Quotations about   dictatorship

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If we could learn to look, instead of gawking,
We’d see the horror in the heart of farce.
If only we could act, instead of talking,
We wouldn’t always end up on our arse.
This is the thing that nearly had us mastered;
Don’t yet rejoice in his defeat, you men!
Although the world has stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.

[Ihr aber lernet, wie man sieht statt stiert
Und handelt, statt zu reden noch und noch.
So was hätt einmal fast die Welt regiert!
Die Völker wurden seiner Herr, jedoch
Dass keiner uns zu früh da triumphiert —
Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch.]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui [Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui], Epilogue (1941) [tr. Tabori (1963)]
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Original German. The end of the play, after the violent death of the gangster Ui, modeled after the rise of Hitler. It was not performed until 1958 (German), 1960 (English). The above is the translation first used on Broadway (1963).

The last three lines are in the credits of the Sam Peckinpah (dir.) film Cross of Iron (1977).

Alternate translations:

Therefore we learn how to see and not to gape.
To act instead of talking all day long.
The world was almost won by such an ape!
The nations put him where his kind belong.
But don't rejoice too soon at your escape --
The womb he crawled from is still going strong.
[tr. Manheim (1981)]

The last four lines of Manheim's version were quoted by a vampire in the final episode of the first series (UK) of Being Human (2008).

Learn how to face the facts you tried to shun.
And how to act, where once you idly slept.
That's how the world was going to be run!
The nations duly mastered it, except
(In case you think the battle has been won) --
The womb is fertile still from which that crept.
[tr. Willett]

That was similar to the quatrain Willett translated (1998) from the portion of that that Brecht used in his War Primer [Kriegsfibel] (1947):

That’s how the world was going to be run!
The other nations mastered him, except
(In case you think the battle has been won) --
The womb is fertile still from which that crept.

Something like that almost governed the world.
Yet the people mastered him. But
I wish you'd hold your triumph:
The womb is fertile still from which that crawled.
[Another Kriegsfibel trans.]

Let none of us exult too soon: the womb is fertile still from which this monster crawled.
[Notes from Brecht in the notes for José Limón's unfinished memoir]

Do not applaud quite so soon, for the womb is fertile still from where this one crawled.
[Source]
Added on 26-Mar-21 | Last updated 29-Mar-21
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More quotes by Brecht, Bertholt

It would seem … that man has been shocked by the war into forgetting how to be a political animal. This suspicion is confirmed by the spread of Fascism, which is a headlong flight into fantasy from the necessity for political thought. There is nothing more obvious about the post-war situation than that it is novel, springs from causes which have not yet been analysed, and cannot be relieved until this analysis is complete and has been made the basis of a new social formula. Yet persons supporting Fascism behave as if man were already in possession of principles which would enable him to deal with all our problems, and as if it were only a question of appointing a dictator to apply them.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“The Necessity and Grandeur of the International Ideal” (1934)
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Added on 1-Mar-21 | Last updated 1-Mar-21
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The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Interview with Roger Errera (Oct 1973), The New York Review of Books (26 Oct 1978)
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Added on 14-Jan-21 | Last updated 14-Jan-21
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The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” (1964)
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Added on 4-Aug-20 | Last updated 4-Aug-20
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We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.

[Erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Letters to Quintus #19 (2.15) (Jun, AD 54) [tr. Bailey (1999)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "There was some expectation of the comitia, but a doubtful one: there was some suspicion of a dictatorship, but not even that was certain. There is a perfect cessation of all business in the courts of law, but more as if the state was growing indolent from age than from real tranquility." [Letter 14, tr. Watson (1855)]
  • "There is some hope of elections, but doubtful; some suspicion of a Dictatorship, but that too not definite; peace reigns in the Forum, but it's the peace of a senile community rather than a contented one." [Letter 19 (II.15), tr. @sentantiq (2020)]
Added on 3-Jun-20 | Last updated 3-Jun-20
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Monarchy is like a sleek craft, it sails along well until some bumbling captain runs it into the rocks. Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft. It never goes down but, dammit, your feet are always wet.

Ames - feet are always wet - wist_info quote

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) American politician, orator
(Attributed)

This is the earliest reference I can find to this metaphor. Variants:
  • "A monarchy is a merchantman which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and go to the bottom; a republic is a raft which will never sink, but then your feet are always in the water." This variant is often attributed to a speech in the House of Representatives in 1795, but is not found in records of Ames' speeches.
  • "A monarchy is like a man-of-war -- bad shots between wind and water hurt it exceedingly; there is danger of capsizing. But democracy is a raft. You cannot easily overturn it. It is a wet place, but it is a pretty safe one." -- Joseph Cook (1860-1947) Anglo-Australian politician
  • "Dictatorship is like a big proud ship -- steaming away across the ocean with a great hulk and powerful engines driving it. It’s going fast and strong and looks like nothing could stop it. What happens? Your fine ship strikes something -- under the surface. Maybe it’s a mine or a reef, maybe it’s a torpedo or an iceberg. And your wonderful ship sinks. Now take democracy. It’s like riding on a raft, a rickety raft that was put together in a hurry. We get tossed about on the waves, it’s bad going and our feet are always wet. But that raft doesn’t sink … It’s the raft that will get to the shore at last." --- Roaldus Richmond (fl. 1940) American writer. In, ed., "A Yankee Businessman in New Hampshire," American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940
  • "Democracy is like a raft: It won't sink, but you will always have your feet wet." -- Russell B. Long (1918-2003) American politician
  • "But you have to understand, American democracy is not like the system you have. We're not an ocean liner that sails across the ocean from point A to point B at 30 knots. That's not American democracy. American democracy is kind of like a life raft that bobs around the ocean all the time. Your feet are always wet. Winds are always blowing. You're cold. You're wet. You're uncomfortable -- but you never sink." -- Colin Powell (b. 1937) American politician, diplomat, soldier
Added on 1-Apr-16 | Last updated 7-Aug-20
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The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience. It would be easy, however, to destroy that good conscience by shouting to them: if you want the happiness of the people, let them speak out and tell what kind of happiness they want and what kind they don’t want! But, in truth, the very ones who make use of such alibis know they are lies; they leave to their intellectuals on duty the chore of believing in them and of proving that religion, patriotism, and justice need for their survival the sacrifice of freedom.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Homage to an Exile” (1955)

Published as an essay in Actuelles III, originally a speech (7 Dec 1955) at a banquet in honor of President Eduardo Santos, editor of El Tiempo, driven out of Columbia by a dictatorship". Reprinted in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1960).
Added on 5-Jan-15 | Last updated 5-Jan-15
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If I had to choose, I should detest the tyranny of one man less than that of many. A despot always has his good moments; an assembly of despots never.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
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Added on 4-Nov-14 | Last updated 4-Nov-14
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Every dictatorship has ultimately strangled in the web of repression it wove for its people, making mistakes that could not be corrected because criticism was prohibited.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Value of Dissent,” speech, Nashville, Tennessee (21 Mar 1968)
Added on 13-Oct-14 | Last updated 13-Oct-14
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The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972)
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Added on 16-May-07 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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