Quotes on Power and Authority


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G. Orwell, 1984, p. 219-220

O’Brien: "The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men." "How does one man assert his power over another Winston?"

Winston: "By making him suffer."

O'Brien: "Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing."

"Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."

G. Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946)

"Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Machiavelli, The Prince

p. 24: Whether an action is evil or not can only be decided in the light of what it is meant to achieve and whether it successfully achieves it."

p. 34: "men willingly change their ruler, expecting to fare better"

p. 52: "it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain his position to learn how not to be good, and to use his knowledge or not to use it according to necessity."

p. 53: "If a prince wants to maintain his reputation for generosity among men, it is necessary for him not to neglect any possible means of lavish display."

p. 56: "it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking"

J.S. Mills, "On Liberty"

p. 4: "The aim, therefore, of patriots was to set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty."

-- obtained by: (1) "a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights... (2) the establishment of constitutional checks...."

p. 6: "... the people... may desire to oppress a part of their number, and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power."

p. 7: "if [society] issues any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since ... it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself."

John Adams, "Letter to Thomas Jefferson" (Nov. 13, 1815)

"The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junta, and a single emperor."

Lord Acton (1834-1902): "Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton" (April 5, 1887)

"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Wm. Pitt (1708-1778): "Speech" (Jan. 9, 1770)

"Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins."

Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822): "Queen Mab" (1813), III

"Power, like a desolating pestilence, Pollutes whate’er it touches; and obedience,

Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,

A mechanical automaton."

Francis Bacon (1561-1626): "Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature"

"The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall."

_____ "Essex’s Device" (1595)

"The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power."

Th. Hobbes (1588-1679): Leviathan, 13

"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man."

Henry B. Adams (1838-1918): "The Education of Henry Adams" (1907), chap. 4, p. 10

"The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies."

John Dryden (1631-1700): "Absalom and Achitophel" pt. 1 (1680), l. 411

"All empire is no more than power in trust."

James Madison (1751-1836): "Speech in the Virginia Convention" (June 16, 1788)

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Essays: 2nd Series (1844): Politics

"I repeat ... that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist."

____ "Journal" (Oct. 1842)

"You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both."

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): "Beyond Tragedy" (1938)

"Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed."

John Q. Adams (1767-1848): "Letter to James Lloyd" (Oct. 1, 1822)

"Individual liberty is individual power, and the power of a community is a mass compounded of individual powers. The nation which enjoys the most freedom must necessarily be in proportion to its numbers the most powerful nation."

John Tillotson (1630-1694): "Reflections"

"They who are in highest places, and have the most power, have the least liberty, because they are most observed."

A. Einstein: "On the Atomic Bomb" Atlantic Monthly (Nov. 1945)

"As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable."

Sir Ch. Percy Snow: "The Light and the Dark" (1961)

"No one is fit to be trusted with power .... No one .... Any man who has lived at all knows the follies and wickedness he is capable of. If he does not know it, he is not fit to govern others. And if he does know it, he knows also that neither he nor any man ought to be allowed to decide a single human fate."

Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist (1787-88), no. 11, p. 15

"Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience."

"The passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint."

_____, "Opinion on the Constitutionality of the Bank" (Feb. 23, 1791)

"Every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes by force of the term a right to employ all the means requisite ... to the attainment of the ends of such power."

Oliver W. Holmes, "Law and the Court" (1913)

"The only prize cared for by the powerful is power. The prize of the general is not a bigger tent, but command."

Mao Tse-tung, "Selected Works" (1965), II, 224

"Every Communist must grasp the truth: 'Political power grows out of a barrel of a gun.’"

Hermann Goering, "Instruction for the Prussian Police" (1933)

"Shoot first and inquire afterwards, and if you make mistakes, I will protect you."

Henry Kissinger, New York Times (Jan. 19, 1971)

"Power is the great aphrodisiac."

_____, White House Years (1979), Ch. 3, 5

"The management of a balance of power is a permanent undertaking, not an exertion that has a foreseeable end."

Henry Clay, "Speech in the Senate," (March 14, 1834)

"The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments."

Th. Paine, "Common Sense" (1776)

"Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

Louis Brandeis, "Whitney v. California" (1927), 376

"Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears."

_____, "Olmstead v. U.S." (1928), 438, 478

"They [the makers of the Constitution] conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men."

John Dewey, "Democracy in Education" (1903)

"We naturally associate democracy ... with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos."

Plato, The Republic, viii. 550-c

"Oligarchy: A government resting on a valuation of property, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it."

Jesse Carr

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you ain’t."

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn:

You can have power over people as long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power.



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