Quotations about   dissent

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Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises.

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919) [dissent]
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Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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America is therefore a free country, in which, lest anyone be hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of private individuals or of the State; of the citizen or of the authorities; of public or of private undertakings; or, in short, of anything at all, except it be of the climate and the soil; and even then Americans will be found ready to defend either the one or the other, as if they had been contrived by the inhabitants of the country.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, “Public Spirit in the United States” (1835) [tr. Reeve (1839)]
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Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Consistently wise decisions can only be made by those whose wisdom is constantly challenged.

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen (1928-2010) American lawyer, writer, presidential adviser, speechwriter
Decision-Making in the White House: The Olive Branch or the Arrows, ch. 7 (1963)
Added on 14-Nov-17 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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The truth is always in the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because as a rule the minority is made up of those who actually have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed of that crowd which has no opinion — and which therefore the next moment (when it becomes clear that the minority is the stronger) adopts the latter’s opinion, which now is in the majority, i.e., becomes rubbish by having the whole retinue and numerousness on its side, while the truth is again in a new minority.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journal (1850)
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Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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Dissent is the native activity of the scientist, and it has got him into a good deal of trouble in the last years. But if that is cut off, what is left will not be a scientist. And I doubt whether it will be a man.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Lecture, MIT (19 Mar 1953)
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Reprinted as Science and Human Values, Part 3, sec. 5 "The Sense of Human Dignity" (1961).
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

nietzche-hold-in-higher-esteem-wist_info-quote

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Dawn (1881)

Alt. trans.: "The surest way of ruining a youth is to teach him to respect those who think as he does more highly than those who think differently from him." [[tr. R.J. Hollingdale (1982)]
Added on 13-Dec-16 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of theological warfare are antiquated: the field of politics supplies the alchymists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments of cruelty and destruction. Our age is too enlightened to contend upon topics, which concern only the interests of eternity; and men who hold in proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame their own passions, have made it a common-place censure against your ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others, they were alike intolerant themselves. Against these objections, your candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an ample apology. The original grounds of their separation from the church of England, were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of communion; much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of the same essential principles.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech, Plymouth (22 Dec 1802)
Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 28-Nov-16
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Surely there is no better way to stop the rising of new sects and schisms than to reform abuses; to compound the smaller differences; to proceed mildly, and not with sanguinary persecutions; and rather to take off the principal authors by winning and advancing them, than to enrage them by violence and bitterness.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Vicissitude of Things,” Essays, No. 58 (1625)
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Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 16-Jun-16
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No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-rousing remain the true duty of patriots.

Ehrenreich - patriotism - wist_info quote

Barbara Ehrenreich (b. 1941) American feminist, journalist, political activist
“Introduction: Family Values” (1988), The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)

See Johnson.
Added on 29-Jan-16 | Last updated 29-Jan-16
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The concept of loyalty is distorted when it is understood to mean blind acceptance. It is correctly interpreted when it is assumed to cover honest criticism.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) Swedish diplomat, author, UN Secretary-General (1953-61)
Speech, Johns Hopkins University (14 Jun 1955)
Added on 15-Dec-15 | Last updated 15-Dec-15
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Crazy — a nonscientific term meaning that the person to whom one applies that label has a world picture differing from the accepted one.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
Added on 30-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 53 (1897)
Added on 26-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe.

Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807) American lawyer, politician, Founder, Supreme Court chief justice (1796-1800)
Essay (17 Dec 1787)
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Added on 24-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“The Coolidge Buncombe” (6 Oct 1924)
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Added on 8-Jun-15 | Last updated 8-Jun-15
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No man ought to be hindered saying or writing what he pleases on the conduct of those who undertake the management of national affairs, in which all are concerned, and therefore have the right to inquire, and to publish their suspicions concerning them. For if you punish the slanderer, you deter the fair inquirer.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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MILNE: No matter how imperfect things are, if you’ve got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.
RUTH: I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Night and Day, Act 1 (1978)
Added on 17-Oct-14 | Last updated 17-Oct-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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Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
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Added on 1-Sep-14 | Last updated 1-Sep-14
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Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find critics subversive.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
Freedom and Order (1966)
Added on 15-Apr-14 | Last updated 15-Apr-14
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If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Added on 14-Apr-14 | Last updated 14-Apr-14
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Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (3 Apr 1775)

In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
Added on 11-Apr-14 | Last updated 11-Apr-14
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Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) American educator
Thoughts (1867)
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Added on 29-May-12 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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Nothing is cheaper and more common than physical bravery. […] Common experience shows how much rarer is moral courage than physical bravery. A thousand men will march to the mouth of the cannon where one man will dare espouse an unpopular cause […] True courage and manhood come from the consciousness of the right attitude toward the world, the faith in one’s own purpose, and the sufficiency of one’s own approval as a justification for one’s own acts.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) American lawyer
Resist Not Evil, ch. 16 (1903)
Added on 4-Aug-09 | Last updated 4-Dec-15
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Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
Speech, Westbrook Junior College (7 Jun 1953)
Added on 7-Oct-08 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood, nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
“Declaration of Conscience” (1 Jun 1950)
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Added on 27-Sep-07 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Orthodoxy, ch. 5 (1908)
Added on 4-Aug-07 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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Full and free expression of the right by the citizen is ordinarily also his duty; for its exercise is more important to the Nation than it is to himself. Like the course of the heavenly bodies, harmony in national life is a resultant of the struggle between contending forces. In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom in governmental action.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Gilbert v. Minnesota, 254 US 325 (1920) [Dissent]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Let’s never forget that we ALL have aspects about us which could cause us to find ourselves on the sharp-edged side of the razorwired fence should the winds of mass hysteria, whipped up from public opinion by demagogues, shift.

Other Authors and Sources
Bruce Little, Belief-L
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-Apr-14
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Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]

Also given as "... time to reform."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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