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Only about 1 percent of my writings are concerned with sex, but the conventional public is so obsessed with sex that it hasn’t noticed the other 99 percent of my writings.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Interview by Woodrow Wyatt, BBC TV (1959)

Collected in Bertrand Russell's BBC Interviews (1959) [UK] and Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1960) [US]. Reprinted (abridged) in The Humanist (1982-11/12), and in Russell Society News, #37 (1983-02).
Added on 25-Oct-23 | Last updated 25-Oct-23
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What is the reason that we laugh so freely in a theatre but are ashamed to weep? Is it less natural to be melted by what excites pity than to burst into laughter at what is comical? […] It is not thought odd to hear a whole theatre ring with laughter at some passage of a comedy, but, on the contrary, it implies that it was funny, and very naturally performed; therefore the extreme restraint every one puts on himself not to shed tears and the affected laughter with which one tries to disguise them, clearly prove that the natural result of lofty tragedy should be to make us all weep without concealment and publicly, and without any other hindrance than wiping our eyes.

[D’où vient que l’on rit si librement au théâtre, et que l’on a honte d’y pleurer? Est-il moins dans la nature de s’attendrir sur le pitoyable que d’éclater sur le ridicule? […] Comme donc ce n’est point une chose bizarre d’entendre s’élever de tout un amphithéâtre un ris universel sur quelque endroit d’une comédie, et que cela suppose au contraire qu’il est plaisant et très naïvement exécuté, aussi l’extrême violence que chacun se fait à contraindre ses larmes, et le mauvais ris dont on veut les couvrir prouvent clairement que l’effet naturel du grand tragique serait de pleurer tous franchement et de concert à la vue l’un de l’autre, et sans autre embarras que d’essuyer ses larmes, outre qu’après être convenu de s’y abandonner.]

Jean de La Bruyere
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 1 “Of Works of the Mind [Des Ouvrages de l’Esprit],” § 50 (1.50) (1688) [tr. Van Laun (1885)]

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

What's the reason that we laugh so freely, and are asham'd to weep at the Theatre? Is Nature less subjects to be soften'd by pity, than to burst forth at what is Comical? [...] We must suppose 'tis the natural effect of a good Tragedy, to make us Weep freely in sight of the whole Audience, without any other trouble than drying our Eyes, and wiping our Faces. It being no more ridiculous to be seen Weeping, than to be heard to Laugh by the whole Theatre: On the contrary, we then conclude there was something acted very pleasantly, and to the life; and the restraint a man puts on him∣self to hide his tears, by an affected Grimace, plainly demonstrates that he ought not to resist the main design of a Tragedy, but give way to his Passions, and discover em as openly, and with as much confidence, as at a Comedy.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

What is the reason we laugh so freely, but are asham'd to weep at the Theatre? Is Nature less subject to be soften'd by Pity, than to burst out into Laughter at what is Comical? [...] As therefore 'tis thought no odd thing to hear the whole Amphitheatre ring with an Universal Laughter, at some passage of a Comedy; butr on the contrary, implies something was pleasantly said, and naturally perform';d; so the extreme violence which every one offers to himself in constraining his Tears, and disguising ;em with affected Grimaces, clealry prove that the Natural Effect of good Tragedy is to make us weep with all freedom, and in concert, in another's sight, and wihtout any other disturbance than wiping our Eyes.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

Why is it that we laugh so freely at the theatre and yet are ashamed to weep there? Is it less natural to be moved by what is pitiful than to be amused by what is ridiculous? [...] Since then it is no unusual thing to hear a whole theatre break into unanimous laughter at some passage in a comedy, since this implies, on the contrary, that it is amusing and extremely life-like, so the extreme violence we do to our feelings by restraining our tears, and the false laughter with which we try to conceal them, clearly proves that the natural effect of great tragedy should be to make us all weep quite openly, with one accord, in one another’s presence, with no further concern than to wipe our eyes.
[tr. Stewart (1970), "Of Books"]

Added on 3-Oct-23 | Last updated 3-Oct-23
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Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
“Miscellany: Last Words,” The New Statesman (25 Feb 1933)
Added on 29-Mar-22 | Last updated 29-Mar-22
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ORESTES: A terrible thing is the mob, whenever it has villains to lead it.
PYLADES: But with honest leaders its counsels are always honest.

[Ὀρέστης: δεινὸν οἱ πολλοί, κακούργους ὅταν ἔχωσι προστάτας.
Πυλάδης: ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν χρηστοὺς λάβωσι, χρηστὰ βουλεύουσ᾽ ἀεί.]

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Orestes, ll. 772-773 [Orestes] (408 BC) [tr. Coleridge (1938)]

Original Greek. Alt. trans.:

ORESTES: Ah, my friend! When mobs have rotten leaders they are likely to do all sorts of nasty things.
PYLADES: It's a very different story when their leaders are wise, though ....
[tr. Theodoridis (2010)]

ORESTES: The mob is frightening when their leaders are criminal.
PYLADES: But when they have good one, their decisions are good.
[tr. Luschnig (2013)]

The mob is nasty, when it has leaders
bent on doing wrong.
          But when it’s controlled
by decent men, the decisions they make
are always good.
[tr. Johnston (2020), ll. 938-940]

The masses are terrible whenever they have scoundrels as leaders.
[tr. @sententiq (2020)]
Added on 2-Nov-20 | Last updated 2-Nov-20
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It’s a police mantra that all members of the public are guilty of something, but some members of the public are more guilty than others.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)

See Orwell.
Added on 6-Jan-16 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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He failed to realized that the public is bored by foreign affairs until a crisis arises; and that then it is guided by feelings rather than thoughts.

Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) English diplomat, author, diarist, politician
The Evolution of Diplomacy, 4.3 (1954)
Added on 13-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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To serve the Public faithfully, and at the same time please it entirely, is impracticable.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher, aphorist
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Oct 1758)
Added on 17-Jul-15 | Last updated 17-Jul-15
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The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.

Robert M. Hutchins (1899-1977) American educator and educational philosopher
Great Books: The Foundation of a Liberal Education (1954)
Added on 13-Dec-13 | Last updated 15-Jul-20
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For in a republic, who is “the Country”? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant — merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is “the country?” Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school-superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Papers of the Adams Family, Part 6 “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History'” (1939)
Added on 27-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) American computer inventor, entrepreneur
In BusinessWeek (25 May 1998)
Added on 6-Dec-12 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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In a virtuous community men of sense and principle will always be placed at the head of affairs. In a declining state of public morals men will be so blinded to their true interests as to put the incapable and unworthy at the helm. It is therefore vain to complain of the follies or crimes of a government. We must lay the hands on our own hearts and say, Here is the sin that makes the public sin.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Individual and the State,” sermon, Second Church of Boston (1830-04-08)
Added on 13-Jul-12 | Last updated 27-Mar-23
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In this respect, the freedom of the press is certainly for the state machine what the safety-valve is for the steam-engine. For by means of it, every dissatisfaction is at once ventilated in words and such grievance is soon exhausted if in it there is not very much substance. If, however, there is, then such ventilation is a good thing and enables the matter to be known in time and to be put right. This is very much better than forcing down the grievance so that it simmers, ferments, expands, and finally ends in an explosion.

[In dieser Hinsicht ist allerdings für die Staatsmaschine die Preßfreiheit Das, was für die Dampfmaschine die Sicherheitsvalve: denn mittelst derselben macht jede Unzufriedenheit sich alsbald durch Worte Luft, ja wird sich, wenn sie nicht sehr viel Stoff. hat, an ihnen erschöpfen. Hat sie jedoch diesen, so ist es gut, daß man ihn bei Zeiten erkenne, um abzuhelfen sehr viel besser, als wenn die Unzufriedenheit eingezwängt bleibt, brütet, gährt, kocht und anwächst, bis sie endlich zur Explosion gelangt.]

Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 2, ch. 9 “On Jurisprudence and Politics [Zur Rechtslehre und Politik],” § 127 (1851) [tr. Payne (1974)]

(Source (German)). Alternate translation:

Freedom of the press is to the machinery of the state what the safety-valve is to the steam engine: every discontent is by means of it immediately relieved in words -- indeed, unless this discontent is very considerable, it exhausts itself in this way. If, however, it is very considerable, it is as well to know of it in time, so as to redress it.
[tr. Hollingdale (1970)]

Added on 6-Sep-10 | Last updated 1-Mar-23
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You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)

A possible precursor to this quote is the widely-republished Jacques Abbadie, "Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne," ch. 2 (1684): "One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages. [… ont pû tromper quelques hommes, ou les tromper tous dans certains lieux & en certains tems, mais non pas tous les hommes, dans tous les lieux & dans tous les siécles.]"  A similar passage was used in Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, ed., Encyclopédie: ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, Vol. 4 (1754).

First attributed to Lincoln by Fred F. Wheeler, interviewed in the Albany Times (8 Mar 1886): "You can fool part of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time."

First cited in detail in Alexander K. McClure, “Abe” Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories, (1904), in the above form; it was cited as a speech in Clinton, Ill. (2 Sep 1858), but the passage is not found in any surviving Lincoln documents. No Lincoln reference is found in contemporary writings.

Also attributed to P.T. Barnum and Bob Dylan. See also Lawrence J. Peter. More detailed discussion of the quotation can be found here.
Added on 13-Sep-07 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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If it has to choose who is to be crucified, the crowd will always save Barabbas.

[S’il faut choisir un crucifié, la foule sauve toujours Barabbas.]

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) French writer, filmmaker, artist
“Le Coq et l’Arlequin” (1918), Le Rappel à l’ordre (1926)
Added on 21-Aug-07 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Were I called upon to decide whether the people had best be omitted in the Legislative or Judiciary department, I would say it is better to leave them out of the Legislative. The execution of the laws is more important than the making them.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Abbé Arnoux (19 July 1789)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Jul-22
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All politics is based on the indifference of the majority.

Reston - All politics is based on the indifference of the majority - wist.info quote

James Reston
James "Scotty" Reston (1909-1995) Scottish-American journalist and editor
“New York: Rockefeller Comes Out of His Trance,” New York Times (12 Jun 1968)

This is cited in multiple places to this 1968 op-ed, to which I don't have access. Reston also used the phrase in this 1972 op-ed.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Dec-21
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