Quotations about   resistance

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Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) American historian and educator
The Mind in the Making, ch. 4 “Rationalizing” (1921)
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Added on 20-Oct-20 | Last updated 20-Oct-20
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Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Men at Arms (1993)
Added on 20-Oct-20 | Last updated 20-Oct-20
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The first impression is readily received. We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to efface them.

[Der erste Eindruck findet uns willig, und der Mensch ist gemacht, daß man ihn das Abenteuerlichste überreden kann; das haftet aber auch gleich so fest, und wehe dem, der es wieder auskratzen und austilgen will!]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Sorrows of Young Werther, Book 1, “August 15” (1774) [tr. Boylan]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "... woe to him who would endeavor to erase them!" [tr. Lange, Ryan]
  • "The first impression finds us receptive, and man is so made that he can be persuaded by the most outlandish things; but it strikes root so immediately that woe to him who tries to scratch it out and eradicate it!" [tr. Pike (2004)]
  • Original German.
Added on 22-Sep-20 | Last updated 22-Sep-20
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For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ch. 14 (1963)
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Speaking of resistance to Nazi atrocities.
Added on 14-Jul-20 | Last updated 14-Jul-20
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And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody, “Thou shalt not kill,” even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill,” although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ch. 8 (1963)
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Added on 30-Jun-20 | Last updated 30-Jun-20
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I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.

[Prefiero morir de pie que vivir de rodillas.]

Emiliano Zapata 1879-1919) Mexican revolutionary, reformer [Emiliano Zapata Salazar]
(Attributed)

Often misattributed to Che Guevara, José Martí, and other revolutionaries. Popularized by "La Pasionaria" Dolores Ibárruri, during her speeches and broadcasts in the Spanish Civil War. More discussion here.

Alternate versions/translations:
  • "I'd prefer to die standing, than to live always on my knees! [¡Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado!]"
  • "Men of the South! It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
  • "I would rather die standing than live on my knees!"
  • "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"
  • "I prefer to die standing than to live forever kneeling."
  • "Prefer death on your feet to living on your knees."
Added on 29-Jun-20 | Last updated 29-Jun-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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He said the wicked know that if the ill they do be of sufficient horror men will not speak against it. That men have just enough stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.

Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
The Crossing (2010)
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Added on 9-Mar-20 | Last updated 10-Mar-20
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Reason allows us to determine when our wishes are in irrevocable conflict with reality, and then bids us to submit ourselves willingly, rather than angrily or bitterly, to necessities. We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them, and it is in our spontaneous acceptance of necessity that we find our distinctive freedom.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 3 “Consolation for Frustration”(2000)
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Added on 10-Oct-19 | Last updated 10-Oct-19
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The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do and, in addition, will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people. They say “no” to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds, but in their quiet refusals to commit villainies. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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Don’t agonize, organize.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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I resist, therefore I am.

James W. "Jim" Douglass (b. 1937) American author, activist, Christian theologian
“Revolution through Solitude,” Resistance and Contemplation (1972)
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Added on 4-Jul-17 | Last updated 4-Jul-17
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As has been pointed out so often, it is characteristic of mankind to make as little adjustment as possible in customary ways in the face of new conditions; the process of social change is epitomized in the fact that the first Packard car body delivered to the manufacturers had a whipstock on the dashboard.

Robert Lynd (1892-1970) American sociologist [Robert Slaughton Lynd]
Middletown, ch. 29 (1929) [with Helen Lynd]
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Added on 30-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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The biggest sin is sitting on your ass.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).

Full quote: "Some people say they won’t work 'inside the system' -- they’re 'waiting for the revolution.' Well, when the ramparts are open, honey, I'll be there. But until then, I'm going to go right on zapping the business and government delinquents, the jockocrats, the fetus fetishists, and all the other niggerizers any way I can. The biggest sin is sitting on your ass."
Added on 21-Jun-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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In general, every evil to which we do not succumb is a benefactor. As the Sandwich Islander believes that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Compensation,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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Some folk have been clearly rid of such pestilent fancies with very full contempt of them, making a cross upon their hearts and bidding the devil avaunt. And sometimes they laugh him to scorn, too, and then turn their mind unto some other matter. And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.

Thomas More (1478-1535) English lawyer, social philosopher, statesman, humanist, Christian martyr
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, Book 2, sec. 16 (1553)
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More often elided/paraphrased as "The devil ... the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked" or "The devil, that proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."

C. S. Lewis used a mis-elided version as an epigraph to The Screwtape Letters (1942): "The devil ... the prowde spirit ... cannot endure to be mocked."

Sometimes given in the original (?) spellings: "The deuill ... the prowde spirit, cannot endure to be mock'd."
Added on 15-Feb-17 | Last updated 15-Feb-17
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Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Then I looked to individual writers who, as literary guides of Germany, had written much and often concerning the place of freedom in modern life; but they, too, were mute.

Only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Disputed)

Regarding the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Originally attributed in S. Parkes Cadman, "The Conflict Between Church And State In The Third Reich," La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press (28 Oct 1934), noted as a "free translation" made by a colleague of the writer. Made famous in being quoted in Time (23 Dec 1940). Einstein himself said that he'd said something like this to a journalist, noting that the only German intellectuals supporting individual rights and intellectual freedom in the early Nazi regime were a few churchmen. He later suggested that his words on the matter had been significantly exaggerated, and issued much more critical statements about how the Catholic Church, in particular, had been silent or collaborated with the Nazi regime. More discussion here and here.
Added on 23-Nov-16 | Last updated 23-Nov-16
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There are circumstances which have to do with simple human honor. No matter the risk. To resist and not surrender.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) French playwright, actor, director
Letter to André Breton (28 Feb 1947)
Added on 2-Aug-16 | Last updated 2-Aug-16
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If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

Wilson - try to change something - wist_info quote

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Speech, Detroit (10 Jul 1916)
Added on 5-May-16 | Last updated 5-May-16
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Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn “reasonable” and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to speak, and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed final quarter keep you alive.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
Added on 24-Nov-15 | Last updated 24-Nov-15
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Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech on West India Emancipation (4 Aug 1857)
Added on 10-Sep-15 | Last updated 10-Sep-15
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We have borne patiently a great deal of wrong, on the consideration that if nations go to war for every degree of injury, there would never be peace on earth. But when patience has begotten false estimates of its motives, when wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Mme de Stael (1807) [ME 11:282]
Added on 14-Apr-15 | Last updated 14-Apr-15
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You may either win your peace or buy it: win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
The Two Paths, Lecture 5 (1859)
Added on 5-Aug-14 | Last updated 5-Aug-14
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Better shun the bait than struggle in the snare.

John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, dramatist, critic
Epistle 13 “To My Honoured Kinsman, John Driden of Chesterton” (1699)
Added on 18-Apr-14 | Last updated 17-Jul-17
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Reforms and discoveries are like offenses; they must needs come, but woe unto that man through whom they come.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 1 (1934)
Added on 15-Aug-13 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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It is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations.

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) British businessman, essayist, journalist
Biographical Studies, “Sir George Cornewall Lewis” (1907)
Added on 1-Jul-10 | Last updated 1-May-17
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It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or a woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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Inscribed on the RFK gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery as "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Jul-14
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