Quotations about   government

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Taft explained that the great issue in this campaign is “creeping socialism.” Now that is the patented trademark of the special interest lobbies.

Socialism is a scare word they have hurled a every advance the people have made in the last twenty years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm prices supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.

Harry S Truman (1884-1972) US President (1945-1953)
Speech, Syracuse, New York (10 Oct 1952)
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Democracy is not a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization. It does not divide its citizens into the bossers and the bossed — as an efficiency-regime tends to do. The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere. They found religions, great or small, or they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called “ordinary people”, who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours. All these people need to express themselves; they cannot do so unless society allows them liberty to do so, and the society which allows them most liberty is a democracy.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 6, ch. 1 (1793)
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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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Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new occasions and temptations for the commission of it.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, “Summary of Principles” 2.4 (1793)
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To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice.

[Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differimus rectum aut justiciam.]

Other Authors and Sources
Magna Carta, Clause 40 (1215)

Alt. trans.:
  • "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."
  • "To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice."
Added on 7-Jul-17 | Last updated 7-Jul-17
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What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance and service to the community were obscured to the point of disappearing. Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business possessed of great wealth in which all citizens had a right to share. […] Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility. There could be only one result. […] If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) American educator, author, classicist
The Echo of Greece, ch. 2 “Athens’ Failure” (1957)
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The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report, #323 (1956)
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The principle is surely not new in the world: everyone ought to know by this time that a mountebank, thinking only of tomorrow’s cakes, is far safer with power in his hands than a prophet and martyr, his eyes fixed frantically upon the rewards beyond the grave.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 2, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Bureaucracies are inefficient by design. Inefficiency is the twin sister of redundancy, of overcapacity, of the ability to plow through a swamp by brute force alone.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
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The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) [Majority Opinion]
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While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson (9 Jul 1813)
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We ought to consider what is the end of government before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“Thoughts on Government,” letter to George Wythe (Jan 1776)
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It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell, and that God had suffered these magi to place the weapons in the hands of princes, and to say to each prince: “Only because the enemies have such a thing have we devised this for thee, in order that they may know that thou hast it also, and fear to strike. See to it, m’Lord, that thou fearest them as much as they shall now fear thee, that none may unleash this dread thing which we have wrought.” But the princes, putting the words of their wise men to naught, thought each to himself: If I but strike quickly enough, and in secret, I shall destroy these others in their sleep, and there will be none to fight back; the earth shall be mine.

Such was the folly of princes, and there followed the Flame Deluge.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
A Canticle for Leibowitz, “Fiat Homo,” ch. 6 (1959)
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Terrorism set up by reformers may be just as bad as Government terrorism and it is often worse because it draws a certain amount of false sympathy.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (18 Dec 1924)
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All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.

Frank Herbert (1920-1986) American writer
Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
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To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind. It prolongs life itself and enlarges the sphere of existence.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Report on the Establishment of the Smithsonian Institution (c. 1846)
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The power to tax involves the power to destroy.

John Marshall (1755-1835) American lawyer, politician, Supreme Court Chief Justice (1801-1835)
McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)
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To tax and to please, no more than to love and be wise, is not given to men.

burke-tax-please-love-wise-wist_info-quote

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
“American Taxation,” speech, House of Commons (19 Apr 1774)
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A city is in many respects a great business corporation, but in other respects it is enlarged housekeeping. … May we not say that city housekeeping has failed partly because women, the traditional housekeepers, have not been consulted as to its multiform activities?

Jane Addams (1860-1935) American reformer, suffragist, philosopher, author
Newer Ideals of Peace, “Utilization of Women in City Government” (1907)
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Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.

Václav Havel (1936-2011) Czech playwright, essayist, dissident, politician
“New Year’s Address to the Nation” (1 Jan 1990)
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How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) French statesman and soldier
(Attributed)

Quoted in Ernest Mignon, Les Mots du Général (1962).
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The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on Virginia (1782)
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A decent and manly examination of the acts of the Government should be not only tolerated, but encouraged.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) American politician, military officer, US President (1841)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1841)
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Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
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Paraphrase: "The people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge -- I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers."
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We need an adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956-1961 (1965)
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My view was that every executive officer, and above all every executive officer in high position, was a steward of the people bound actively and affirmatively to do all he could for the people, and not to content himself with the negative merit of keeping his talents undamaged in a napkin. I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it. My belief was that it was not only his right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the Nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws. Under this interpretation of executive power I did and caused to be done many things not previously done by the President and the heads of the departments. I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power. In other words, I acted for the public welfare, I acted for the common well-being of all our people, whenever and in whatever manner was necessary, unless prevented by direct constitutional or legislative prohibition.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, ch. 10 (1926)
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DENNIS: Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
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In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“Farewell Address” (17 Jan 1961)
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I am not sure what it means when one says that he is a conservative in fiscal affairs and a liberal in human affairs. I assume what it means is that you will strongly recommend the building of a great many schools to accommodate the needs of our children, but not provide the money.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
News conference (Fall 1955)
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Government — they used to teach it in college. It’s actually something you should study and learn and know how to do. The Republicans always run on the idea that government isn’t very effective. Well, not the way you do it. But it can be effective.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Interview with Joan Walsh, “Real talk with Bill Maher,” Salon (16 Feb 2007)
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To live bravely by convictions from which the free peoples of the world can take heart, the American people must put their faith in long-range policies — political, economic, and military — programs that will not be heated and cooled with the brightening and waning of tensions. The United States has matured to world leadership; it is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.

Omar Bradley (1893-1981) American general
Speech, Memorial Day, Longmeadow, Mass. (31 May 1948)
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I like to believe that people, in the long run, are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.

Eisenhower - people want peace - wist_info quote

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Broadcast with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, London (31 Aug 1959)
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A man’s first duty is to make a competence and be independent. But his whole duty does not end there. It his his duty to do something for his needy neighbors who are less favored than himself. It is his duty to contribute to the general good of the community in which he lives. He has been protected by its laws. Because he has been protected in his various enterprises he has been able to make money sufficient for his needs and those of his family. All beyond this belongs in justice to the protecting power that has fostered him and enabled him to win pecuniary success. To try and make the world in some way better than you have found is to have a noble motive in life.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
The Empire of Business, “Thrift as a Duty” (1902)
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Your public servants serve you right.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
Speech, Los Angeles (11 Sep 1952)
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While democracy must have its organization and controls, its vital breath is individual liberty.

Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. (1862-1948) American statesman, politician, Supreme Court Justice (1910-1916, 1930-1941)
Speech (4 Mar 1939)
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This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects — education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, ch. 8 (1952)
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If there’s anything a public servant hates to do it’s something for the public.

Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) American caricaturist and humorist [Frank McKinney Hubbard]
(Attributed)
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Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, accepting the GOP Presidential Nomination, San Francisco (16 Jul 1964)
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See Acton.
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If an autocracy does not rest on the army, which leads to the chaos of praetorianism, it must rely on ‘panem et circenses.’ Hence it has some of the worst faults of democracy, without its advantages.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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History gives no countenance to the theory that popular governments are either more moral or more pacific than strong monarchies.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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Democracy is a form of government which may be rationally defended, not as being good, but as being less bad than any other.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)

See Churchill.
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The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.

The desirable things which the individuals of a people can not do, or can not well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions. The first — that in relation to wrongs — embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and non-performance of contracts. The other embraces all which, in its nature, and without wrong, requires combined action, as public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.

From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need of government.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Fragment (1 Jul 1854?)
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In Roy P. Basler (ed.), Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Vol. 2 (1953). The date, by Nicolay and Hay, is deemed arbitrary.
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Let us not be afraid to help each other — let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and Senators and Congressmen and Government officials but the voters of this country.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) US President (1933-1945)
Speech, Marietta, Ohio (8 Jul 1938)
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Public services have, to use the economist’s word, a strong redistributional effect. And this effect is strongly in favor of those with lower incomes. Those who clamor the loudest for public economy are those for whom public services do the least. Tax reduction that curtails or limits public services has a double effect in comforting the comfortable and afflicting the poor.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
“Wealth and Poverty,” Speech, National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty (13 Dec 1963)

See sourcing notes here.
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Even the protective functions of the state are most important for those in the lower income brackets. Lethal serum and poison drugs do, one gathers, work rather democratically on rich and poor alike. But many of us could probably survive a certain amount of exploitation in our prescriptions, fraud in our food packaging, mendacity in our dental advertising, or thimblerigging in our securities. We live in parts of cities where epidemics are less likely. The family that struggles to make ends meet, the widow with life-insurance money around loose, the dwellers in urban tenements need the protection of an alert FTC, FDA, SEC, and Public Health Service.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
“Wealth and Poverty,” Speech, National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty (13 Dec 1963)

See sourcing notes here.
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The great can protect themselves, but the poor and humble require the arm and shield of the law.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) American politician, general, US President (1829-1837)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (26 Aug 1821)
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Government can do a great deal to aid the settlement of labor disputes without allowing itself to be employed as an ally of either side. Its proper role in industrial strife is to encourage the process of mediation and conciliation.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
State of the Union Message (2 Feb 1953)
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Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Night Watch (2002)
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In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Deathbed statement (17 Apr 1821)
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The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Speech, New York Press Club (9 Sep 1912)
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We have passed beyond the time of what they call the laisser-faire school which believes that the Government ought to do nothing but run a police force.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930) US President (1909-13) and Chief Justice (1921-1930)
Speech, Milwaukee (17 Sep 1909)
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Governments make of philosophy a means of serving their state interests, and scholars make of it a trade.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
(Attributed)

Speaking of Hegel acting as an agent of the Prussian government.
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I believe that the United States as a government, if it is going to be true to its own founding documents, does have the job of working toward that time when there is no discrimination made on such inconsequential reason as race, color, or religion.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
News conference (13 May 1959)
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We are all imperfect. We can not expect perfect government.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930) US President (1909-13) and Chief Justice (1921-1930)
Speech, Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce, Washington, DC (8 May 1909)
Added on 13-Jul-15 | Last updated 13-Jul-15
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