than those of mathematics and astronomy.  A life founded on these answers would be free, secure, happy, virtuous and wise. In short they saw no reason why the millennium should not be reached by the sue of faculties and the practice of methods which had for over a century in the sphere of the sciences of nature, led to triumphs as magnificent as any hitherto attained in the history of human thought.”                                                                                             (Isaiah Berlin in Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism)


“The doctrine of violence at the heart of things, the belief in the power of dark forces, the glorification of chains as alone capable of curbing man’s self-destructive instincts, and using them for his salvation, the appeal to blind faith against reason, the belief that only what is mysterious can survive, that to explain is always to explain away, the doctrine of blood and self-immolation, of the national soul and the streams all flowing into one vast sea, of the absurdity of liberal individualism, and above all of the subversive influence of uncontrolled critical intellectuals – surely we have heard this note since. In practice if not in theory (at times offered in a transparently false scientific guise), Maistre’s deeply pessimistic vision is the heart of the totalitarianism, of both left and right, of our terrible century.”                                                                                                         (Isaiah Berlin in Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism)


“However bitter the hatreds between Christians, Jews and Muslims, or between different sects within these faiths, the argument for the extermination of heretics always rested on the belief that it was in principle possible to convert men to the truth, which was one and universal, that is, visible to all; that only a few individuals were lost beyond redemption, being too blinded and too perverted to be saved by anything but the sufferings of death. This rests on the assumption that men, as such, have a common nature, which makes communication in principle always possible and therefore always morally obligatory. It is this assumption that was at first questioned, and then altogether collapsed. The sheep must not try to save the goats – that is irrational and unrealizable.”                                        (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“When Muslims were killed in the Crusades, the notion that it might be right for a Muslim to defend his values, as it was right for the Crusaders to defend theirs, and for precisely the same reasons; the idea that men should be respected for dying for their ideals and principles, no matter how mistaken they may be, because nay man who dies for what he believes in is eo ipso worthier than one who compromises his beliefs, or seeks to save his life at the cost of his principles – this was not a conceivable proposition in the Middle Ages.”                                                                                                                               (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“The end of a man now is to realize the personal vision within him at any cost; his worst crime is to be untrue to the inner goal that is his, and his alone. What the effect of this vision may be on others does not concern him; he must be faithful to his inner light; that is all he knows, and all he needs to know.”                            (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“If he compromises his inner vision, gives up what he knows to be his calling – the creation of a work of art or science, or living a certain form of life – and then gives this up for riches, or popularity, or an established position in society, or comfort, or pleasure, or the attainment of an inner or outer harmony at the price of suppressing doubts or qualms within himself, he has betrayed the light and is damned for ever. It makes no difference whether a man’s own inner light shines for others or not; nor whether he serves it successfully; serve it he must, even if it makes himself ridiculous in the process, even if all he does ends in failure. Indeed this sort of failure is considered as being morally infinitely superior to worldly success, even success as an artist – provided that it is the fruit of the blind and exclusive service of what a man knows to be his mission, of what the inner voices tell him that he must do.”                                                                                                                    (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“The only principle which must be sacredly observed is that each man shall be true to his own goals, even at the cost of destruction, havoc, death. That is the romantic ideal in its fullest, most fanatical form.”                                     (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“In both cases [Marx and Hegel] a large number of human beings must be sacrificed and annihilated if the ideal is to triumph. Unity may be the ultimate goal of humanity, but its method of attaining it is war and disintegration. The path may lead to a terrestrial paradise, but it is strewn with the corpses of the enemy, for whom no rear must be shed, since right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure, wisdom and folly, are all in the end determined by the objective ends of history, which has ‘condemned’ half mankind – unhistoric nations, members of obsolete classes, inferior races – to what Proudhon called ‘liquidation’, and Trotsky, in an equally picturesque phrase, described as  the rubbish heap of history.”                                                                                                                 (Isaiah Berlin in European Unity and its Vicissitudes)


“We are not ‘we’ yet,” complained Tony Daoud, one of the activists [in Lebanon]. “What do we mean when we say ‘we’? ‘We’ as what? As a religion, as a sect, as human beings?”                                                                                                                               (from report in NYT, May 22)


“Differences in diet and dialect – for instance Warwick’s Kentish ‘shock troops’ drank beer rather than ale – were magnified. By the time the two armies met in what was to be the decisive battle [Towton, 1461], each saw the other as composed of aliens. The actions that day helped to make the Trent a cultural as well as a geographical dividing line: one that, periodically highlighted by events as far removed as the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536 and Margaret Thatcher’s reforms of the 1980s, has never fully disappeared.”                                                                                                  (George Goodwin, in This Bitter Field, in History Today, May 2011)


“I knew that J. C. [Masterman] would want to make a check on me, and from experience at Hull I had no great faith in the records of M.I.5. I felt that they were likely to confuse me with my younger and communist brother. I said just that to him over a cup of tea that first meeting and he stoutly denied that any check would be made on anyone nominated by D. N. I. [Director of Naval Intelligence] or that their records would be in a muddle. Next week he asked me, ‘How is the table-tennis going?’

I had the joy of replying, ‘I said that you would check and that your records would be in a muddle. That’s my communist younger brother, he’s the progenitor of table-tennis, not me.’”                                                               (Ewen Montagu, in Beyond Top Secret Ultra, Chapter 5)


No One Misses Those Pre-Sewage Days

“Others here who said they would vote for Ms. Fujimori are prepared to do so either out of fears of her rival, Mr. Humala, or admiration for her jailed father. ‘He gave peace to this country,’ said Óscar Arrunategui, 37, a businessman. ‘He gave poor people water, electricity and sewage; this country is how it is thanks to Fujimori.’”               (from report on Peru in NYT, May 28)


“Clarence Darrow read autobiographies and biographies with suspicion. He disliked their self-serving nature, particularly those beginning with a list of famous ancestors. ‘The purpose of linking themselves by blood and birth to some well-known family or personage,’ he wrote, stimulated only the ego and little else.”                                                                                                              (from Andrew E. Kersten’s Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast, Chapter 1)


“…if there are not enough people to pay twenty-five or fifty cents a head to look at me and hear me talk, they aren’t yet ready for Socialism.”                                            (Clarence Darrow to Victor Berger, from Andrew E. Kersten’s Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast, Chapter 6)


“History is filled with examples of men whose minds are brilliant, whose sentiments are noble, but whose practices are ignoble.”                                                                (Joseph Ford on Clarence Darrow, from Andrew E. Kersten’s Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast, Chapter 7)


“She had never disliked anyone so much. His handsome face, which still had some of the aesthetic interest of a work of art for her, filled her with distaste because it reflected his expressions and mirrored his words.” (from Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, Chapter 16)


Darrow as Paragon of Virtue?

“As long as we’re being nasty tonight, you’re no Clarence Darrow.”                                                                                                (Caroline, in Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, Chapter 19)


“None of us is responsible for the wonderful people we don’t meet; we’re only lucky when we do meet them.”               (Caroline, in Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, Chapter 28)







“Initially, new ideas are rejected. Later they become dogma, if you’re right. And if you’re really lucky you can publish your rejections as part of your Nobel presentation.”                                                                             (Rosalyn S. Yalow, physicist, in 1982, from her NYT obituary, June 2)


“You know how it is. You lunch with a friend at his club and in the course of a meal he says ‘You ought to be a member here’. It is impossible to reply that you would consider it a fate worse than death, so you make polite noises and the next thing you know you have been elected and all the weary work of resigning to be done.”                                                                                                                   (P. G. Wodehouse, in Foreword to Charles Graves’s Leather Armchairs)


“Major Collyer recalled a candidate who looked sure to pass the test with flying colours, until after the first rubber when he was so effusive that he actually offered to shake hands with his partner to congratulate him on winning. That was the end of him. He might just as well have smoked cigars between courses at dinner.”                                                                                                                                                    (Charles Graves, on the Portland, in Leather Armchairs)


“Men join a club for one of two reasons – either to see their friends and make new ones, or to escape from talking and their women folk.”                                                                                                                                                      (Charles Graves, on the Travellers’, in Leather Armchairs)



THEY DID NOT NIGRO-GLOBULATE OUR MAN.”                                                                                         (telegram from Ashley Dukes to Dick Stokes, Socialist M.P. when the latter was elected to membership of the Garrick; from Charles Graves in Leather Armchairs)


“A series of excellent chefs followed. One of them had been caught with a housemaid and was expelled by the committee. When the other members of the club heard about it, they held a mass meeting and demanded his return, together with granting him rights over all the housemaids.”                                                              (Charles Graves, on the Reform, in Leather Armchairs)


“Brother Savages, and Guests – and Ghosts,

I answer, shyly, for the scribbling hosts.

In this high brotherhood of mind and heart

We own two aims, Equality, and Art,

But God, no Savage, has ignored the sequel –

That all should be artistically equal.

The painter puts his fellows in their place;

The few are tenors, and the rest are bass

(And one thing every sort of singer owns is

He tries no more to keep up with the Joneses).

One actor starves, another is a star

Though each is just as funny in the bar:

And, as our dear Miles Malleson has said,

All actors that were any good – are dead.”                (beginning of Sir Alan Herbert’s oration at the 100th anniversary dinner of the Savage Club, from Charles Graves’s Leather Armchairs)


“He is an uncompounded pill. Being an egotist, he hates egoism. Freedom of expression is in his life’s blood, therefore he dislikes people who have too much to say. He is suspicious of people who agree with him. He is a lover of joviality but woe betide the man who gives him a jovial welcome; he is a sentimentalist who hates sentiment. He is a man of affairs who scorns commercialism. As a Rabelaisian, he is unpredictably censorious. He is an unrepentant individualist, and for a hundred years Brother Savages have been proving that freedom, not union, is strength, long before the politicians got on to the idea.”         (George Baker answering his own question of ‘what was a Brother Savage?’, from Charles Graves’s Leather Armchairs)


“In view of its rather dubious surroundings, with an erstwhile striptease club across the road, it was once raided by the police who felt sure that the narrow staircase leading up to the first floor was the entrance to a brothel, particularly as it was used only by men. Anthony Sampson in his Anatomy of Britain tells the story. The conversation went something like this:

‘And who might you be?’ asked the inspector of one of the four old gentlemen sitting at the long table.

‘I am the Lord Chancellor.’

‘Aha! And you, sir?’

‘The Archbishop of Canterbury.’

‘Oh yes, and the next?”

‘I am the Governor of the Bank of England.’

‘And I suppose you,’ said the inspector addressing the fourth, ‘are the Prime  Minister?’

‘As a matter of fact I am,’ replied Arthur Balfour.”                                                                                                               (from Charles Graves, on the Beefsteak, from Leather Armchairs)


“Long ago I learned that spying isn’t about strengths in human nature – ideological conviction, duty, loyalty to one’s country. Spying is about weakness – the lust for money, for status, for sex. This is the guilty secret of our guilty trade.”                                                                                                                                     (Sir John Brennan in Charles Cumming’s The Trinity Six, Chapter 11)


“No formal arrangement of committees or staffs could quite free the British Government of its dependence upon the common rooms and lunch tables of the clubs of Pall Mall.” (Professor [Samuel] Beer of Harvard, quoted by Anthony Sampson in The Anatomy of Britain, Chapter 5)


“Clubland is as Conservative as the sea is salt.”                                                         (G. W. E. Russell in 1906, according to Anthony Sampson in The Anatomy of Britain, Chapter 5)


“English clubs progress in the opposite direction to African night-clubs: they begin by being disreputable, full of wild actors and poets drinking into the night: and end up with cautious lawyers toying with cold beef and rosé, reminiscing about the wild old days.”                                                                                    (Anthony Sampson in The Anatomy of Britain, Chapter 5)


“You ask what haunts my writing. Well, after the camp there was the moral question of being a Communist. Trying to explain the folly and the necessity of that choice. Trying to show how it came to be my raison d’être, and why this dead star hovered for so long above the previous century. Here are my obsessions, in no particular order: torture, the camps, the Jewish experience during the Holocaust, the singularity of that experience in the larger context of deportation. It is not easy to reflect on these issues today. Historically, the most significant pitfall has been the most dangerous — silence, the refusal to talk about what happened.”                                                                                                       (Jorge Semprún, in 2007, from his NYT obituary, June 12)


“Mr. Perry rejected the accusations of exclusion. ‘It is Christian-centered, yes, but I have invited and welcome people of all faiths to attend.’”                                                                                                                       (Governor Rick Perry of Texas, on his plan to hold a National Day of Prayer in Houston, an ‘apolitical Christian prayer service’ to provide ‘spiritual solutions to the many challenges we face in our communities, states and nation’, as reported in NYT, June 12)


“Because of the prestige of science as a source of power, and because of the general neglect of philosophy, the popular Weltanschauung of our times contains a large element of ‘nothing-but’ thinking. Human beings, it is more or less tacitly assumed, are nothing but bodies, animals, even machines; the only real elements of reality are matter and energy in their measurable aspects; values are nothing but illusions that have somehow got themselves mixed up with our experience of the world; mental happenings are nothing but epiphenomena, produced by and entirely dependent upon physiology; spirituality is nothing but wish-fulfilment and misdirected sex; and so on.”                                                                                             (Aldous Huxley in Science, Liberty and Peace, quoted by Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 1, Chapter 7)


“I could not be expected to know that the date [July 14th, 1929] was significant: that the twenties, when personal relationships had been all-important, were merging into the thirties when none of us could escape politics;…” (Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 2, Chapter 1)

“It must be true, the Foreign Office has denied it!”                                                                                                                                       (the journalist Robert Dell of the Manchester Guardian and the New Statesman, according to Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 2, Chapter 2)


“Communism, at that time, was not known for its purges and slave-labour. It offered an alternative to the bourgeois governments in which (including the Socialists) there was ‘little faith’. To a great number of citizens whose interest in politics was still limited to a desire for peace (and had little to do with poverty) Communism, whatever else it might mean, now loomed as: (a) a reality, which had established itself in one country; (b) an alternative to the ‘powers of Money’ which, we understood, had been responsible for the War, and which had been  represented at Geneva by the delegates who took a sly pleasure in scoring off each other at conferences. Moreover, these same Communists ‘offered’ not only peace but social justice, which we hardly considered … yet.”                                                                                                                                                        (Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 2, Chapter 3)


“When I had looked out of that window, my own conflict was insoluble; and it is this, and not Marxism, which makes nine out of ten members of the communist party.”                                                                                         (Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 2, Chapter 4)


“I wondered, at the time, why English people foster and revel in fantasy … whereas they sheer away in horror from any soulfulness, such as an admission that one is in search of faith. The reason, of course, is that they are perfectly tight. To go on search of faith is an admission of faithlessness; a state which English conservatism condemns, in much the same way as French nationalism despises the uprooted, who are dismissed insultingly as sanspatrie.”                                                                            (Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 2, Chapter 7)


“Strangely enough, I clung to the word ‘communism’ as descriptive of the reform of abuses which I thought to be necessary; and I now thought that ‘Christianity had been betrayed by the Churches, and communism by the Soviets’. This dictum, naïve as it may be, was important in my development; because, as the war went on and the Russians fought on our side, I clung to the idea that communism and Christianity were built on the same foundation, and might be reconciled.”                               (Eric Siepmann in Confessions of a Nihilist, Part 3, Chapter 1)


“You can’t keep a second-rate man down.”                                                                           (Maurice Bowra to the author, from Eric Siepmann’s Confessions of a Nihilist, Epilogue)


“One woman who posted on College Confidential wanted to know if her children’s French great-grandfather, born in Algeria, would qualify her family as African-American. The consensus was no. “                                   (from article on racial identity for college admission in NYT, June 14)


“Politics is shirts and skins.”                                                                                                      (Stuart Stevens, Republican media consultant, quoted in Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2011)


“Free will may exist (it may simply be beyond our current science), but one thing seems clear: if free will does exist, it has little room in which to operate. It can at best be a small factor riding on top of vast neural networks shaped by genes and environment. In fact, free will may end up being so small that we eventually think about bad decision-making in the same way we think about any physical process such a diabetes or lung disease.”                                                                                                                                          (from neuroscientist David Engleman’s Incognito: The Secret Life of the Brain, adapted in an Atlantic Monthly article, July/August 2011)


“That’s the thing with failing relationships. You can always refuse to answer any question by repeating it. ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Do you want a divorce?’ ‘Are you happy?” Your partner is invariably as ambivalent as you are, and if he or she is human – that is to say, cowardly but at the same time somehow full of moral self-righteousness – then he or she will not commit themselves through any expression of passion or commitment.”                                                                                                                                                      (From Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good, Chapter 14)


“You get the illusion of reality, that suspension of disbelief, because Chandler, like Conan Doyle, was a skilful writer. No British cleric ever finds himself in a Father Brown plot, but then neither does and Los Angeles detective ever find himself in a Chandler plot. Even Chandler’s slang is fake. Remember how everyone keeps calling Philip Marlowe a ‘shamus’? I recall an interview with a professional Los Angeles police official who said he had never heard a private detective called a shamus., in California, or anywhere else.”                              (Martin Gardner, in his Introduction to The (Annotated) Innocence of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton)


“’He betrayed his country’ – yes, perhaps he did, but who among us has not committed treason to something or someone more important than a country? In Philby’s eyes he was working for the shape of things to come from which his country would benefit.”                                                                             (Graham Greene, in his Introduction to Kim Philby’s My Silent War)


“I, too, have suffered personal inconvenience through my connection with the secret service.”                                                                              (Kim Philby, in his Preface to My Silent War)


“I have found that advertising people can be relied upon for two things. First, they will warn you on no account to go into advertising; second, they will expatiate at length on the dirtier tricks of their profession.”                                                              (Kim Philby, in My Silent War, Chapter 2)


“But it is a good working rule, wherever you are, to ignore the old hands; their mentalities grow inward like toenails.”                                                         (Kim Philby, in My Silent War, Chapter 9)


“So, after seven years, I left Beirut and turned up in the Soviet Union. Why? Maybe I was tipped off by a Fourth Man. Maybe someone had blundered. It is even possible that I was just tired. Thirty years in the underground is a long stretch, and I cannot pretend that they left no mark. The question, as far as I am concerned, can be left to history; or rather, since history is unlikely to be interested, it can be buried right now.”                   (Kim Philby, in My Silent War, Epilogue)


“In a vote over whether Mr. Meyer should resign, the minutes show, Mrs. Bachmann sided with Mr. Meyer. Denise Stephens, who led parents in challenging the religious emphasis, said teachers complained to her that they could not teach ‘Native American spirituality’ or even yoga, and that one who wanted to show the Disney movie ‘Aladdin’ was told she could not because it involved magic.”                                       (from report on Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachman, and her involvement with the New Heights charter school, in NYT, June 22)


“          ’Do you believe,’ she said, ‘that your leaders are any better than L.’s?’ …

‘No. of course not. But I still prefer the people they lead – even if they lead them all wrong.’

‘The poor, right or wrong,’ she scoffed.

‘It’s no worse, is it, than my country right or wrong? You choose your side once for all – of course it may be the wrong side. Only history can tell that.’”                                                                           (Rose Cullen and D., in Graham Greene’s The Confidential Agent, Chapter 2)


“It may be that other countries, like politicians, are there to disappoint us; and that those who take a second identity are more vulnerable to such disappointment. Your alter country is all that your first was not; commitment to it involves idealism, love, sentimentality, and a certain selective vision. Over the years, however, you may discover that the alluring differences only half-conceal grinding similarities (the snootiness of élites, the complacency of the bourgeoisie, the conservatism of the proletariat); you may also start noticing aspects of that otherness which you dislike, or which seem aimed at destroying what initially drew you to the country.”                                                           (Julian Barnes in his Preface to Richard Cobb’s Paris and Elsewhere)


“Renan said that ‘getting its history wrong is part of being a great nation,’ and a nation rarely gets its history as wrong as when congratulating itself on a famous yet intensely contradictory event.”                       (Julian Barnes in his Preface to Richard Cobb’s Paris and Elsewhere)


“For historians should not ‘intellectualize’ about people often less sophisticated than themselves, and about societies less complicated  than those in which we live. In history, intellectual debate can so often be a cover for over-simplification, lack of experience, insufficient culture, lack of involvement and of sympathy, and the impetus to compare and to generalize in cases where comparisons and generalizations are irrelevant or positively misleading. Why, one wonders, when reading certain sections of Past and Present, why do historians spend so much time arguing, imposing definitions, proposing ‘models,’ when they could be getting on with their research?”                                                                                                                            (Richard Cobb, in Experiences of an Anglo-French Historian, from Paris and Elsewhere)


“The historian should, above all, be endlessly inquisitive and prying,, constantly attempting to force the privacy of others, and to cross the frontiers of class, nationality, generation, period, and sex. His principal aim is to make the dead live. And, like the American ‘mortician’, he may allow himself a few artifices of the trade: a touch of rouge here, a pencil-stroke there, a little cotton-wool in the cheeks, to make the operation more convincing.”                              (Richard Cobb, in Experiences of an Anglo-French Historian, from Paris and Elsewhere)


“Architects, town planners, and specialists in traffic circulation are much more dangerous than sociologists, who, so often, have merely served to complicate what might have seemed self-evident and simple to the historian. The errors, assumptions, and miscalculations of the former are both durable and visible: solid contributions to human misery, whereas, while sociologists may attempt to bypass history, or to render it unintelligible and unreadable, they do not seek to destroy it altogether.”  (Richard Cobb, in The Assassination of Paris, from Paris and Elsewhere)


“The five ballplayers summoned before a protest committee at the Gay Softball World Series stood accused of cheating. Their alleged offense: heterosexuality.

Inside a small room, surrounded by committee members and other softball officials, the players said they were interrogated about their sexual orientation. Confusion reigned. According to court records, one player declined to say whether he was gay or straight but acknowledged being married to a woman. Another answered yes to both gay and heterosexual definitions. A third asked if bisexual was acceptable and was told, ‘This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series.’

Ultimately, the committee ruled that three of the five were “nongay” and stripped the team of its second-place finish.”                                                                        (from report in NYT, June 30)




“Inspirational, absolutely, but all this is just a gumbo of dated historiography, hero-genius worship, the 19th-century Great Man Theory of History. Generals may conceive themselves deities — Montgomery, a monster of conceit, once reportedly opened a reading of the Gospel with the words, “And the Lord said unto Moses, and, in my opinion, quite rightly”— but historians and biographers must do better.” (Alexander Rose in NYT Book Review, July 3)


“The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow-poets. The actual audience he gets consists of myopic schoolteachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow poets. This means, in fact, he writes for his fellow poets.”                                      (W. H. Auden, according to Richard Davenport-Hines, in the Spectator, June 25, 2011)


“’Hispanic is not a race,’ said Mr. Quiroz, whose ancestors were the Quechua people, of the Central Andes. ‘Hispanic is not a culture. Hispanic is an invention by some people who wanted to erase the identity of indigenous communities in America.’ ‘We don’t believe we have to accept this identity just because we speak Spanish,’ Mr. Quiroz added.”                                      (from report on Amerindians declining to identify themselves as ‘Hispanic’, in NYT, July 4)


“The focused worship, Mr. Bickle says, affects real-world events by weakening the demons and strengthening the angels that swirl among us. Most important, he says, the incantations, multiplied worldwide, may help usher in the long-awaited final days: seven years of bloody battles and disasters that will end with the Second Coming, with true Christians spirited to eternal bliss and everyone else doomed to hellfire.“                            (from report on the International House of Prayer, in Kansas City, Mo., founded by Mike Bickle, in NYT, July 10)


“But he would then become glum, because he had definitely not taken the King’s Commission in order to end up running guns to Joe Stalin…”                                                                                                                         (Christopher Hitchens on his father, in The Commander, from Hitch-22)


“I eventually came to appreciate a feature of the situation that has since helped me to understand similar obduracy in Lebanon, Gaza, Cyprus, and several other places. The local leaderships that are generated by the ‘troubles’ in such places do not want there to be a solution. A solution would mean that they were no longer deferred to by visiting UN or American mediators, no longer invited to ritzy high-profile international conferences, no longer treated with deference by the mass media, and no longer able to make a second living by smuggling and protection-racketing.”                                    (Christopher Hitchens, in The Fenton Factor, from Hitch-22)


“It’s the height of bad manners to sleep with somebody less than three times.”                                                       (Marc Boxer, according to Christopher Hitchens in Martin, from Hitch-22)


“The colossal expense of this military-industrial system was also a theft from the world’s poor.”                                                               (Christopher Hitchens, in Second Identity, from Hitch-22)


“… the story told to me by Eric Hobsbawm, who at the time of his resignation from the Communist Party was probably the only member of any academic or intellectual or scholarly repute that it still possessed. Running into him shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, I asked him if he’d retained his membership and was told ‘no’.  What then had finally precipitated the separation? ‘They forgot to send me the form asking for the annual renewal of my membership’, he said with perfect gravity,’ and so I decided not to write to headquarters and remind them.’”                                                                                                                         (Christopher Hitchens, in note to Decline, Mutation, or Metamorphosis, from Hitch-22)


“California will become the first state to require public schools to teach gay and lesbian history.

As expected, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Thursday that mandates that the contributions of gays and lesbians in the state and the country be included in social science instruction and in textbooks. School districts will have until next January to begin implementing the new law, which was also promoted in part as a way to combat bullying of gay and lesbian students.

‘This is definitely a step forward, and I’m hopeful that other states will follow,’ said Mark Leno, California’s first openly gay state senator, who sponsored the bill. ‘We are failing our students when we don’t teach them about the broad diversity of human experience.’”                                                                                                                                              (from NYT report, July 14)


“If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an airplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”                                     (The Duke of Edinburgh, from Paul Theroux’s The Tao of Travel, cited by Justin Marozzi in Spectator review, July 9)


“Nothing conveys a sense of the infinite better than stupidity.”                    (Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, on Hitler’s rise, quoted by Lloyd Evans in the Spectator, July 9)


“A gentleman does not ask for a drink, he asks for something to drink.”                                                                                                                              (Augustus Hare, ‘the last Victorian’, in a note to Somerset Maugham, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 4)


“Here again was something that English fiction needed – the dispassionate commentator, the raisonneur, the man at home in Paris and Vienna but also in Seoul and Djakarta, convivial and clubbable, as ready for a game of poker as for a discussion on the Racine alexandrine, the antithesis of the slippered bookman.”         (Anthony Burgess on Somerset Maugham, in the Listener, December 23, 1965, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 10)


“Women should have the courage of their complexions.”                              (remark by Beverley Nichols at the Oxford Union, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 10)


“Never before or since has it been so categorically demonstrated that counter-intelligence work consists often of morally indefensible jobs not to be undertaken by the squeamish or the conscience-stricken.”                                            (The Times Literary Supplement of April 12, 1928, on Maugham’s Ashenden, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 12)


“You know, women often mistake possessiveness for passion, and when they are left, it is not so much that their heart is broken as that their claim to property is repudiated.”                        (H. G. Wells to Somerset Maugham, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 12)


“There are guests who never shut a door after them and never turn out the light when they leave the room. There are the guests who throw themselves on their bed in muddy boots to have a nap after lunch, so that the counterpane has to be cleaned on their departure. There are the guests who smoke in bed and burn holes in your sheets. There are the guests who are on a regimen and have to have special food cooked for them, and there are the guests who wait till their glass is filled with a vintage claret and then say; I won’t have any, thank you. There are the guests who never put back a book in the place from which they took it, and there are the guests who take away a volume from a set and never return it. There are the guests who borrow money from you when they are leaving and do not pay it back. There are the guests who can never be alone for a minute and there are the guests who are seized with a desire to talk the moment that they see you glancing at a paper. There are the guests who, wherever they are, want to be doing something from the time they get up in the morning till the time they go to bed at night. There are the guests who treat you as though they were gauleiters in a conquered province. There are guests who bring three weeks laundry with them to have washed at your expense and there are the guests who send their clothes to the cleaners and leave you to pay the bill. There are the guests who telephone London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and New York and never think of inquiring how much it costs. There are the guests who take all they can get and offer nothing in return.”                                                                         (Somerset Maugham, ‘who was delighted to see his guests arrive and just as delighted to see them leave’, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 13)


“Maugham once asked Moura [Budberg], a tempestuous and beautiful woman with high cheekbones and expressive eyes, what she saw in the paunchy, played-out writer [H. G. Wells]. ‘He smells of honey,’ she said.”        (from Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 14)


“Maugham was well enough to be in London in October in time for a grand dinner given by G. B. Stern in the upstairs room at Quaglino’s for her sixty-four closest friends, mainly from the world of letters.”                            (from Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 15)


To Certain Intellectuals Safe In America


This Europe stinks, you cried, swift to desert

Your stricken country in her sore distress.

You may not care, but still I will assert,

Since you have left us, here the stink is less.                                                                                       (from the Spectator, 1940, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 15)


“They’re Communists because they’re poor and want to be rich; they’re promiscuous because they are highly sexed; they’re Catholics because they don’t want to go to hell.”                                                                  (Somerset Maugham on the local French people, according to S. N. Behrman in People In a Diary, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 17)


“The curse of the rich is that they are not allowed to die.”                                                                                        (S. N. Behrman, quoted in Ted Morgan’s Maugham: A Biography, Chapter19)


“If he was a great man, it was because of this: believing life had no meaning, he determined to make it matter.”     (Ted Morgan on Maugham, in Maugham: A Biography, Chapter 19)


“But the worst thing you can do to a dictator is laugh at him – that’s contempt, not awe, and it made Mussolini mad.” (Alan Furst, in Dying in Byzantium, from Spies of the Balkans)


“Or maybe such ideas came to her when she was by herself, lost in fantasy and she tried them out when she got the chance. That was true of him, likely true of her as well. A lot of love got made when lovers were apart, he thought.”                                                                                                                                                             (Alan Furst, in The Back Door to Hell, from Spies of the Balkans)


“Only in England, Escovil thought, could ‘Do you’ be spoken in such a way that it meant So now I shall cut your throat.”                        (Alan Furst, in A French King, from Spies of the Balkans)


“European Union membership ‘was a big opportunity for development, and we wasted it,’ explained Dimitris Bourantas, a professor of management at Athens University. ‘We also did not take advantage of the markets of the [formerly] socialist countries around Greece. And we also did not take advantage of the growth of the global economy. We lost them all because the political system was focused on growing public administration — not on [fostering] entrepreneurship, competition or industrial strategy or competitive advantages. We created a state with big inefficiencies, corruption and a very large bureaucracy. We were the last Soviet country in Europe.’”                          (from Tom Friedman’s Op-Ed column in NYT, July 20)


“Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry founded by the evangelist Bill Bright, is changing its name because the word “crusade” has negative associations with the bloody Christian conquests of the 11th to 13th centuries….When the group was founded in 1951, it was common for American evangelists to refer to their ministries as crusades. But missionaries working internationally say they now find that the term often causes offense, especially to Muslims.”                                                                                                                                     (from NYT, July 21)


“Hypocrisy is the most difficult and nerve-racking vice that any man can pursue; it needs an unceasing vigilance and a rare detachment of spirit. It cannot, like adultery or gluttony, be practiced at spare moments; it is a whole-time job.”                                                                                                                                        (from W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Chapter 1)


“The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried this device [using a number of ready-made phrases] to such a height of perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of business and fornication.”                                                                                                             (from W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Chapter 2)


“A man who is a politician at forty is a statesman at three score and ten. It is at this age, when he would be too old to be a clerk or a gardener or a police-court magistrate, that he is ripe to govern a country. This is not so strange when you reflect that from the earliest times the old have rubbed it into the young that they are wiser than they, and before the young had discovered what nonsense this was they were old too, and it profited them to carry on this imposture; and besides, no one can have moved in this society of politicians without discovering (if one may judge by results) it requires little mental ability to rule a nation.”                                                                                                                            (from W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Chapter 11)


“On his [Alroy Kear’s] advice I read The Craft of Fiction by Mr. Percy Lubbock, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Henry James; after that I read Aspects of the Novel by Mr. E. M. Forster, from which I learned that the only way to write novels was like Mr. E. M. Forster; then I read The Structure of the Novel by Mr. Edwin Muir, from which I learned nothing at all.”                            (from W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Chapter 16)


“Hollywood is a men’s club for guys who don’t need to work.”                                   (independent producer – of Golf In The Kingdom – Mindy Affrime, quoted in NYT, July 26)


“Mr. Store said the changes had shifted Norway from ‘a monoethnic country to one of greater diversity.’  ‘ We’re not for or against,’ he said. ‘It’s a reality, and to escape diversity you have to go to North Korea.’”                                   (the Norwegian foreign minister, quoted in NYT, July 27)


“We must be global Christians with a global mission, because our God is a global God.”                                                                            (Rev. John Stott, according to his NYT obituary, July 28)


“The biggest problem facing civilization is finding somewhere to park.”                                          (J. G. Ballard, quoted by Iain Sinclair in Ghost Milk, from review in Spectator, July 23)


“Nothing in the world is so insidious as a woman’s flattery: our need for it is so enormous that we become her slave.”                                                                                                                                                 (Simon Fenimore in W. Somerset Maugham’s Christmas Holiday, Chapter 2)


“She [Madame Berger, Lydia’s mother-in-law] had notions of morality that foreigners often think are unusual in France. For instance, she had no patience with women who were unfaithful to their husbands, but she looked upon it as natural enough that men should deceive their wives. She never would have dreamt of accepting an invitation unless she had the power to return it. Once she’d made a bargain she’d stick to it even though it turned out to be a bad one. Though she counted every penny she spent she was scrupulously honest, honest from principle and honest from loyalty to her family.”                                                                                                                                        (Lydia, in W. Somerset Maugham’s Christmas Holiday, Chapter 5)


“Charley hesitated. He had no particular religious feelings. He had been brought up to believe in God, but not to think of him. To do that would be – well, not exactly bad form, but rather priggish.”                                 (W. Somerset Maugham, in Christmas Holiday, Chapter 5)


“Charming people are generally weak and irresolute, charm is the weapon nature gives them to cope with their disadvantages; I would never set much trust in anyone who had it.”                                                (Simon Fenimore in W. Somerset Maugham’s Christmas Holiday, Chapter 6)


“That’s why one should only have acquaintances, and never make friends. An acquaintance shows you only the best of himself, he’s considerate and polite, he conceals his defects behind a mask of social convention; but grow so intimate with him that he throws the mask aside, get to know him so well that he doesn’t trouble any longer to pretend; then you’ll discover a being of such meanness, of such a trivial nature, of such weakness, of such corruption, that you’d be aghast if you didn’t realize that that was his nature and it was just as stupid to condemn the wolf because he ravens or the cobra because he strikes. For the essence of man is egoism. Egoism is at once his strength and his weakness.”                                                                                                                            (Simon Fenimore in W. Somerset Maugham’s Christmas Holiday, Chapter 9)




“Warfare is ultimately not a denial of the human capacity for social cooperation, but merely the most destructive expression of it.”                                                                                (Anthropologist Lawrence H. Keeley in War Before Civilization, quoted in NYT, August 2)


“When he [Professor R.] spoke again, it was to say that he felt one single film by Laurel and Hardy was worth more than  all their revolutionary tracts, including those of Marx and Lenin.”                                                       (Azar Nafisi, in Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 2, Chapter 20)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife.”                                                                                                                                              (Yassi, in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 4, Chapter 1)


“The worst fear you can have is losing your faith. Because then you’re not accepted by anyone – not by those who consider themselves secular or by people of your own faith. It’s terrible. Mahshid and I have been talking about that, about how ever since we could remember, our religion has defined every single action we’ve taken. If one day I lose my faith, it will be like dying and having to start new again in a world without parameters.”                                                                                  (Yassi, in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 4, Chapter 21)


“I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and have the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility if publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?

We speak of facts, yet facts exist only partially to us if they are not repeated and re-created through emotions, thoughts and feelings, To me it seemed as if we had not really existed, or only half existed, because we could not imaginatively realize ourselves and communicate to the world, because we had used works of imagination to serve as handmaidens to some political ploy.”                                                 (Azar Nafisi, in Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 4, Chapter 26)


“I’m no Keynesian – but nowhere does it say in the General Theory that the government should spend over half on national income (for the third year in a row in our case, according to the OECD), that governments should run up large budget deficits even in boom years (as was the case under Gordon Brown) and that one pound in every five spent by the state should be borrowed, even with the country out of recession. To try to justify current levels of borrowing by appealing to Keynesianism is a travesty.”                    (Alister Heath, in the Spectator, July 30)


“I always think the only important thing about Oxford is that people know you were there…”                                                                  (Freddy, in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Alien Corn)


“I have always wondered at the passion many people have to meet the celebrated. The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends that you know famous men prove sonly that you are yourself of small account.” (from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Summing Up, chapter ii)


“I have no natural trust in others. I am more inclined to expect them to do ill than to do good. This is the price one has to pay for having a sense of humour. A sense of humour leads you to take pleasure in the discrepancies of human nature; it leads you to mistrust great professions and look for the unworthy motive that they conceal; the disparity between appearance and reality diverts you and you are apt when you cannot find it to create it. You tend to close your eyes to truth, beauty and goodness because they give you no scope to your sense of the ridiculous. The humourist has a quick eye for the humbug; he does not always recognize the saint. But if to see men one-sidedly is a heavy price to pay for a sense of humour there is a compensation that has value too. You are not angry at people when you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance, and the humourist, with a smile and perhaps a sigh, is more likely to shrug his shoulders than to condemn. He does not moralize, he is content to understand; and it is true that to understand is to pity and forgive.”                         (from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Summing Up, chapter xx)


“In my twenties the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent, and now in my sixties they say I am superficial.”                         (from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Summing Up, chapter lx)


“It seems as unlikely that you may not hold reasonable theories about the universe and man’s place in it, the mystery of evil and the meaning of reality, unless you are a mathematical physicist, as that you cannot enjoy a bottle of wine unless you have the trained sensibility that enables you without error to ascribe a year to twenty different clarets.”                                                                                                 (from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Summing Up, chapter lxiv)


“I winced when I heard Barack Obama tell his countrymen that ‘We live in the greatest nation in the history of the world.’ They don’t, and neither do we, and all of us should leave that judgment to future historians.”                                          (Martin Vander Weyer, in the Spectator, August 6)


“Each of us who is English knows in himself what that set of experiences, institutions, values, culture and art is that makes us understand our identity. Sharing it among so diverse a people as we are today – a diversity to be found among the English, I mean – is always going to be the most impossible concept to transmit to others, because it is so elusive to define. It usually takes a war to forge such a common experience, and we could probably agree we could do without one of those.”                                                                                                                                           (Simon Heffer, in review of Roy Strong’s Visions of England, in the Spectator, August 6)


“Neanderthals did not walk with a slouch, or with bent knees. Indeed, given a shave and a new suit, the pair [William Strauss and Alexander Cave] wrote [in the nineteen-fifties], a Neanderthal probably would attract no more attention on a New York City subway ‘than some of its other denizens’. More recent scholarship has tended to support the idea that Neanderthals, if not quite up to negotiating the I.R.T., certainly walked upright, with a gait we would recognize more or less as our own.”                                                                                                                                              (Elizabeth Kolbert in Sleeping with the Enemy, in the New Yorker, August 15 & 22)


“North Korea and evangelical empires have the same principle of leadership: nepotism to the nth degree. You may not get the call, but you inherit the mailing list.”                                                   (ex-evangelical Frank Schaeffer, author of Sex, Mom and God, quoted in NYT, August 20)


“What a pleasure it is to be in a college where one can rub shoulders and ideas with astrophysicists and (as one of my predecessors put it) ‘rather more papyrologists than one might expect in a normal distribution.”                                                                                               (The Very Revd. Christopher Lewis, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, in Christ Church 2010)


“Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain. It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object but not the details indicative of their nature.”                                          (from Prologue to Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“The men and women who are withered by their fates, who go down to death reluctantly but without noticeable regrets for life, are not those who have lost their mates prematurely or by perfidy, or who have lost battles or fallen from early promise in circumstances of public shame, but those who have been jilted or the victims of impotent lovers, who have never been summoned to command or been given any opportunity for success or failure. Art is not  a plaything, but a necessity, and its essence, form, is not a decorative adjustment, but a cup into which life can be poured and lifted to the lips and be tasted.”                                                                          (from Croatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“All of us know what it is to be moonstruck by charmers and to misinterpret their charm as a promise that now, at last, in this enchanting company, life can be lived without precaution, in the laughing exchange of generosities; and all of us have found later that charm made no promise and meant nothing, absolutely nothing, except that their mothers’ glands worked well before they were born. Actually such men often cannot understand generosity at all, since the eupeptic quality which is the cause of their charm enables them to live happily without feeling the need for sweetening life by amiable conduct. They often refrain from contemptuous comment on such folly because they have some use for the gifts of the generous, but even then they usually cannot contain their scorn at what seems a crazy looseness, and idiot interference with the efficient mechanism of self-interest. Hence the biographies of charmers are often punctuated by treachery and brutality of a most painful kind.”                                                                                                              (from Croatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“It is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between history and the smell of skunk.”                                      (from Dalmatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“The West has done much that is ill, it is vulgar and superficial and economically sadist: but it has not known that death in life which was suffered by the Christian provinces under the Ottoman Empire.” (from Dalmatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“There is so little difference between the extent to which any large number of people indulge in sexual intercourse, when they indulge in it without inhibitions, and when they indulge in it with inhibitions, that it cannot often be a determining factor in history.”                                                                                    (from Dalmatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“I thought of two kinds of men that the West produces: the cityish kind who wears spectacles without shame, as if they were a sign of quality and not a defect, who is overweight and puffy, who can drive a car but knows no other mastery over material, who presses buttons and turns switches without comprehending the result, who makes money when the market goes up and loses it when the market goes down; the high-nosed young man, who is somebody’s secretary or in the Foreign Office, who has  peevishly amusing voice and is very delicate, who knows a great deal but far from all there is to be known about French pictures. I understand why we cannot build, why we cannot govern, why we bear ourselves without pride in our international relations. It is not that all Englishmen are like that, but that too many of them are like that in our most favoured classes.” (from Dalmatia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“I don’t like their handkerchiefs, and I don’t like them… No doubt they’re perfectly respectable, but they waggle themselves behind all this concealment with a  Naughty Nineties sort of sexuality that reminds me of Ally Sloper and the girls, and the old Romano, and the Pink ‘Un and the Pelican.”                                                                                            (Rebecca West’s husband on Moslem Slavs, in Herzegovina, in her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“The veil perpetuates and renews a moment when man, being in league with death, like all creatures that must die, hated his kind for living and transmitting life, and hated woman more than himself, because she is the instrument of birth, and pit his hand to the floor to find filth and plastered it on her face, to affront the breath of life in her nostrils. There is about all veiled women a sense of melancholy quite incommensurate with the inconveniences they themselves may be suffering. Even when, like the women of Mostar, they seem to be hastening towards secret and luxurious and humorous love-making, they hint of a general surrender to mortality, a futile attempt of the living to renounce life.”                                                                                                                         (from Herzegovina, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“The looks the men cast on the veiled women, the gait by which the women know that they are being looked upon, speak if a romanticism that can take its time to dream and resolve because it is the flower of the satisfied flesh. The tradition of tranquil sensuality is of Moslem origin, and is perhaps still strongest among Moslems, but also on Jewish and Christian faces can there be recognized this steady light, which makes it seem as if the Puritans who banish pleasure and libertines who savage her do worse than we had imagined.”                                                                            (from Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“Like all other material experiences, sex had no value other than what the spirit assesses; and the spirit is obstinately influenced in its calculation by its preference for freedom.”                                                  (from Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“Any writer worth his salt knows that only a small proportion of literature does more than partly compensate people for the damage they have suffered by learning to read.”                                                       (from Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“It is a conception of love which demands that it should be sudden and secret and dangerous. You from the West have no such conception of love. It seems to you that love must be as slow as the growth of a plant: a man and woman must come throughout many months to a full understanding of each others’ natures and take serious vows to fulfil each other’s needs. You think also that a man insults a woman if her wishes to make love to her without delay, and that a woman is worthless if she gives herself to a man before they have killed a great part of the calendar. In this there is much truth……  But love can be sudden and quite different from that. It can de so ecstatic that it can come into full being at a single encounter, that it needs only that encounter to satisfy the lovers.”                                                                                      (Constantine, in Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“But if a woman did not know that to lift her veil before a stranger was perhaps to die, she might perhaps lift it when she had received no intimation of this great and sudden love: when she was merely barbarian. And indeed neither she nor her lover could fully consummate this kind of love without a sense of peril. They would not shut the eyes of reason and precipitate themselves into the abyss of passion, unless they knew this might be their last chance to experience it or, indeed, anything else.”                                                                                                                                                     (Constantine, in Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“Those who believe in the power of relics and who are solemn will beg you not to talk of such things, not to recall how the stupidities of our ancestors made foolish a beautiful thing. But most people, whether they are believing or not, will only laugh. But the people of five hundred years ago did not see anything ridiculous in a dead man with two heads and three arms, all working miracles; and they did not feel suspicious because monks made much money out of such dead men. They saw something else, which made them add a head and a head and make it one head, and two arms and one arm, and make it two arms, and we do not know what that something was.”             (Constantine, in Bosnia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“Capitalism is an attempt at solving the problem of how a man shall get a steady living off an earth that does not care a jot about him, and it may be said, until some Communist state has worked out its theory with better results than Russia, that we know of none more successful.”                                   (from Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“There is nothing like the peculiar gratification which fills us when we find ourselves able to satisfy the claims of reality by enacting a fantasy that has long warmed our imagination.”                                               (from Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“The new sort of people had been defrauded of their racial tradition, they enjoyed no inheritance of wisdom; brought up without gardens, to work on machines, all but a few lacked the education which is given by craftsmanship; and they needed this wisdom and this education as never before, because they were living in conditions of unprecedented frustration and insecurity. A man without tradition and craft is lost, and book learning is of little help to him. For he lacks the shrewdness to winnow what he reads.”                                                                                                                   (from Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“On fact, England had had a bourgeoisie long before Germany, and we had found out that the bourgeois loses more than he gains by giving up the use of his hands; but there is no wider gulf in the universe than yawns between those on the hither and thither side of vital experience.”                             (from Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 1)


“… although himself an unbeliever, he retained a lifelong attachment to the Church of England, worshipping regularly in his parish church until the end of his life. He declared that whilst he did not believe in God, he did believe in organized religion, a nice reversal of the usual pious platitude of our times.”                                                                                                                                           (from Bryan Young’s obituary to Anthony Howard, in Christ Church 2010)


“If there is one certain difference between the sexes it is that men lack all sense of objective reality and have a purely pragmatic approach to knowledge. A fact does not begin to be for a man until he has calculated its probable usefulness to him. If he thinks it will serve his purposes then he will recognize it; but if it is unwelcome to him then he will deny it. This means that he is not sure of the existence of his own soul, for nothing is more debatable for any of us than whether it is a good or a bad thing that our souls should have come to be. That life is preferable to death is a conviction firmly held by our bowels and muscles but the mind has never convincingly proved it to the mind. Women, however, do not greatly trouble about this, since we have been born and we shall die, and even if the essence of our existence should be evil there is at least a term set to it. Therefore, women feel they can allow themselves to enjoy the material framework of existence for what it is worth. With men it cannot be so. Full of uncertainty, they sweat with fear lest all be for the worst.”                                                                               (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“’But democracy is an evil thing’, said the Abbot, assuming a sublime expression of prophetic wisdom, ‘it is always the beginning of communism.’”                                                              (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“Of course the English have no real religious instinct, but they approve of religion because it holds society together.”                                                                                     (The Abbot, in Macedonia (South Serbia), from Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“A race that has not good soldiers must be enslaved by any neighbouring race that has them: a race that has not the soldierly characteristics of courage and discipline cannot in later stages refuse to fight unnecessary wars and insist on proceeding with the work of civilisation. If ever peace is to be imposed on the world it will only be because a number of men who could have taken part in the drill display by the Guards or Marines or at the Royal Tournament turn that strength and precision to the service of life.”                                                                                    (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“It cannot be too firmly stated that the average man who emigrates from one of the more primitive countries to America is lost to European civilization without being gained by American civilization. The subsequent generations he begets may acclimatize themselves to the new tradition, but the state of vacuity in the mind of man who actually makes the transition cannot be exaggerated. He is removed from the economic hell with which Europe punishes the people who perform the function most necessary to its survival and grow its food for it, and he is lifted to what is for him the economic paradise with which America rewards the people who help it get into debt by making unnecessary manufactured goods. Therefore his primary needs are so astonishingly well satisfied that he believes himself contented; but he forgets everything that his own people have learned about birth and love and death. This would have happened to him just the same, of course, if he had emigrated to any really big city in Europe which was thoroughly remote from his tradition; but he is much more likely to go to America.”                                       (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“We prune our minds to fit them into the garden of ordinary life. We exclude from our consciousness all sorts of knowledge that we have acquired because it might distract us from the problems we must solve if we are to go on living, and it even might make us doubt whether it is prudent to live. But sometimes it is necessary for us to know where we are in eternity as well as in time, and we must lift this ban. Then we must let our full knowledge invade our minds, and let our memories of birth crawl like serpents from their cave and our foreknowledge of death spread its wide shadow.”                                                                                                                       (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“The rite made its false claims not out of delusion; it was a conscious cheat. Those who had invented it and maintained it through the ages were actuated by a beastly retrogression, they wanted again to enjoy the dawn of nastiness as it had first broken over their infant minds. They wanted to put their hands on something weaker than themselves and prod its mechanism to funny tricks by the sue of pain, to smash what was whole, to puddle in the warm stickiness of their own secretions. Hence the slaughter of the lambs and the cocks, the breaking of the jars, the mess of blood and grease. But the intelligence of man is sound enough to have noticed that if the fully-grown try to go back to the infantile they cannot succeed, but must go back to imbecility and maaia. Therefore those who wish to indulge in this make the huge pretension for it that there is a mysterious process at work in the world that has no relation to causality. This process is a penny-in-the-slot machine of idiot character. If one drops in a piece of suffering, a blessing pops out at once. If one squares death by offering him a sacrifice, one will be allowed some share in life for which one has hungered. Thus those who had a lech for violence could gratify it and at the same time gain authority over those who loved peace and life.”                                                        (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“All our Western thought is founded on this repulsive pretence that pain is the proper price of any good thing.”                                                                                                                    (from Macedonia (South Serbia), in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“This is more of a sacrifice than would appear, for all men have a lech to live by principle; the good man would live by virtue, the bad man would live by vice, but both alike want a fixed rule for their happiness. The ruler, however, must have none. He must ask himself of every act the opportunist question, whether it tilts his land toward the sun or the shadow, and abide by the answer. This obligation prevents him from being a bad or a good man, but it makes the people feel for him as if he were a loving father.”                                                                                                                        (from Old Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“A plump chicken that was easy to eat would have seemed to him wrong in the same way as a golf-course with no hazards.”                                                                                                                                 (from Old Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“We believed in our heart of hearts that life was simply this and nothing more, a man cutting the throat of a lamb on a rock to please God and obtain happiness; and when our intelligence told us that man was performing a disgusting and meaningless act, our response was not to dismiss the idea as a nightmare, but to say, ‘Since it is wrong to be the priest and sacrifice the lamb, I will be the lamb and be sacrificed by the priest.’ We therefore set up a principle that doom was honourable for innocent things, and conceded that if we spoke of kindliness and recommended peace it was fitting afterwards the knife should be passed across our throats.”                                                         (from Old Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“They therefore knew better than those above them as a paid athlete earning his keep by daily performance realise more intensely that he must not poison his strength by alcohol or unwholesome food, that it is good for a man to be temperate and precise and to respect the quality of others. But the people who determine the fate of England have not learned that lesson; for we are still governed by our great houses.”                                                                                                        (from Old Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“The average English diplomat en poste anywhere but the great familiar capitals, in Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Vienna, reacts exactly like a young woman who has given up duty at the haberdashery counter to marry a young man in a Continental branch of a bacon firm. There is the same frenzied interest in clothes, and the same resentful indifference to the exotic surroundings. This is not an aristocratic attitude, but the great house no longer produces aristocrats but only the privileged.”    (from Old Serbia, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“The district of Petch was handed over to an old man who had been King Peter’s Master of the Horse, and he appears, like our own followers of the Belvoir and the Quorn, to have offered conclusive proof of the powerfully degenerative effect of equine society on the intellect.”                                             (from Montenegro, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“If a mine fails to profit by its riches and a church wastes the treasure of its altar, we shall know the cause: we shall find out why we draw the knife across the throat of the black lamb or take its place on the offensive rock, and why we let the grey falcon nest in our bosom, though it buries its beak in our veins. We shall put our own madness in irons. Then, having defeated our own enmity, we shall be able to face the destiny forced on us by nature, and war with that.”                                           (from Montenegro, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“I grieved, for it seemed to me that any of them [French authors] had as much to say as Goethe, whose philosophy, indeed, boils down to the opinion, Ain’t Nature grand?”                                                            (from Epilogue to Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“Yet nationalism is simply the determination of a people to cultivate its own soul, to follow the customs bequeathed to it by its ancestors, to develop its traditions according to its own instincts. It is the national equivalent of the individual’s determination not to be a slave. The fulfillment of both these determinations is essentially a part of the Left programme. But the liberation of an individual or a people may lead to all sorts of different consequences, according to their different natures.”                 (from Epilogue to Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)


“There is nothing rarer than a man who can be trusted never to throw away happiness, however eagerly he sometimes grasps it. In history we are as frequently interested in our own doom. Sometimes we search for peace, sometimes we make an effort to find convenient frontiers and a proper fulfillment for racial destinies; but sometimes we insist on war, sometimes we stamp into the dust the only foundations on which we can support our national lives.”                                                                 (from Epilogue to Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Volume 2)




“If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of élites bearing racial theories.” (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a 2007 case, quoted in the New Yorker, August 29)


“Every man has a right to be stupid, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.”                                                                                                                                              (attributed to Leon Trotsky on Dwight Macdonald, according to Louis Menand, in the New Yorker, September 5)


“Spanish, or supposed to be. My great-great-grandfather was one of the original settlers – you know, the gay caballeros that gypped the Indians out of their land, the king out of his taxes, and then sold out to the Americans when Polk started annexing. But, if you ask me, the old coot was really a wop. I can’t prove it, but I think the name was originally Bergoni. However, if he Spanished it up, it’s all right with me. Wop or spig, I wouldn’t trust either one as far as a snail can hop, so it doesn’t make much difference, one way or the other.”                                                                                        (Monty Beragon, In James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, Chapter 7)


“She pontificated a great deal now, particularly about politics. She hadn’t been in business very long before she became furiously aware of taxes, and this led quite naturally to Politics and Mr. Roosevelt. She was going to vote for him, she said, because he was going to put an end to all this Hoover extravagance and balance the budget. Why the very idea, she said, of all those worthless people demanding help, and this Hoover even considering doing anything for them.”                                                           (on Mildred Pierce, in James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, Chapter 10)


“Jews vote like everybody else — only more so.”                                                                              (Steve Rabinowitz, a former Clinton White House official, quoted in NYT, September 15)


“The new orthodoxy is that salvation is not a matter for individuals and for eternity: it’s about saving the world collectively, and saving it now – by covering it with windfarms. To doubt this dogma is to damn yourself as much an enemy of humanity as if you had been caught drilling a hole below the waterline in Noah’s ark.”          (Michael McMahon, in the Spectator, August 27)


“Malcolm’s paternal grandfather, Oliver Henry Wallop, was in all likelihood the only person to have served in both the House of Lords and the Wyoming House of Representatives. He became a prosperous cattle rancher, a naturalized citizen and a state legislator after coming to the United States in the late 19th century. Then in 1925, after the last of his siblings died without bearing children, Oliver Henry Wallop became the eighth Earl of Portsmouth. Resuming his original citizenship, he returned to England, where he sat in the House of Lords. He remained a British subject until his death in 1943.” (from the obituary of Malcolm Wallop in NYT, September 16)


“Over the past decades, Americans have developed an absurd view of the power of government. Many voters seem to think that government has the power to protect them from the consequences of their sins. Then they get angry and cynical when it turns out that it can’t.”                                                                                                                           (David Brooks, in NYT, September 16)


“Spells of acute loneliness are an essential part of travel. Traveling in pairs and families is the continuation of staying home by other means.”                                                                                                                 (Jonathan Raban in Driving Home, quoted in review in NYT, September 16)


“At the same time, declinism can’t decline to the end. Although the forces of decline need to be ominously arrayed in tables and vectors, the author is expected to rally in the last chapter to explain the one way to reverse the otherwise irreversible: world government, national industrial policy. A third party, kindergarten education in Esperanto, or whatever. Everything has to be as inevitable as falling off a roof, and yet there has to be a chance for someone to suddenly fly. Declinism is, in other words, a genre as much as it is any set of claims.”                                                                    (Adam Gopnik, in Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat, in the New Yorker, September 12)


“Not only do they [Friedman and Mandelbaum] propose, as a way to arrest the decline, a third party, with no clear policies, programs, popular constituency, or potential leaders; they also present every problem as one confronted by a uniform ‘we’. The idea is that we all, left and right, wrinkle our brows and share the same goals, and are just so frustrated about our inability to achieve them.”                                                                                                                                                          (Adam Gopnik, in Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat, in the New Yorker, September 12)


“Uncertainty is the last refuge of economists who can’t explain what is going on.”            (Paul Kasriel, chief economist for Northern Trust, according to Joe Nocera in NYT, September 20)


“Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers. It’s a sort of crime against childhood.”                                              (Professor Richard Dawkins, from interview in NYT, September 20)


“I’ve had perfectly wonderful conversations with Anglican bishops, and I rather suspect if you asked in a candid moment, they’d say they don’t believe in the virgin birth. But for every one of them, four others would tell a child she’ll rot in hell for doubting.”                                                                                                    (Professor Richard Dawkins, from interview in NYT, September 20)


“… human history, as it is generally described and understood, is the sum total of accident and unintended consequence.”                                                                         (Peter Ackroyd, in Foundation: A History of England Volume 1, quoted in review in Prospect, September 2011)


“If you have the misfortune to be born into a generation which must earn its living, you might as well do something amusing.”                                                                                                           (Julian Fellowes’s father, Peregrine, to his son, from interview in NYT Magazine, September 11)


“If there is a God, and he lacks a sense of irony, he will send Hitchens to the hottest precinct of hell. If God does have a sense of irony, Hitchens will spend eternity in a town that serves no liquor and has no library. Either way, heaven will be a less interesting place.”                      (Bill Keller, in review of Christopher Hitchens’s Arguably, in NYT Book Review, September 11)


“The proponents of ‘deep history’ seek to upend the discipline’s most precious precept and method: the reliance on the written record of the past. “No documents, no history,” a manual of historical study commanded in 1898. Everything that came before is shunted into the category of prehistory.”                                                                 (Patricia Cohen, in NYT, September 27)

CF: “’Document’ comes from a Latin verb signifying “that which tells, which teaches you something”. A knife on a table, a chair, a room, a building can all have the value of a document. It is altogether normal that, for example, a great mind such as Fustel de Coulanges (1830-1889), who, for us French, is the founder of scientific history, should have adopted a motto like “No documents, no history”.                                                       (Professor Robert Faurisson)


“Throughout all our little kingdom, foreigners are universally detested. In no other country in the world is there so much animosity displayed towards the average foreigner than in ours.”                                                                                              (from William Le Queux’s Alpine Flower, quoted in William Le Queux, Master of Mystery, by Chris Patrick and Stephen Baister, Chapter 3)


Remember the Alamo! Kosovo Field! The Boyne! Scarborough!!

“The novel [The Zeppelin Destroyer], like the earlier invasion novels, continues to evoke scary scenarios, including the Zeppelin bombardment of London, a very real fear for many readers in 1916:

‘The German newspapers have – ever since the early days of the war – threatened to bombard London from the air. This last raid has shown that they are capable of doing so.

“They’re capable of anything!” I cried. “Remember Scarborough!”’                                          (from William Le Queux, Master of Mystery, by Chris Patrick and Stephen Baister, Chapter 6)


“What is six months in the history of 5,000-year-old people?’’                                                                                                                (Thomas L. Friedman, on the Israelis, in NYT, September 28)


“My dad comes from a peasant background in Czechoslovakia; he lived in a house with the people upstairs and animals downstairs, so I have an innate affinity for peasants. Also, we were Jewish, and in 1938 refugees were streaming across the border from Germany with broken heads.  Pretty much anybody could see what was coming. My dad said, ‘There’s going to be hell to pay soon,’ and made plans to escape. But when he tried to tell our family and friends, they said things like ‘But what would we do with the furniture?’ I got from him an eye for seeing the obvious.”         (Psychiatrist and entrepreneur Paul R. Polak, from NYT interview, September 27)


“A Mennonite guy had invented a rower pump that would pull up enough to water a half-acre of vegetables. They had installed 2,000 over five years, and those farmers seemed to be making a lot of money, so I said, ‘Why don’t we do a project, with an objective of selling 25,000 a year?’ We hit that pretty quickly. One or two Mennonites objected — they considered the idea of selling something to poor people immoral.”                                                                                                              (Psychiatrist and entrepreneur Paul R. Polak, from NYT interview, September 27)




“In these hard times, replacing F.D.R.’s moral ideals with an accountant’s pencil and ideological rigidity so that even disaster relief becomes a political Armageddon repudiates what I once thought was this country’s moral heart and is why on so many mornings reading The New York Times evokes anguish and often tears.”                                                                         (from letter by Martha Holstein, who ‘teaches healthcare ethics at Loyola University’, in NYT, October 1)


“After a poet is dead, his letters are the windows to his soul – or perhaps just the cellar doors.”     (William Logan, in review of The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume 1, in NYT, October 2)


Two Views on Entrepreneurialism

“’I relate well to your view that gov is a crappy vc,’ Mr. Summers wrote, using a shorthand for venture capitalist.

‘These e-mails show that the administration was aware of those risks, and that decisions were based on more than two years of rigorous analysis and due diligence by career officials spanning two administrations,’ said the spokesman [for the Department of Energy], Damien LaVera, in a statement. “                                                                                            (from NYT, October 4)

“David Brin, a physicist and science fiction writer, argues in one chapter [of Pathological Altruism] that sanctimony can be as physically addictive as any recreational drug, and as destabilizing. “A relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism,” he writes. “It may be the ultimate propellant behind the current ‘culture war.’ ” Not to mention an epidemic of blogorrhea, newspaper-induced hypertension and the use of a hot, steeped beverage as one’s political mascot.”       (Natalie Angier in NYT Science Times, October 4)


“As for the greater prevalence of tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears, I actually welcomed a mild onset of this disorder. It enabled me to still hear the magnificent singing on stage and the exquisite solos of the principal players in the orchestra pit while mercifully rendering the speeches of chatty conductors on the podium inaudible at rehearsals. “                                      (Les Dreyer, second violinist in Metropolitan Opera, in letter to NYT Science Times, October 4)


“The spectre of the 1930s still hovers over Britain. A decade in which politicians were found incapable of dealing with crushing economic and social problems, including intractable unemployment; an international situation where ‘liberal intervention’ was constantly contested and seen to bring a slew of unwelcome commitments; a people largely out of love with their government, suspicious of the impotence and contumely of politicians. The parallels seem stark.”                                                              (Juliet Gardiner in Prospect, October 2011)


“Hey, what’s the strongest force in the universe? It’s not gravity, it’s jealousy.”     (Robert P. Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, quoted in NYT, October 5)


Presidential Campaign News

“If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.”                                                 (Mitt Romney, quoted in NYT, October 8)

“I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”                 (pastor Robert Jeffress, accusing Mormonism of ‘being a cult’, and Mitt Romney  of ‘not being a Christian’, quoted in NYT, October 8)


“I think it was the Duchess of Windsor who once said, You can’t be too rich or too thin or have too many Cretaceous fossils.”                                              (Neil Landman, a palaentologist at the American Museum of Natural History, quoted in the New Yorker, October 10)


“Mrs. Webb, not being a Soviet politician, has managed to survive to the age of eighty.”                                                                                           (J. Maynard Keynes, when asked to contribute to an essay collection for Beatrice Webb’s 80th birthday, from the New Yorker, October 10)


Words from ‘Our Whites’

“Jan Gannaway, a Haskell native who is white, said integration took time.  ‘We weren’t integrated nearly as rapidly as the North,” she said. “But we’ve always had a different relationship with our blacks than the North has, too. It’s often been said, and I think it’s true, we love them individually and kind of distrust them as a group, whereas in the North, they don’t want to get too close to them individually but they embrace them as a group.’”                                                                         (from article about Governor Rick Perry’s background, NYT, October 10)


Tinker Tailor, on both small and large screens, is a deliberately monochrome fantasy of unfeasibly intelligent agents who wearily believe in the moral equivalence between the UK and the USSR but mainly do the right thing while quoting Greek and Latin tags.”                                                                                  (‘Remote Controller’, in Private Eye, 30 September-13 October)


“Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level.”                                                                                                            (B. H. Liddle-Hart, in Why Don’t We Learn From History?, according to Israeli General Alon, quoted in NYT, October 12)


A Lesson in Economics

“Creating well-paying jobs is the only way to save the American economy. By creating 200,000 to 300,000 new jobs every month, we would increase the tax base and not even have to think about raising taxes on anyone in America. People with jobs would be able to keep their homes, send their children to college, and once again buy goods and services. That would create more profits for American companies, adding revenues to the tax base and lowering the deficit.”                                                                       (from letter by Henry A. Lowenstein in NYT, October 14)


“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”                                                                 (‘evangelical’ historian Mark A. Noll, in The Scandal of the American Mind, quoted by Karl W. Gilberson and Randall J. Stephens in NYT, October 18)


“I’m more Christian every day. Socialism is the road to Christ.”                                                                                                       (President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, quoted in NYT, October 21)


“Women like to place people; every stranger reminds them of somebody.”                                                                                      (James Thurber, in The Lady on 142, from The Thurber Carnival)


“Enormous strides are made in star-measurement, theoretical economics, and the manufacture of bombing planes, but he [the short-story writer] doesn’t find out about them until he picks up and old copy of ‘Time’ on a picnic grounds or in the summer house of a friend. He is aware that billions of dollars are stolen every year by bankers and politicians, and that thousands of people are out of work, but these convictions do not worry him a tenth as much as the conviction that he has wasted three months on a stupid psychoanalyst or a suspicion that a piece he has been working on for two long days was done much better and probably more quickly by Robert Benchley in 1924.”                                                                            (James Thurber, in Preface to a Life, from My Life and Hard Times, from The Thurber Carnival, September 25, 1933)


More News on Dead Parrots

“Q. My wife found this owl in the attic among a lot of ormolu clocks and old crystal chandeliers. We can’t tell whether it is stuffed or only dead. It is sitting on a strange and almost indescribable sort of iron dingbat.

  1. What your wife found is a museum piece – a stuffed cockatoo. It looks to me like a rather botchy example of taxidermy. This is the first stuffed bird I have seen with its eyes shut, but whoever had it stuffed probably wanted it stuffed that way. I couldn’t say what the thing it is sitting on is supposed to represent. It looks broken.”                                                                                     (James Thurber, in The Owl in the Attic, from The Thurber Carnival)


“This also means that any quasi-judicial commentary, of the kind judges dispense as they hand down sentences on convicted criminals, has been avoided. This is inessential to a book that does not confuse morals – study of historical phenomena like battles, emotions, field systems, tax records or water mills – with the separate activity of moralising. The latter, as a friend once wrote, is to morality as artiness is to art, religiosity to religion and sentimentality to sentiment. All of us would like to believe that we could not do some of the things, major or minor, by commission or omission, described in this book; we should all reflect whether this would have been the case had we been responsible adults living in the belligerent nations of the time. How many of us would press for sanctions while knowing they aren’t going to work, or counsel radical military action without thinking through the human as well as geostrategic consequences?” (Michael Burleigh, in Preface and Acknowledgements to Moral Combat)


And Remember Adowa…

“’Cost what it may, I will avenge Adowa,’ Mussolini informed the French ambassador to Rome.”                                                                                             (on the 1896 defeat of an Italian army by Abyssinian tribesmen, cited by Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 1)


“When it came, the Blitz was more like a damp squib than the annihilation subsequently visited on German cities.”                                                 (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 2)


“His [Lord Halifax’s] memoirs describe with pious, self-deprecating smugness his smooth ascent, via Eton, All Souls and Delhi, where he was viceroy, all achieved through luck and nepotism, and padded with the usual tedious Oxbridge legends of deaf college porters and solecism handing the port which make Englishmen sound like retarded bores. These witty banalities of a man in arrested adolescence have more immediacy and insight than his pedestrian accounts of the events leading to war.”          (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 2)


“Perhaps we feel we can afford to ignore the fate of Communism’s victims, largely because of a guiltless certainty that nothing about us was responsible for it.”                                                                                                                                    (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 3)


“Critics of the concept of totalitarianism invariably contrast the ideals of Communism with the grim practices of National Socialism, to exculpate the former.”                                                                                                                                    (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 3)


“Communism had any number of Western fellow-travellers, most of them individuals who matter little or nothing today, like Sidney and Beatrice Webb or the upper-class traitors who infested Oxbridge and from their vantage points in the Foreign Office or MI6 kept Stalin abreast of sensitive developments. From foreign ambassadors to notable writers and journalists, they came, they saw and they denied everything. It became bad form to denounce Communism in bien pensant society, the mark of a Cold War warrior or his rabid progeny, a McCarthyite. All were agreed. Except for neo-Nazis and Alan Clark, MP, that Nazism was uniquely abhorrent, and by comparison it did not matter that Communism was never equal or universal in practice. Unlike the Nazi Führerprinzip, nothing in theoretical Marxism could be construed as justifying quasi-religious personality cults – yet that is what resulted in the cases of Lenin and Stalin, not to speak of Mao and Castro. The nomenklatura, or those named in senior appointments, were an unelected elite with another name, from which its members derived enormous benefits and privileges, as did the wider class of men and women who realized their ambitions through the system. The Oxbridge elite traitors imagined they would have thrived in such a set-up.


The Communist International (Comintern), so successful in recruiting spies among the privileged elites of the West, was not a vehicle of international revolution but a subsidiary instrument of Soviet foreign policy, whose lien was set by Moscow. One year social democrats were ‘social Fascists’, the nest they were allies in anti-Fascist popular Fronts. Self-denial was a communist virtue, and a number of Western intellectuals, like G.D.H. Cole and Eric Hobsbawm, found a strange fulfillment in suppressing their individuality in its service. All of which is to say that Communism had a network of strategically positioned apologists and supporters in place long after Nazism was vanquished.”                         (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 3)


“They [Nazis and Communists] were contemptuous of what, during the Civil War, Trotsky dismissed as ‘papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life’, a view he backed up with machine guns pointed at the backs of his own troops.”                                                                                                                                       (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 3)


“In dictatorships, diplomats are glorified errand boys; gangster types savour reminding these fuddy-duddy survivors of the old order who has the power of command.”                                                                                                                (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 3)


“The diarist Harold Nicolson captured the deeper implications of the fall of Singapore: ‘It is dread that we are only half-hearted in fighting the whole-hearted. It is even more than that. We intellectuals must feel that in all these years we have derided the principles of force upon which our Empire is built.’”                                                                                                               (Nicolson on 27th February, 1942, from Michael Burleigh’s Moral Combat, Chapter 6)


“We were familiar with the Communist belief that, since war inevitably involves the death of innocent persons, the execution of hostages had an essentially positive effect in that it aroused the hatred of the people against the enemy. They insisted that ten volunteers would rise up to replace every hostage that was shot. Though I understood that viewpoint, I could not share it … that I, of my own free will, should sign what would in effect be somebody else’s death warrant, for the sole reason that it might instill a greater combative ardour in the people (and this without any serious damage to the enemy) – no, I could never have consented to such a policy.” (French resistance leader Henri Frenay, quoted by Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 11)


“When he created a Military Transport Committee, his first words to the assembled top brass and heads of the railways were, ‘I propose Comrade Stalin as head of the Committee’ to which there was no demur.”                                            (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 13)


“Mr Stalin spoke of the necessity of there being a minimum moral standard between all nations and without such a minimum moral standard nations could not co-exist. He stated that the present leaders of Germany knew no such minimum moral standard and that, therefore, they represented an anti-social force in the present world. The Germans were a people, he said, who without a second’s thought would sign a treaty today, break it tomorrow and sign a second one the following day. Nations must fulfil their treaty obligations, he said, or international security could not exist.”                                                                                      (Harry Hopkins, ‘Roosevelt’s inform emissary’, quoted by Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 11)


“Hitler was perhaps the most extreme but by no means the only exponent of the dualistic view that divides mankind into good and evil, that reduces individuals to culpable groups, and that sees the solutions to the problems of mankind in their extermination. Robespierre, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Pol Pot and Bin Laden are just the most famous of his fellow psychotics – thousands, perhaps millions more who thankfully never have the power to influence history console themselves for their personal inadequacies, or seek to explain the failure of their ideologies, by reference to some omnipresent evil force.” (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 15)


“More recent episodes of Western amorality are far more contemptible than the choices made by wartime Allied governments, whose primary purpose was their own existential struggle against a Nazi state bent on their destruction, and which had killed many thousands of the Allies’ own civilians.”                                                     (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 17)


“The sociology of rescuers is uninteresting. Businessmen, peasants, monks, nuns and priests did a great deal more rescuing than academic philosophers, of whom history has recorded not a single example of altruism in this era, although they do a lot of writing on these subjects. Rescuers acted for myriad motives which can be crudely rehearsed, for good is a lot harder to fathom than evil.”                                             (Michael Burleigh in Moral Combat, Chapter 18)


“You ought to be either public or private; don’t mix up private profit-making opportunities with an institution that is going to be protected by the government but not controlled by it.”                                                                                                                          (Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, quoted in NYT, October 23)


“The problem is that not everybody does deserve a say. Just because an opinion exists does not mean that the opinion is worthy of respect. Some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded. There are many questions in this world over which rational people can have sensible confrontations: whether lower taxes stimulate or stagnate growth; whether abortion is immoral; whether the ’60s were an achievement or a disaster; whether the universe is motivated by a force for benevolence; whether the Fonz jumping on water skis over a shark was cool or lame. Whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is not one of these questions.”                                                                                                                  (Stephen Marche, in NYT Magazine, October 23)


Not Even?

“One of the interesting things about early Christianity is the way it justifies suffering, almost encourages it. The Bible offers some ideas for explaining human behavior that I found not even Marxism and psychoanalysis could explain.”                                                                                  (US playwright Christopher Shinn, on his play Falling Away, a contribution to Sixty-Six Books at the Bush Theatre in London, from NYT, October 24)


“Accepting the Bible as God’s literal truth doesn’t mean that we discount science. It does mean that we interpret scientific evidence from the biblical viewpoint. We evaluate the same evidence as evolutionists, but they interpret it from their viewpoint. Evidence isn’t labeled with dates and facts; we arrive at conclusions about the unobservable past based on our pre-existing beliefs. This exercise also involves reason.”                                                                                       (Mark Looy, Chief Communications Officer, the Creation Museum, in letter to NYT, October 25)


Our = ?

“If our ancestors had cared for the rights of other people the empire would not have been made.”                                     (Lord Salisbury, according to Vernon Bogdanor, in the Spectator, October 15)


“The Labour party had come into power by pointing out to voters of the working classes that its members were their brothers, and promising them a great deal of property belonging to other people and a good many privileges which they vehemently denounced in every other class. When in power they had thrown open the doors of election to one and all. The Socialist party had come into power by pointing out to voters of the working classes that its members were even more their brothers, and promising them a still larger share of other people’s property (some, indeed, belonging to the more prosperous of the Labour representatives then in office) and still greater privileges.”                            (from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 3)


“It had taken years to convince people that it was equally necessary that children who did not happen to be attending school should have meals provided for them, and even more necessary to see that their mothers should be well nourished; it had taken even longer to arrive at the logical conclusion that if free meals were requisite, free clothes were not a whit less necessary. No one nowadays doubted the soundness of that policy, yet here they were again timorously contemplating half-measures, while the insatiable birds of prey who sucked their blood laughed in their sleeve at the spectacle of the British working men hiding their heads ostrich-like in the shifting quicksand of a fool’s paradise.”                                                                                                                                                   (from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 5)


“’Practical is the last thing you can claim to be. You are impractical visionaries; for it would be as easy for a diver to pause in mid-air as for mankind to remain at a half-way house to Equality. All! All! Every man-made distinction must be swept away. Neither proprietor nor property, paid leader nor gain, task work nor pride of place; nothing between God and man’s heart. That is the only practical Socialism, and it is at hand.’

‘Not while we’re in office,’ said the Home Secretary shortly.”                                               (Father Ambrose and James Tubes, from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 5)


“The paradox remained that with more money the majority of the poor were poorer than before, and they worse than poor, for they were dissatisfied. The remedy, of course, was for some one to give them still more money, not for them to spend less. The shortest way to that remedy, as they had been well taught by their agitators in the past, was to clamour for the Government to do something else for then, and therefore they were clamouring now.”                                                                                                       (from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 9)


“It did not seek to impose the ideal Christian standard, logically recognizing that if a man gave all he possessed, a system of Christian laws (a Caesar whom he was likewise forbidden to obey) would at once incarcerate him in prison for having no visible means of subsistence, and, of he persisted in his unnatural Christian conduct, in a lunatic asylum, where in its appointed season he would have the story of the Rich Ruler read for his edification.”                                                                                                                 (from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 10)


“Some of our mistakes have brought want and suffering to thousands of your class, but for hundreds of years your mistakes have been bringing starvation and misery to millions of our class. From your presence we go down again into the weary years of bondage, to work silently and unmarked among those depths of human misery from which our charter springs. I warn you, Sir John Hampden – for I know that the warning will be dead and forgotten before the year is out – that our reign will come again; and when the start of a new and purified Socialism arises once more on a prepared and receptive world the very forces of nature would not be strong enough to arrest its triumphant course.”                                                                                                         (deposed prime Minister Tirrell, in Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 21)


“’For those whom Heaven afflicts there is a chance,’ contributes the Sage [?] of another land; ‘but they who persistently work out their own undoing are indeed hopeless.”                                                                                    (from Ernest Bramah’s The Secret of the League, Chapter 22)


“The death penalty is part of our fine state’s religion; it’s somewhere up there with football. To oppose or weaken it would be like playing with dynamite, and Rick Perry, a quintessentially political person, is not going to blow himself up.”                                                     (Jeff L. Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, quoted in NYT, October 31)


“Pontification is not in and of itself a bad thing. I do it all the time. But for it not to be off-putting, there needs to be at least a hint of a suspicion that the pontificator is slyly, engagingly aware of his own fallibility and absurdity.”     (James Delingpole in the Spectator, October 22)


“If you want to win affection and respect in this world, you must flatter people. Flatter high and low, and rich and poor, and silly and wise. You will get on famously. Praise this man’s virtue and that man’s vices. Compliment everybody upon everything, and especially upon what they haven’t got. Admire guys for their beauty, fools for their wit, and boors for their breeding. Your discernment and intelligence will be extolled to the skies.”                                                            (Jerome K. Jerome, in On Vanity and Vanities, from The Idle Thoughts of An Idle Fellow)


“Conceit, indeed is the quickest cure for it [shyness]. When it once begins to dawn upon you that you are a good deal cleverer than any one else in the world, bashfulness becomes shocked and leaves you. When you can look around a roomful of people and think that each one is a mere child in intellect compared with yourself you feel no more shy of them than you would of a select company of magpies or orang-outans.”                                                                                                          (Jerome K. Jerome, in On Being Shy, from The Idle Thoughts of An Idle Fellow)


“Genuine conceit does not make a man objectionable. On the contrary, it tends to make him genial, kind-hearted, and simple. He has no need of affectation – he is too far well satisfied with his own character; and his pride is too-deep-seated to appear at all on the outside. Careless alike of praise or blame, he can afford to be truthful. Too far, in fancy, above the rest of mankind to trouble about their petty distinctions, he is equally at home with duke or costermonger. And valuing no man’s standard but his own, he is never tempted to practice that miserable pretense that less self-reliant people offer up as an hourly sacrifice to the god of their neighbour’s opinion.” (Jerome K. Jerome, in On Being Shy, from The Idle Thoughts of An Idle Fellow)


“Brains are at a discount in the married state. There is no demand for them, no appreciation even. Our wives sum us up according to a standard of their own, in which brilliancy of intellect obtains no marks. Your lady and mistress is not at all impressed by your cleverness and talent, my dear reader – not in the slightest. Give her a man who can do an errand neatly, without attempting to use his own judgment over it or any nonsense of that kind; and who can be trusted to hold a child the right way up, and not make himself objectionable whenever there is lukewarm mutton for dinner. That is the sort of husband a sensible woman likes; not one of your scientific or literary nuisances, who go upsetting the whole house and putting everybody out with their foolishness.” (Jerome K. Jerome, in On Dress and Deportment, from The Idle Thoughts of An Idle Fellow)




“There are no principles built into the laws of nature that say that theoretical physicists have to be happy.”                                                                                               (Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate from the University of Texas, Austin, quoted by Dennis Overbye in NYT, November 2)


“He [‘Farve’, Deborah’s father] also had a horror of anything sticky. I once asked him what his idea of hell was. ‘Honey on my bowler hat,’ was the answer.”                                                                                                                         (Deborah Mitford, in Wait For Me!, Chapter 2)


“Andrew’s father seldom gave him advice but when he did it was taken and used again and again. ‘There is something you should ram home’, Eddy said to Andrew,’ and you cannot repeat it too often. No government has any money of its own, the only money it has to spend is what it gets from you and me in taxes.’ You could see by the expression on the faces of some of Andrew’s audience that they did not believe it (and some people probably still do not). I remember another piece of advice Eddy gave, delivered in his usual dry manner, ‘Andy,’ he said, ‘mark my words, wherever there is trouble in this world there is a clergyman behind it.’”                                                                                       (Deborah Mitford, in Wait For Me!, Chapter 11)


“I always thought that the way the Socialists presented nationalization to the coal miners was grossly unfair. The miners were led to believe that their lives would be transformed from one day to the next when the National Coal Board took over. In the event they found themselves back underground, the old hierarchy still in place. The only change, it seemed to me, was that there were more managers, while the men who mattered came to the surface as grimy as ever.”                                                                                                (Deborah Mitford, in Wait For Me!, Chapter 11)


“She [Edith Sitwell] told me that the chief things she remembered her mother saying were, ‘We must remember to order enough quails for the dance,’ and ‘If only I could get your father put in a lunatic asylum.”                                       (Deborah Mitford, in Wait For Me!, Chapter 12)


“… an economy is truly healthy only when its people know how to make and do things that others will pay them a decent amount for. Jobs, in other words, are not the cause of a healthy economy; they’re the by-product….

Without the distortion of a credit bubble, it is clear that far too many Americans don’t know how to do anything that the world is prepared to pay them a living wage for. No economic theory offers them easy salvation.”                       (Adam Davidson, in the NYT Magazine, November 6)


“For in any private library the totality of books is meaningful, while each individual volume is meaningless. Or, rather, once separated from its family, each individual book becomes relatively meaningless in relation to the original collector, but suddenly newly meaningful as the totality of the author’s mind.”                                          (James Wood in the New Yorker, November 7)


“Yet another hedge fund manager explained Icelandic banking to me in this way: you have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that each is worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets.”                                  (Michael Lewis, in Boomerang, Chapter 1)


“Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress.”    (Isocrates, according to Michael Lewis, in Boomerang, Chapter 2)


“A banking system is an act of faith: it survives for only as long as people believe it will.”                                                                                                 (Michael Lewis, in Boomerang, Chapter 3)


‘In the Long Run, We are All Dead’ Department

“As he presided over the Maastricht treaty, which created the euro, the French Prime Minister is rumoured to have said privately that yoking Germany to the rest of Europe in this way was sure to lead to imbalances, and imbalances were certain to lead to some crisis, but by the time the crisis struck he’s be dead and gone – and others would sort it out.”                                                                                                                                        (Michael Lewis, in Boomerang, Chapter 4)




But doesn’t God root for Zach Johnson?

“Why bring God into it? Well, he’s in it for me.”                                                                                                                  (PGA golfer Webb Simpson, interviewed in GolfWorld, November 7)

Cf: “He [Pope Gregory XIII] seemed ‘of a gentle nature, not very passionate about the affairs of the world,’ which is very like or very unlike God, depending on your point of view.”              (Sarah Bakewell quoting Montaigne in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 14)


News on Nurses

“In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes.”                           (Malcolm Gladwell on Steve Jobs, in the New Yorker, November 14)

“[George] Kennan was often hospitalized at key moments in his career; some colleagues thought these hospitalizations were opportunities for advancement, and were Kennan’s way of drawing attention to himself. (Kennan’s own explanation was that he had a thing about nurses. That much seems credible.)”                                          (Louis Menand in the New Yorker, November 14)


“Prominence and influence are in inverse proportions to each other.  The less you are written about in the press, the less other people see you as a threat, and the more attention they pay to your ideas on their merits.”                                                                                                                                                     (Henry D. Owen, diplomat, in 1978, from his NYT obituary, November 12)


“Fighting is in our DNA. We get it, and we like it. It doesn’t have to be explained to us. This is what I believe to be true though I can’t prove it. Before any guy ever threw a ball through a circle or hit a ball with a stick, someone hit somebody else with a punch and whoever was standing around ran over to watch it. I believe fighting was the first sport on earth, and it’ll be the last sport on earth. It works everywhere, and we’re going to take it everywhere.” (Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, from report in NYT, November 12)


“Civilizations are highly complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, so that their construction more closely resembles a Namibian termite mound than an Egyptian pyramid. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time,” he goes on, “apparently in equilibrium, in reality constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when they ‘go critical.’ A slight perturbation can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis — a single grain of sand causes an apparently stable sandcastle to fall in on itself.”                                      (Niall Ferguson in Civilization: The West and the Rest, quoted by Michiko Kakutani in NYT book review, November 15)


Words on Marx

“As in his previous books, Mr. Ferguson does little to mute his own strong ideological views: He denounces Marx as ‘an odious individual’;..”        (Michiko Kakutani, in NYT, November 15)

“Against the juggernaut of ‘market fundamentalism’, [Philip] Pullman emphasized ‘how clearly Karl Marx forecast the universally destructive nature of unfettered capitalism in the Communist Manifesto’, a text he describes as ‘such a masterpiece of literature that everyone ought to read it’.” (Dr. Matthew Sperling, fellow in English Literature at Keble College, Oxford, in Oxford Today, Trinity 2011)

“How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete economic textbook [Das Kapital, presumably] which I know to be not only erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world?”                                                                                                           (J. M. Keynes, in A Short View of Russia, from Essays in Persuasion)


“New Yorkers don’t mind transferring money year after year to Appalachia, but in Europe, people do mind. Populism would rise, the European project would truly be in danger because the democratic deficit would explode.”                                                                                     (Dennis J. Snower, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, quoted in NYT, November 18)


“Mr. Ahmadinejad is intensely religious, but he has clashed with Iran’s traditional clergy. He has said Muslims do not need the intercession of clerics to contact the Hidden Imam, a messianic figure in the Shiite branch of Islam that prevails in Iran.”                      (from NYT, November 22)


“We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”                                                                                                                                  (Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minsiter of Luxembourg, quoted by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator. November 12)

“In the socialist state it is the past that is unpredictable.” (Sir Percy Cradock, Her Majesty’s ambassador to China in the 1980s, quoted by Matthew Parris in the Spectator, November 12)

“Macmillan – Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963 – was worse: smug, banal, not a conservative, not a strategic thinker, cunning, unscrupulous, affected, cynical, deceitful, given to paranoid fantasies and wishful thinking, and with no idea how to arrest economic decline.”                                                                                                                                                           (Andrew Gimson, in review of Robin Harris’s The Conservatives: A History, in the Spectator, November 12)

“We didn’t kill many. We only killed the bad people, not the good.”                                                                                                                       (Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, at his trial on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, reported in NYT, November 23)


Make Poverty History (Part XIII)

“She fervently hoped China would create a society in which not only poverty would be vanquished but also the potential of all its citizens would be realized in an environment of co-operation, hard work, and mutual respect and affection – inevitably, as she was to admit, and impossible dream but not the less noble for that.”                                                                                                             (from G. C. Harcourt’s entry on economist Joan Robinson, in the 1990 DNB)


“We – the middle classes, I mean not merely the very rich – we have neglected you; instead of justice we have offered charity.”                                                                                             (Arnold Toynbee ‘to a working-class audience’, from Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century in England, quoted by Sylvia Nasar in Grand Pursuit, Chapter 3)


“From the mere necessities of convenience elected bodies must avail themselves more and more of the services of expert officials… We want to suggest that these expert officials must necessarily develop into a new class and a very powerful class… We consider ourselves as amateur unpaid precursors of such a class.’                   (from H.G. Wells’s the New Machiavelli [ a satire on Beatrice and Sidney Webb], quoted by Sylvia Nasar in Grand Pursuit, Chapter 3)


“Arthur Hadley, who held a chair in political economy at Yale, once referred snidely to American economists as ‘a large and influential body of men who are engaged in extending the functions of government.’”   (Sylvia Nasar, quoting from Hadley’s Economics: An Account of the Relations Between Private Property and Public Welfare, in Grand Pursuit, Chapter 4)


“..there is no one in politics today worth six pence outside the ranks of Liberals except the post-war generation of intellectual communists under thirty-five..”                                                                                                               (J. M. Keynes, in Democracy and Efficiency, in New Statesman and Nation, January 28, 1939, quoted by Sylvia Nasar in Grand Pursuit, Chapter 11)


“The Soviet Union is a coming country, Britain is a going country.”                                                                         (Harry Dexter White, to J. M. Keynes, quoted from Robert Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes [Volume 3, Fighting for Freedom] by Sylvia Nasar in Grand Pursuit, Chapter 14)


“It’s still tough to find roles specifically written for Asian women that play against the stereotypes of the dragon lady, the submissive one or the more current ones of the manicurist, the doctor or the lab technician, which you see on film and TV a lot.”                                                                                                     (Chinese actress Jennifer Lim, quoted in NYT, November 24)


“Sorry the man, to my mind, who has not in his own home a place to be all by himself, to pay his court privately to himself, to hide!”                                                                                      (Montaigne, quoted by Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 2)


“Being noble was not a je ne sais quoi of class and style; it was a technical matter, and the main rule was that you and your descendants must engage in no trade and pay no taxes for at least three generations.”     (Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 3)


“He cares much more about secular morality – about questions of mercy and cruelty. As the modern critic David Quint has summed it up, Montaigne would probably interpret the message for humanity in Christ’s crucifixion as being ‘Don’t crucify people.’”                                                                                    (Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 7)


“As history has repeatedly suggested, nothing is more effective for demolishing traditional legal protections than the combined claims that a crime is uniquely dangerous, and that those behind it have exceptional powers of resistance. It was all accepted with hardly a murmur, except by a few writers such as Montaigne, who pointed out that torture was useless for getting at the truth since people will say anything to stop the pain – and that, besides, it was ‘putting a very high price on one’s conjectures’ to have someone roasted alive on their account.”                                                                            (Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 12)


“’It is in the nature of youth that it does not want to be advised to be mild or skeptical. Every doubt seems to be a limitation.’ Young people crave beliefs; they want to be roused.”                 (Sarah Bakewell quoting Montaigne in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 12)


“And Montaigne had long learned that much of what passed for passionate public commitment was just showing off. People involve themselves because they want to have an air of consequence, or to advance their private interests, or simply to keep busy because so that they don’t have to think about life.”                                                                                                                                                     (Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter 15)


“As Virginia Woolf said à propos Sir Thomas Browne, one of many English authors who wrote in a Montaignean vein, ‘The English mind is naturally prone to take its ease and pleasure in the loosest whimsies and humors.’”                                                                                                                                               (Sarah Bakewell in How To Live, or a Life of Montaigne, Chapter16)


“Don’t trouble to speak for history, accused Bukharin. History will itself record what will be interesting for history.”                         (Prosecutor Vyshinsky, from the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’, Verbatim Report, March 2-13, 1938)


“I think it attracted so much attention because, in the black community, not believing in God is seen as a thing for white people. I hate that term, ‘acting white,’ but it’s used.”                                    (John Branch, a marketing strategist in Raleigh, N.C., quoted in NYT, November 27)

“To be black and atheist, in a lot of circles, is to not be black.”                                                                                             (Jamila Bey, a 35-year-old journalist, quoted in NYT, November 27)


“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to.”                                                                                                 (John Updike, in the Paris Review, quoted in NYT, November 29)

Cf: “Any proper writer ought to be able to write anything, from an Easter Day sermon to a sheep-dip handout..”             (Kingsley Amis)


“’If you want peace, fight for justice’, is precisely the wrong advice. ‘If you want peace, work for peace.’”                                                                                                          (political scientist Joshua S. Goldstein, in Winning the War on War, quoted by Carl Zimmer in NYT, November 29)


“Certain qualities of such a family were ones that had an effect on the mind of a descendant born at the outset of this century. Its members were neither rich nor poor. They never owned an appreciable amount of capital. There was not one who did not work long and hard with his hands. They were, on the other hand, as devoid of self-consciousness with regard to their poverty as they were of social bitterness over the fact that it existed. It never occurred to them to view it as a mark of inferiority, as an occasion for envy in the personal sense, or as a source of reproach to public authority. They accepted the logic of their passion for independence. They asked of government only that it leave them alone to struggle in their own way. When times were hard, as often they were, groans and lamentations went up to God, but never to Washington. Whoever emerged from such a family in the twentieth century emerged from it devoid of either pride or shame of station, without social grievance, oppressed neither by feelings of superiority not of inferiority, prepared to relate himself on terms of equality to any other human being, with a  total disregard for race, color, or nationality.”                                                                                                                                                            (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 1)


“Throughout that region [Latvia and around] religion was still the common hallmark of nationality, so that if you asked a person what he was, he was apt to reply by telling you his religion rather than naming an affinity to any particular country.”                                                                                                                 (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 2)


“This episode [Roosevelt’s dealing with Litvinov] has remained in my mind as the first of many lessons I was destined to receive, in the course of a diplomatic career, on one of the most consistent and incurable traits of American statesmanship – namely, its neurotic self-consciousness and introversion, the tendency to make statements and take actions with regard not to their effect on the international scene to which they are ostensibly addressed but rather to their effect on those echelons of American opinion, congressional opinion first and foremost, to which the respective statesmen are anxious to appeal.”                                                                                                                                      (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 2)


“Nikolai Bukharin once observed (at his final purge trial, I believe) [not traceable in the official record: RAP] that intellectual friendship was the strongest of bonds between men.”                                                                            (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 3)


“I was never able to accept or condone the stony-hearted fanaticism that was prepared to condemn to the loss of all civil rights, to ignominy, persecution, and ‘liquidation as a class’ entire great bodies of people – the ‘bourgeoisie’ and large portions of the peasantry, the majority, in fact, of the Russian population – for no other reason than that their members had been born into certain stations in life. These savage class distinctions seemed to me only a mirror image of the feudal institutions Russia had so recently rejected. Like these, they penalized people solely on the criterion of birth, regardless of individual guilt. I could not see that it was better to tell a man that he and his family were condemned to persecution, frustration, and tragedy simply he had been born a serf or a Jew.”       (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 3)


“I saw it [the Communist ideology] as a pseudo-science, replete with artificial heroes and villains; and much as I admired the Soviet leaders for their courage, their determination, and their political seriousness, I could experience only disgust for other features of their political personality: their professed hatred and rejection of large portions of humanity, their abundant cruelties, their claims to infallibility, their opportunism and unscrupulousness of method, their disregard for the truth, their conspiratorial secretiveness, and especially the love of power that so often and so obviously lurked behind the pretense of high-minded ideological conviction.”                                                                    (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 3)


“There is no thornier or more thankless task in the field of foreign affairs than that of trying to probe into political records and motives of masses of individuals in a foreign country. It is impossible to avoid injustices, errors, and resentment.”                                                                                                                            (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 7)


“But the day we accepted the Russians as our allies in the struggle against Germany we tacitly accepted as facts, even if we did not ourselves adopt, the customs of warfare which have prevailed generally in eastern Europe and Asia for centuries in the past and which will presumably continue to prevail long into the future.”                                                                                                                         (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 7)


“Our government is technically incapable of conceiving and promulgating a long-term consistent policy toward areas remote from its own territory. Our actions in the field of foreign affairs are the convulsive reactions of politicians to an internal political life dominated by vocal minorities.”                                                       (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 7)


“If they are seeking an escape from reality, such Americans may even pursue these dreams and enter upon the long and stony road which could lead to their fruition [bringing the Iraqi deserts to life]. But if they are willing to recall the sad state of soil conservation in their own country, the vast amount of social improvement to be accomplished at home, and the inevitable limitations on the efficacy of our type of democracy in the field of foreign affairs – then they will restrain their excitement at the silent, expectant possibilities in the Middle Eastern deserts, and will return, like disappointed but dutiful children, to the sad deficiencies and problems of their native land.”                                                              (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 7)


“I had been shocked on being told, at an earlier time, that FRD had once sent a private request to Stalin to use his influence with the American Communist Party to prevent it from supporting him, FDR, in a  presidential election, lest this support prove embarrassing to him.”                                                                         (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 9)


“… and I was never in doubt, when visiting him [Stalin] that I was in the presence of one of the world’s most remarkable men – a man great, if you will, primarily in his iniquity: ruthless, cynical, cunning, endlessly dangerous; but for all of this – one of the truly great men of the age.”                                                                (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 11)


“I am far from being a Communist; but I recognize in the theory of Soviet Communism (In the theory, mark you, not the practice) certain elements which I think are probably really the ideas of the future. I hate to see us reject the good with the bad – throw out the baby with the bath [sic!] and place ourselves son the wrong side of history.”                                                                                                                                                (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 12)


“The fact of the matter is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us. It is only the cheerful light of confidence and security which keeps this evil genius down at the usual helpless and invisible depth.”                                                                                                    (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 13)


“I am afraid that when I think about foreign policy, I do not think in terms of doctrines. I think in terms of principles.”                              (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 15)


“There is today no such thing as ‘communism’ in the sense that there was in 1947; there are only a number of national regimes which cloak themselves in the verbal trappings of radical Marxism and follow domestic policies influenced to one degree or another by Marxist concepts.”                                                                           (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 15)


“I had been twice in Germany since the termination of hostilities. Each time I had come away with a sense of sheer horror at the spectacle of this horde of my compatriots and their dependents camping in luxury amid the ruins of a shattered national community, ignorant of the past, oblivious to the abundant evidences of present tragedy all around them, inhabiting the very same sequestered villas that the Gestapo and SS had just abandoned, and enjoying the same privileges, flaunting their silly supermarket luxuries in the face of a veritable ocean of deprivation, hunger, and wretchedness, setting an example of empty materialism and cultural poverty before a people desperately in need of spiritual and intellectual guidance – as though it were their natural due – a disparity in privilege and comfort between themselves and their German neighbors no smaller than those that had once divided lord and peasant in that feudal Germany which it had been our declared purpose in two world wars to destroy. That many Germans merited punishment was clear; but their delinquency was not proof of our virtue.”                                                                                                                           (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 18)


“If the Western world was really going to make valid the pretense of a higher moral departure point – of greater sympathy and understanding for the human being as God made him, as expressed not only in himself but in the things he had wrought and cared about – then it had to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all; for moral principles were a part of its strength.”                 (George F. Kennan, in Memoirs 1925-1950, Chapter 18)



“Language is so woven into what makes humans human that it struck me as inconceivable that it was just an accident.”                                            (Dr. Stephen Pinker, quoted in NYT, November 29)




“Either they defeated the Germans, or they would perish. So they laboured for their lives, without sleep, frostbitten, half-starved. Their heroic efforts, together with the sacrifices of their fathers, brothers and sons at the front, saved Russia, and perhaps Western civilization as well.”                                                                 (from Uściɫug, in I Shall Live by Henry Orenstein)


“Having lived for so many years under the gun, when any one of the guards had the clear and unquestioned right to murder me at any moment, at a whim , even for fun, even though I had done nothing to provoke it, for the sole reason that I was born a Jew, I had grown  to yearn to have my right to live judged by some other criterion,  any other – even by whether or not I was able to walk.”                                       (from The March, in I Shall Live by Henry Orenstein)


“…take any general principle or conception of life. It always happens that, directly it has been found wanting and discarded by the poets and philosophers, there comes along a King to whom it is a perfectly new idea, and who makes it a guiding principle. That is what kings are like. It is not only that kings are men -they are even very distinctly average men; they are always a good way in the rear.” (Morten Schwarzkopf, in Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann, Part 3, Chapter 8)


“To cherish the vision of an abstract good; to carry in your heart, like a hidden love, only far sweeter, the dream of preserving an ancient name, an old family, an old business, of carrying it on, and adding to it more and more honour and lustre – ah, that takes imagination, Uncle Gotthold, and imagination you didn’t have. The sense of poetry escaped you, though you were brave enough to love and marry against the will of your father.”                                                     (Thomas Buddenbrook, in Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann  Part 5, Chapter 4)


“It is as though something had begun to slip – as though I haven’t the firm grip I had on events. – What is success? It is an inner, and indescribable force, resourcefulness, power of vision; a consciousness that I am, by my mere existence, exerting pressure on the movement of life about me. It is my belief in the adaptability of life to my own ends. Fortune and success lie with ourselves. We must hold them firmly – deep within us. For as soon as something begins to slip, to relax, to get tired, within us, then everything without us will rebel and struggle to withdraw from our influence. One thing follows another, blow by blow – and the man is finished.”                                                (Thomas Buddenbrook, in Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 7, Chapter 6)


“There is a mood of depression in which everything that would normally irritate us and call up a healthy reaction, merely weighs us down with a nameless, heavy burden of dull chagrin.”                                                                             (Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 8, Chapter 5)


“What pleases you in music? A sort of insipid optimism, which, if you met with it in literature, would make you throw down the book with an angry or sarcastic comment. Easy gratification of each unformed wish, prompt satisfaction before the will is even roused – that is what pretty music is like – and it is like nothing else in the world, It is mere flabby idealism.”                             (Gerda Buddenbrook, in Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 8, Chapter 7)


“People who have no role to perform before the public, who do not conceive themselves as acting a part, but as standing unobserved to watch the performance of others, like to stand with the light at their backs.”                     (Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 10, Chapter 1)


“But he was at bottom, none the less, the born Protestant: full of the true Protestant’s passionate, relentless sense of personal responsibility. No, in the ultimate things there was, there could be, no help from outside, no mediation, no absolution, no soothing-syrup, no panacea. Each one of us, alone, unaided, of his own powers, must unravel the riddle before it was too late, must wring for himself a pious readiness before the hour of death, or else part in despair. Thomas Buddenbrook turned away, desperate and hopeless, from his only son in whom he had once hoped to live on, renewed and strong, and began to fear and haste to seek for the truth which must somewhere exist for him.”    (Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 10, Chapter 5)


“The deceptive perception of space, time, and history, the preoccupation with a glorious historical continuity of life in the person of his own descendants, the dread of some future final dissolution and decomposition – all this his spirit now put aside. He was no longer prevented from grasping eternity. Nothing began, nothing left off. There was only an endless present; and that power in him which loved life with a love so exquisitely sweet and yearning – the power of which his person was only the successful expression – that power would always know how to find access to this present.”                       (Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 10, Chapter 5)


“Once, I think, I cared more for the mountains – because they lay further off, Now I do not long for them. They would only frighten and abash me. They are too capricious, too manifold, too anomalous – I know I should feel myself vanquished in their presence. What sort of men prefer the monotony of the sea? Those, I think, who have looked so long and deeply into the complexities of the spirit, that they ask of outward things merely that they should possess one quality above all: simplicity. It is true that in the mountains one clambers briskly about, while beside the sea one sits quietly on the shore. This is a difference, but a superficial one. The real difference is the look with which one pays homage to the one and to the other, It is a strong, challenging gaze, full of enterprise, that can soar from peak to peak; but the eyes that rest on the wide ocean and are soothed by the sight of its waves rolling on forever, mystically, relentlessly, are those that are already wearied by looking too deep into the solemn perplexities of life, – Health and illness, that is the difference. The man whose strength is unexhausted climbs boldly up into the lofty multiplicity of the mountain heights, But it is when one is worn out with turning one’s eyes inward upon the bewildering complexity of the human heart, that one finds peace in resting them on the wildness of the sea.”                                                                                                        (Thomas Buddenbrook, in Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann Part 10, Chapter 6)


“Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence.”                                                                             (philosopher Max Picard, quoted by Maureen Dowd in NYT, December 7)


“We’ve been fighting this bunch for 2,000 years. Do you think I’m going to turn the government over to them?”                         (neighbor of Texas Representative Marvin Jones, when told by the latter that he was going to vote for the Catholic presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith in 1928, quoted by Robert A. Slayton in NYT, December 11)


“.. henceforth there are clearly two Europes: one seeking greater solidarity and regulation, and the other attached to the exclusive force of the single market.”                                                                                                       (President Sarkozy, quoted in NYT, December 13)


“The tribe has historically had the ability to remove people. Tolerance is a European thing brought to this country. We never tolerated things. We turned our back on people.” (Kevin Bearquiver, deputy director of the Pacific Region of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, from a report on the disenrollment of members of the Chuckchansi tribe, NYT, December 13)


Papal News

“Frankly, anyone who wants to be pope is out of his mind. It’s a living martyrdom.”                                   (Cardinal John Foley, in 2005, quoted in his NYT obituary, December 13)

“Being pope can really go to some people’s heads.”               (the mother of John Foley, the cardinal who was told to bring her with him to Rome, from his NYT obituary, December 13)


“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”                                                                                                                                                        (Hedy Lamarr, quoted by Dwight Garner in his review of Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes, in NYT, December 14)


“Politicians do bad things because they are bad men. The idea that good men can do terrible things (even for good reasons), and bad men good things, does not enter into this particular moral universe.”                                                                                           (Ian Buruna criticizing Christopher Hitchens for making politics personal, in his New York Review of Books review of Hitch-22, quoted in Hitchens’s NYT obituary, December 17)


“Although I saw enough of war to want to avoid war at all times, I also remember in the ’30s we wanted to avoid war with Hitler so desperately, we ended up fighting him too late.”                                                                         (French WWII pilot Henry Lafont, from an interview in the Independent in 2003, quoted in his NYT obituary, December 18)


“Stabilization devours its own children. I am too odious for this brave new world.”                                (Vladislav Y. Surkov, Kremlin policy-maker, quoted in NYT, December 28)


“It is just possible,” the authors write, “that European folk traditions of trolls, Cyclops and even dwarfs have roots in the ancient encounter between Neandertals and Cro-Magnons.” On the other hand, they might not: “Tales of strange humanlike creatures are common the world over, and Neandertals were not.”  (from review of How To Think Like a Neandertal, by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge, in NYT, December 28)


“In Moscow, the queue to see the belt that church members believe was worn by the Virgin Mary stretched for 2.5 miles, and the wait was as long as 24 hours.”                                                                                                                                     (from report in NYT, December 29)


“The experts seemed to have forgotten that among the first casualties of war is not only truth but also sound finance.”                                              (Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 6)


“We, and especially [Montague] Norman, feel that the new Chancellor’s cleverness, his almost uncanny brilliance, is a danger. At present he is a willing pupil but the moment he thinks he can stand on his own legs and believes that he understands economic questions he may, by some indiscretion, land us in trouble.”                                                                                     (Teddy Grenfell on Winston Churchill, from Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 12)


“It seems a shame that the best sort of plans can be handicapped by a speculative orgy, and yet the temper of the people of the country [the U.S.A.] is such that these situations cannot be avoided.”                                                            (Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 14)


“The men in charge of central banks seem to face a similar unfortunate fate – although not for eternity – of watching their successes dissolve in failure. Their goal is a strong economy and stable prices. This is, however, the very environment that breeds the sort of overoptimism and speculation that eventually ends up destabilizing the economy.”                                                                                                                               (Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 14)


“It was great theater, put on, according to Time magazine, with that combination of ‘oratory, ethics and provincialism’ at which the U.S. Congress is so good: a reenactment of an old morality play that has divided the republic since its founding – between those, like Hamilton, who believed that great wealth was the reward for taking risks, and those, like Jefferson, who believed that prosperity should be the reward for hard work and thrift.”                                                                                                                    (Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 16)


“If Hell is anything like Paris and an International Conference combined, it has many terrors and I shall try to avoid them.”                                      (Jack Morgan, from Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 16)


“We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.”                 (John Maynard Keynes, in The Great Slump of 1930, from Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 18)


“Never has the incapacity of the economic leaders of the capitalist world so glaringly demonstrated as today…  A capitalism which cannot fed the workers of the world has no right to exist. The guilt of the capitalist system lies in its alliance with the violent politics of imperialism and militarism… The ruling classes of the world today have as completely failed in political leadership as in economics.”                                                                                         (Hjalmar Schacht, in The End of Reparations, from Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 19)


“As I look back, it now seems that, with all the thought and work and good intentions, which we provided, we did absolutely nothing … nothing that I did, and very little that old Ben did internationally produced any good effect – or indeed any effect at all except that we collected money from a lot of poor devils and gave it over to the four winds.”                                                                         (Montague Norman, from Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed, Chapter 22)


“When he [Wagner] began writing the music for the second section of the Ring: Die Walküre she [Mathilde Wesendonck] gave him a gift of a pen with a golden nib (a fact that will surely excite Freudians).”                                               (Paul Doolan in History Today, November 2011: cf. Yelena taking Astrov’s pencil in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya)


“Trevor-Roper once said to his nemesis: ‘Your book The Origins of the Second World War may damage your reputation as a historian.’ [A.J.P.] Taylor replied: ‘your criticism of me would damage your reputation as a historian, if you had one.'”                                                                                              (Tim Stanley, in History Today, November 2011)


“Dry martinis are like women’s breasts. One is too few. Three are too many. Two: just right.”                                                                          (Roland Shaw, American businessman and Navy pilot, according to Bruce Anderson in the Spectator, November 19)


“Picasso is a religion urgently in need of a Richard Dawkins.”                                                                                                          (Bevis Hillier in the Spectator, November 19)


“Architects are servants, not leaders. They are not to assert their little egos, but to express the soul of their country and the rhythm of their time. They are not to follow the delusions of their personal fancy, but to seek the common denominator, which will bring their work close to the heart of the masses. Architects – ah, my friends, theirs is not to reason why. Theirs is not to command, but to be commanded.”                                                                                                                    (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 1, Chapter 6)


“Architecture is primarily a utilitarian conception, and the problem is to elevate the principle of pragmatism into the realm of esthetic abstraction. All else is nonsense. I have no patience with visionaries who see a holy crusade in architecture for architecture’s sake. The great dynamic principle is the common principle of the human equation. The public taste and the public heart are the final criteria of the artist. The genius is the one who knows how to express the general. The exception is to tap the unexceptional.”                                                                                             (Gordon L. Prescott, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 1, Chapter 8)


“This is the time for every man to renounce the thoughts of his petty little problems, of gain, of comfort, of self-gratification. This is the time to merge his self in a great current, in the rising tide which is approaching to sweep us all, willing or unwilling, into the future. History, my friends, does not ask questions or acquiescence. It is irrevocable, as the voice of the masses that determine it.”             (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 1, Chapter 9)


“Don’t say that I’m beautiful and exquisite and like no one else you’ve ever met before and that you’re very much afraid that you’re going to fall in love with me. You’ll say it eventually, but let’s postpone it. Apart from that, I think we’ll get along very nicely.”                            (Dominique Francon to Peter Keating, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 1, Chapter 10)


“Nothing’s really sacred but a sense of humor. Still, I’ve always loved the tale of Tristan and Isolde. It’s the most beautiful story ever told – next to that of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.”                                 (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand,  Part 2, Chapter 3)


“When the British Empire collapses, historians will find that it had made but two invaluable contributions to civilization – this tea ritual and the detective story.”                                                              (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 4)


“There is nothing as useless, my dear Kiki, as a rich woman who makes herself a profession of entertaining, But then, all useless things have charm. Like aristocracy, for instance, the most useless conception of all.”                                                                                                                                        (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 6)


“I want to sleep with you. Now, tonight, and at any time you want to call me. I want your naked body, your skin, your mouth, your hands. I want you – like this – not hysterical with desire – but coldly and consciously – without dignity and without regrets – I want you – I want you like an animal, or a cat on a fence, or a whore.”                                                                   (Dominique Francon to Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 7)


“I’m a very self-sufficient person as a rule, but I do need an audience once in a while.”                                           (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 12)


“The Stoddard Temple is a threat to many things. If it were allowed to exist, nobody would dare to look at himself in the mirror. And that is a cruel thing to do to men. Ask anything of men. Ask them to achieve wealth, fame, love, brutality, murder, self-sacrifice. But don’t ask them to achieve self-respect. They will hate your soul.”                                                                                           (Dominique Francon, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 12)


“It’s so graceless, being a martyr. It’s honoring your adversaries too much.”                                                             (Dominique Francon, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 2, Chapter 13)


“Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt and general indifference, and they call it love.”    (Gail Wynand, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 3, Chapter 4)


“In the countries of Europe, most prominently in Germany a new school of building had been growing for a long time: it consisted of putting up four walls and a flat top over them, with a few openings. This was called new architecture.”                                                                                                                                                   (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 3, Chapter 6)


“If you want to know what to expect, just think that the worst wars are religious wars between sects of the same religion or civil wars between brothers of the same race.”                                                                  (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 2)


“Gordon Prescott says that four walls and a ceiling is all there is to architecture. The floor is optional. All the rest is capitalistic ostentation. He says nobody should be allowed to build anything anywhere until every inhabitant of the globe has a roof over his head… Well, what about the Patagonians? It ‘s our job to teach them to want a roof.  Prescott calls it dialectic trans-spatial interdependence.”                                                                                                                                           (Mitchell Layton, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand,  in Part 4, Chapter 6)


“This is pity, he [Peter Keating] thought, and then he lifted his head in wonder. He thought there must be something terribly wrong with a world in which this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.”                                                       (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 8)


“You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is the strictest judge .They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It’s simpler to seek substitutes for competence – such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.”                                                                                       (Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 11)


“Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched. The things which are sacred or precious to us are the things we withdraw from promiscuous sharing.”                                                                                                                                                              (Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 11)


“Internal corruption, Peter. That’s the oldest one of all. The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it. Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice – run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served.”       (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 14)


“We found the magic word. Collectivism. look at Europe, you fool. Can’t you see past the guff and recognize the essence? One country is dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the collective is all. The individual held as evil, the mass – as God. No motive and no virtue permitted – except that of service to the proletariat. That’s one version. Here’s another. A country dedicated to the proposition that man has no rights, that the State is all. The individual held as evil, the race  – as God. No motive and no virtue permitted – except to the service of the race. Am I raving, or is this the cold reality of two continents already? Watch the pincer movement.  If you’re sick of one version, we push you into the other.  We get you coming or going. We’ve closed the doors. We’ve fixed the coin. Heads – collectivism, and tails – collectivism.”                                               (Ellsworth M. Toohey, in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Part 4, Chapter 14)



“As I write in New York in mid-December, the city is full of Christmas trees and menorahs. I would be inclined to say, as an old Jewish atheist, that these things mean nothing to me, but Hannukah songs are evoked in my mind whenever an image of a menorah impinges on my retina, even when I am not consciously aware of it, There must be more emotion, more meaning here than I allow, even if it is of a mostly sentimental and nostalgic kind.”                                                                                                               (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 4)


“Anatomists today would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician – but they could recognize the brain of a professional musician without a moment’s hesitation.”                                                          (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 7)


“My research [had] persuaded me that musicality is deeply embedded in the human genome, with far more evolutionary roots than spoken language. Yet here I was, unable to carry a tune or match a rhythm.”                                                         (Steven Mithen, in The Diva Within, from the New Scientist, February 23, 2008, quoted in Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 8)


“Daniel Levitin points out that Ulysses S. Grant was ‘said to be tone-deaf, and claimed to know only two songs. He reported “One is Yankee Doodle and the other is not.”‘”                                                                                                                   (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 8)


“Every act of perception is to some degree an act of imagination.”                                                                                                               (Gerald M. Edelman, author of The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness, quoted in Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 11)


“It seems certain, likewise, that in the first two years of life, even though one retains no specific memories (Freud called this infantile amnesia), deep emotional memories or associations are nevertheless being made in the limbic system and other regions of the brain where emotions are represented – and these emotional memories may determine one’s behavior for a lifetime.”                                                                                                 (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 15)


“This reminded me of how Ralph Waldo Emerson, after he became severely demented, would answer such questions by saying, ‘Quite well; I have lost my mental faculties, but am perfectly well.'”                                                                               (Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Chapter 29)


“The most amazing thing in the world is that the Christians say that Jesus is divine, that he is God, and then they say that the Jews seized him and crucified him. How then can a God who cannot protect himself protect others? Anyone who believes his God came out of a woman’s privates is quite mad; he should not be spoken to, for he has neither intelligence nor faith.”                                                                                                (from ‘a  mid-12th-century Syrian text’, quoted by Sam Leith in his review of Anne-Marie Eddé’s Saladin, in the Spectator, December 3)


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