Quotations about   governance

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It is often said that governing is the art of compromise. But this is not a statement about governing; it is rather about the values of democracy. Legislating in the common interest means not confusing one’s own values with the common values. It requires giving equal weight to values that one does not share. But too often, commitment to this principle appears weak — a failure to stand by one’s principles.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
“Democracy and the Demagogue,” New York Times (12 Oct 2015)
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Added on 10-May-21 | Last updated 10-May-21
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But, of all motives, none is better adapted to secure influence and hold it fast than love; nothing is more foreign to that end than fear. […] For fear is but a poor safeguard of lasting power; while affection, on the other hand, may be trusted to keep it safe for ever.

[Omnium autem rerum nec aptius est quicquam ad opes tuendas ac tenendas quam diligi nec alienius quam timeri. … Malus enim est custos diuturnitatis metus contraque benivolentia fidelis vel ad perpetuitatem.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 2, ch. 7 / sec. 23 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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Discussing the fate of tyrants such as Julius Caesar. Original Latin. Alternate translations:

Now of all those methods, which tend to the advancement and maintenance of our interest, there is none more proper and convenient than love, and none more improper and inconvenient than fear. [...] For obedience, proceeding from fear, cannot possibly be lasting; whereas that which is the effect of love will be faithful for ever.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

Of all means there is none better fitted for supporting and retaining our influence than to be loved; or more foreign to it, than to be feared. [...] Fear is a false and short-lived security, but the love of men is faithful and lasting.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

Now, of all things there is none more adapted for supporting and retaining our influence than to be loved, nor more prejudicial than to be feared. [...] For fear is but a bad guardian to permanency, whereas affection is faithful even to perpetuity.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

But of all things nothing tends so much to the guarding and keeping of resources as to be the object of affection; nor is anything more foreign to that end than to be the object of fear. [...] For fear is but a poor guardian for permanent possession, and, on the other hand, good will is faithful so long as there can be need of its loyalty.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

Added on 25-Jan-21 | Last updated 25-Jan-21
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Good government makes everything well ordered and fit,
And at the same time it throws shackles on the unjust.
It levels out the rough, stops insolence, and weakens arrogance.
It causes the growing blossoms of blindness to wither.
It straightens crooked judgments and it levels out over-reaching deeds.
It stops the acts of civil conflict and
It stops the anger of grievous strife and because of it
Everything among men is wisely and appropriately done.

[Εὐνομίη δ’ εὔκοσμα καὶ ἄρτια πάντ’ ἀποφαίνει,
καὶ θαμὰ τοῖς ἀδίκοις ἀμφιτίθησι πέδας·
τραχέα λειαίνει, παύει κόρον, ὕβριν ἀμαυροῖ,
αὑαίνει δ’ ἄτης ἄνθεα φυόμενα,
εὐθύνει δὲ δίκας σκολιάς, ὑπερήφανά τ’ ἔργα
πραΰνει· παύει δ’ ἔργα διχοστασίης,
παύει δ’ ἀργαλέης ἔριδος χόλον, ἔστι δ’ ὑπ’ αὐτῆς
πάντα κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἄρτια καὶ πινυτά.]

Solon (c. 638 BC - 558 BC) Athenian statesman, lawmaker, poet
Fragment 4.32-39 W [tr. @sententiq (2015)]
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Solon's description of eunomiē (lawfulness). Alt. trans.:
Lawfulness, puts all things into good order and makes them sound,
And often places shackles about those who are unjust.
She smooths what is rough, puts an end to excess, enfeebles arrogance;
She withers the flowers of ruin as they spring up;
She straightens crooked judgments, and overbearing acts she turns to gentleness;
She puts an end to acts of dissension,
Puts an end to the bitterness of painful strife:
Beneath her hand all things among mankind are sound and prudent.
[tr. Miller (1996)]

Good Government displays all neatness and order,
And many times she must put shackles on the breakers of laws
She levels rough places, stops Glut and Greed, takes the force from Violence:
She dries up the growing flowers of Despair as they grow;
She straightens out crooked judgments given, gentles the swollen ambitions,
And puts an end to acts of divisional strife;
She stills the gall of wearisome Hate,
And under her influence all life among mankind is harmonious and does well.
[tr. Lattimore]
Added on 22-Oct-20 | Last updated 22-Oct-20
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A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centres, and thus destroy the system. The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We can not afford the destructive effect of competition.

W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) American management consultant, educator
The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, ch. 3 “Introduction to a System” (1993)
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Added on 13-Aug-20 | Last updated 13-Aug-20
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One great secret of the art of politics all over the world is never to push evil or beneficial measures to that point where resistance commences on the part of the governed.

Edwin Percy Whipple 1819-1886) American essayist and critic
“Character” (1857), Character and Characteristic Men (1866)
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Added on 10-Jun-20 | Last updated 10-Jun-20
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That city [is best to live in,] in which those who are not wronged, no less than those who are wronged, exert themselves to punish the wrongdoers.

Solon (c. 638 BC - 558 BC) Athenian statesman, lawmaker, poet
Quoted in Plutarch, Parallel Lives, “The Life of Solon,” sec. 18.5 [tr. Perrin (1914)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "That [city is best managed] in which those who are not wronged espouse the cause of those who are, and punish their oppressors." [tr. Stewart, Long (1894)]
  • "That [city is best modeled] where those that are not injured try and punish the unjust as much as those that are." [Source]
  • "That [city is best modeled] where those who are not injured, are as ready to prosecute and punish offenders, as those who are." [tr. Langhorne, Langhorne (1819)]
  • "The city [is best governed of all] where those who have not been wronged show themselves just as ready to punish the offender as thouse who have been." [tr. Scott-Kilvert (1960)]
  • Paraphrased as "Justice can be secured in Athens if those who are not injured feel as indignant as those who are," in Earl Warren, "The Law and the Future," Fortune (Nov 1955).
Added on 22-Apr-20 | Last updated 22-Apr-20
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Good government is known from bad government by this infallible test: that under the former the labouring people are well fed and well clothed, and under the latter, they are badly fed and badly clothed.

William Cobbett (1763-1835) English politician, agriculturist, journalist, pamphleteer
Cobbett’s Political Register, Vol. 46 (31 May 1823)
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Added on 17-Oct-17 | Last updated 17-Oct-17
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All presidents start out to run a crusade, but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely, the presidency.

Cooke - presidents start out to run a crusade - wist_info quote

Alistair Cooke (1908-2004) Anglo-American essayist and journalist
Talk About America, ch. 6 (1981)
Added on 1-Aug-16 | Last updated 1-Aug-16
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The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government is to live under the government of worse men.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Republic, Book 1, 347c

In Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Eloquence," Society and Solitude (1870).

Alt. trans.:
  • "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."
  • The Constitution Party (1952-68) used on their letterhead the variant, "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
  • "The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men."
  • "Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber."
More discussion here.

In context (Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 [tr. Shorey (1969)]):
[346e] "Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself -- but as we said long ago it provides and enjoins what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage the stronger? That was why, friend Thrasymachus, I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people's troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, [347a] because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in form of money or honor or a penalty if they refuse." "What do you mean by that, Socrates?" said Glaucon. "The two wages I recognize, but the penalty you speak of and described as a form of wage I don't understand." "Then," said I, "you don't understand the wages of the best men [347b] for the sake of which the finest spirits hold office and rule when they consent to do so. Don't you know that to be covetous of honor and covetous of money is said to be and is a reproach?" "I do," he said. "Well, then," said I, "that is why the good are not willing to rule either for the sake of money or of honor. They do not wish to collect pay openly for their service of rule and be styled hirelings nor to take it by stealth from their office and be called thieves, nor yet for the sake of honor, [347c] for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil and because they are unable to turn it over to better men than themselves [347d] or to their like. For we may venture to say that, if there should be a city of good men only, immunity from office-holding would be as eagerly contended for as office is now, and there it would be made plain that in very truth the true ruler does not naturally seek his own advantage but that of the ruled; so that every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him. "
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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