Favorite Quotations

Dr. Phillip M. Feldman

(Quotations are mine except as noted).

1. Politics and Religion

No great power can treat foreign policy as a spectator sport and hope to remain a great power.

— Bret Stephens in America In Retreat

It is conventional to think of the political spectrum as a line with left and right ends, but this is a misleading mental construct. The far left and far right agree on more than they are willing to admit. Historically, both Communists and Fascists have been willing to destroy entire segments of the population for the supposed good of the many. In both of these quasi-religions, the individual counts for nothing and the end justifies the means.

Sincerity and politics are rarely to be found dwelling under one roof, and little justice is to be expected fom the exponents and manufacturers of what is styled public opinion ...

— Stefan Zweig in Marie Antoinette

Even when politicians tell the truth, they do so in the spirit of a lie. They speak the truth instrumentally, to gain advantage. As Machiavelli instructs us, if princes are to deliver the order and security we seek, they have to get and hold power. Our outrage at political lies, accordingly, is set low.

— Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

The last 200 years of history of human societies and their interaction can be viewed as one long uncontrolled experiment on the effects of different systems of government and different religious systems—from modernist/enlightened to fundamentalist to none at all—on human progress and human happiness.

Israel is proof that [the creation of a] democracy does not require time.

— Bernard-Henri Levy

Many Americans view elections in failed Middle Eastern states as a sign of progress and of a move towards democracy. But, one can't have any approximation of democracy without freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and a true multi-party system, all of which have yet to emerge in these countries.

Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution.

— Daniel Pipes

I'm intolerant of intolerance, intolerant of the toleration of intolerance, and so on.

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there ... in her fertile fields and bound less forests—and it was not there ... in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there ... in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

— Unknown (falsely attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville)

2. Other Topics

Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward.

— Soren Kierkegaard

I reserve the right to change my mind on any subject at any time. The ability to change one's mind is part of what it means to be open-minded.

Memory slips through one's fingers like sand.

— Dimitri Shostakovich [from "Testimony: the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich" by Solomon Volkov]

I am not completely in agreement with Aristotle's Golden Mean, for "moderation in all things" is itself extreme. Rather, I would say, "Be moderate in most things. Avoid extremes except when the circumstances require them."

... memory ... is a vessel into which we pour our ideals.

— Bard C. Cosman

While facts are almost numberless, principles are few.

— Unknown

An alien who studied our species would have to conclude that human beings have an amazing capacity to deceive——themselves and one another.

Moral relativism, the notion that good and evil are matters merely of point of view, is itself an evil.

— R. Z. Sheppard, Time, June 6, 1983

John Adams is reported to have said that "Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom." It seems that such education has become superfluous.

You have enemies? Good. That means that you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.

— Winston Churchill

In a novel by Jack Vance, one of his characters describes murder as a "wicked theft." I think that one could construct a reasonable system of ethics around the notion that every immoral action is a species of theft. For, what can it mean to harm someone unjustly unless it is to deprive them of something that is rightfully theirs?

Outside of the domain of mathematics, most non-trivial questions do not yield answers that can be proven beyond all doubt, except in the mind of someone who is illogical, dogmatic, or both. Nevertheless, each of us has a duty to make what sense he can of the world, to search for truths to the extent that they can be found, and to live them to the best of his abilities.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

— Bertrand Russell

I am a historian because I believe [that] the study of the past offers the best way to understand the present.

— Daniel Pipes

Modeling in science remains, partly at least, an art. Some principles do exist, however ... The first is that all models are wrong; some, however, are better than others ... The second principle (which applies also to artists!) is not to fall in love with one model, to the exclusion of alternatives.

— from Generalized Linear Models by P. McCullagh and John A. Nelder, Chapman and Hall, 1983.

Dream great dreams, and then take the practical steps to make them a reality.

— Henrietta Szold

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is merely relative, is asking you not to believe him. So don't.

— Roger Scruton, in Modern Philosophy

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

— St. Augustine of Hippo

Principles that change with the circumstances are not principles, but rather rationalizations.

There is one human right that transcends all others: Everyone has the right to hear my opinion!

Last update: 2 March, 2018