Quotations about   state

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He used to say that states fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.

[τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.]

Antisthenes (c. 445 - c. 365 BC) Greek Cynic philosopher
Fragment 103, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, sec. 11 [tr. @sentantiq]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "He used to say too, 'That cities were ruined when they were unable to distinguish worthless citizens from virtuous ones.'" [tr. Yonge (1853)]
  • "He said that cities are doomed when they cannot distinguish good men from bad." [tr. Mensch (2018), Book 6, sec. 5]
Added on 22-Jun-20 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The End of Laissez-Faire, Part 4 (1926)
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Added on 4-Jun-20 | Last updated 4-Jun-20
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Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
Note #10, in George Watson, Lord Acton’s History of Liberty (1994)
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Added on 7-May-20 | Last updated 7-May-20
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I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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On the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban school-led prayer.
Added on 5-May-19 | Last updated 5-May-19
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There are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all men.” In both these course of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and required when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e., when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“The Church and the Jewish Question” (1933)
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On the need for Christian clergy to actively oppose the Nazi regime's persecution of Jews.
Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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The urge to distribute wealth equally, and still more the belief that it can be brought about by political action, is the most dangerous of all popular emotions. It is the legitimation of envy, of all the deadly sins the one which a stable society based on consensus should fear the most. The monster state is a source of many evils; but it is, above all, an engine of envy.

Paul Johnson (b. 1928) English journalist, historian, speechwriter, author
The Recovery of Freedom (1980)
Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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The conception of men as united to each other, and of all mankind as united to God, by mutual obligations arising from their relation to a common end, which vaguely conceived and imperfectly realized, had been the keystone holding together the social fabric, ceased to be impressed upon men’s minds, when Church and State withdrew from the centre of social life to its circumference. What remained … was private rights and private interests, the materials of a society rather than a society itself.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 2 “Rights and Functions” (1920)
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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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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Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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The rack, or question, to extort a confession from criminals, is a practice of a different nature; […] an engine of the state, not of law.

William Blackstone (1723-1780) British jurist, judge, politician
Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs,” ch. 25 “Arraignment” (1769)
Added on 17-Dec-14 | Last updated 17-Dec-14
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It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 311 (1932) [dissent]
Added on 25-Nov-14 | Last updated 25-Nov-14
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The doctrine of the Declaration of Independence predicated upon the glory of man and the corresponding duty to society that the rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state, and a government that does any less is false to the teachings of that great document — false to the name American.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Equal Rights (1920)
Added on 24-Sep-14 | Last updated 24-Sep-14
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At a dinner given by Periander, tyrant of Corinth, to the Seven Wise Men, including Anacharsis, the question was asked, What is the ideal state, or most perfect form of popular government? The answers given by the philosophers were as follows:—

Solon: “That in which an injury done to the least of its citizens is an injury done to all.”
Bias: “Where the law has no superior.”
Thales: “Where the rich are neither too rich, nor the poor too poor.”
Anacharsis: “Where virtue is honored, and vice detested.”
Pittacus: “Where dignities are always conferred on the good, never on the bad.”
Cleobulus: “Where the citizens fear blame more than punishment.”
Chilo: “Where the laws are more regarded, and have more authority, than the orators.”
Goethe has asked, “What government is best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.” At another time he said, “The best government is that which makes itself superfluous.”
“Good government,” says Confucius, “obtains when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted.”

Solon (c. 638 BC - 558 BC) Athenian statesman, lawmaker, poet
(Attributed)
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In S.A. Bent, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men, "Solon" (1887). Compare translations here.
Added on 18-Jun-14 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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The first and highest form of the state and of the government and of the law is that which there prevails most widely the ancient saying, that “Friends have all things in common.”

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Plato, Laws, 5.739 [tr. Jowett (1894)]
Added on 4-Jun-14 | Last updated 4-Jun-14
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The state is made for man, not man for the state.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“The Disarmament Conference of 1932,” The World As I See It [tr. Harris (1934)]
Added on 28-May-14 | Last updated 28-May-14
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The principal source of the harm done by the State is the fact that power is its chief end.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Principles of Social Reconstruction, ch. 2 (1916)
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Of course it is quite a different matter if we consider the utility of religion as a prop of thrones; for where these are held “by the grace of God,” throne and altar are intimately associated; and every wise prince who loves his throne and his family will appear at the head of his people as an exemplar of true religion.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
“Religion and Other Essays: A Dialogue,” Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer [tr. Saunders (1851)]
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Added on 4-Apr-14 | Last updated 4-Apr-14
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By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Added on 11-Mar-14 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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All State propaganda exalts comradeship, for it is this gregarious herd-sense and herd-smell which keeps people from thinking and so reconsiles them to the destruction of their private lives.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
“Ecce Gubernator,” The Unquiet Grave (1945)
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Added on 13-Sep-12 | Last updated 2-Jul-20
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Communism reduces men to a cog in the wheel of the state. The communist may object, saying that in Marxian theory the state is an “interim reality” that will “wither away” when the classless society emerges. True — in theory; but it is also true that, while the state lasts, it is an end in itself. Man is a means to that end. He has no inalienable rights. His only rights are derived from, and conferred by, the state. Under such a system the fountain of freedom runs dry.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
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Added on 29-Jun-12 | Last updated 9-Nov-20
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Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses on Livy, Book 1, Introduction (1517) [tr. Detmold (1882)]

Alt. trans.: "It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope." [Discourse upon the First Ten Books of Livy, Book 1, ch. 3 (1513-18) [tr. Gilbert]]
Added on 19-Sep-11 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics, Book 1, ch. 2 / 1253a.27 [tr. Jowett (1885)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "He that is incapable of society, or so complete in himself as not to want it, makes no part of a city, as a beast or a god." [tr. Ellis (1912)]
  • "A man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god." [tr. Rackham (1932)]
Added on 28-Dec-10 | Last updated 18-Dec-20
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From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it, like the “clanless, lawless, hearthless” man reviled by Homer, for one by nature unsocial is also ‘a lover of war’ inasmuch as he is solitary, like an isolated piece at draughts.

[ἐκ τούτων οὖν φανερὸν ὅτι τῶν φύσει ἡ πόλις ἐστί, καὶ ὅτι ὁ ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον, καὶ ὁ ἄπολις διὰ φύσιν καὶ οὐ διὰ τύχην ἤτοι φαῦλός ἐστιν, ἢ κρείττων ἢ ἄνθρωπος: ὥσπερ καὶ ὁ ὑφ᾽ Ὁμήρου λοιδορηθεὶς “ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιος:” ἅμα γὰρ φύσει τοιοῦτος καὶ πολέμου ἐπιθυμητής, ἅτε περ ἄζυξ ὢν ὥσπερ ἐν πεττοῖς.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics, Book 1, ch. 2 / 1253a.2 [tr. Rackham (1932)]
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See Homer. Original Greek. Alt. trans.:

From these considerations, therefore, it is clear that the State is one of Nature's productions, and that man is by nature a social animal, and that a man who is without a country through natural taste and not misfortune is certainly degraded (or else a being superior to man), like that man reviled by Homer as clanless, lawless, homeless. For he is naturally of this character and desirous of war, since he has no ties, like an exposed piece in the game of backgammon.
[tr. Bolland (1877)]

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the "tribeless, lawless, hearthless one," whom Homer denounces -- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.
[tr. Jowett (1885)]

Hence it is evident that a city is a natural production, and that man is naturally a political animal, and that whosoever is naturally and not accidentally unfit for society, must be either inferior or superior to man: thus the man in Homer, who is reviled for being "without society, without law, without family." Such a one must naturally be of a quarrelsome disposition, and as solitary as the birds.
[tr. Ellis (1912)]

From these things it is evident, then, that the city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. He who is without a city through nature rather than chance is either a mean sort or superior to man; he is "without clan, without law, without hearth," like the person reproved by Homer; for the one who is such by nature has by this fact a desire for war, as if he were an isolated piece in a game of backgammon.
[tr. Lord (1984)]
Added on 20-Dec-10 | Last updated 18-Dec-20
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Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.

Camus - freedom is not a gift received - wist_info quote

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Bread and Freedom” (1957), Resistance, Rebellion, and Death [tr. O’Brien (1961)]
Added on 5-Jul-10 | Last updated 11-Apr-16
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CREON: Am I to rule for others, or myself?
HAEMON: A State for one man is no State at all.
CREON: The State is his who rules it, so ’tis held.
HAEMON: As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.

Κρέων: ἄλλῳ γὰρ ἢ ‘μοὶ χρή με τῆσδ᾽ ἄρχειν χθονός;
Αἵμων: πόλις γὰρ οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ ἥτις ἀνδρός ἐσθ᾽ ἑνός.
Κρέων: οὐ τοῦ κρατοῦντος ἡ πόλις νομίζεται;
Αἵμων: καλῶς γ᾽ ἐρήμης ἂν σὺ γῆς ἄρχοις μόνος.

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, l. 736 ff (441 BC) [tr. Storr (1859)]
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Original Greek. Alt. trans.:

CREON: Shall other men prescribe my government?
HAEMON: One only makes not up a city, father.
CREON: Is not the city in the sovereign's hand?
HAEMON: Nobly you'd govern as the desert's king.
[tr. Campbell (1873)]

CREON: Am I to rule this land by the will of another than myself?
HAEMON: That is no city, which belongs to one man.
CREON: Does not the city by tradition belong to the man in power?
HAEMON: You would make a fine monarch in a desert.
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

CREON: My voice is the one voice giving orders in this City!
HAIMON: It is no City if it takes orders from one voice.
CREON: The State is the King!
HAIMON: Yes, if the State is a desert.
[tr. Fitts/Fitzgerald (1939)]

CREON: No, I am king, and responsible only to myself.
HAEMON: A one-man state? What sort of state is that?
CREON: Why, does not every state belong to its ruler?
HAEMON: You’d be an excellent king -- on a desert island.
[tr. Watling (1947), ll. 632 ff]

CREON: Am I to rule by other mind than mine?
HAEMON: No city is property of a single man.
CREON: But custom gives possession to the ruler.
HAEMON: You'd rule a desert beautifully alone.
[tr. Wyckoff (1954)]

CREON: Am I to rule for them, not for myself?
HAEMON: That is not government, but tyranny.
CREON: The king is lord and master of his city.
HAEMON: Then you had better rule a desert island!
[tr. Kitto (1962)]

CREON: Am I to rule this land for others -- or myself?
HAEMON: It's no city at all, owned by one man alone.
CREON: What? The city is the king's -- that's the law!
HAEMON: What a splendid king you'd make of a desert island --
you and you alone.
[tr. Fagles (1982)]

CREON: So I should rule this country for someone other than myself?
HAEMON: A place for one man alone is not a city.
CREON: A city belongs to its master. Isn't that the rule?
HAEMON: Then go be ruler of a desert, all alone. You'd do it well.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

CREON: Should I govern the city for others and not for me?
HAEMON: There is no city that belongs to one man.
CREON: So a city does not belong to the man who governs it?
HAEMON: One man alone can only govern an empty city.
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

CREON: Am I to rule this land at someone else’s whim or by myself?
HAEMON: A city which belongs to just one man is no true city.
CREON: According to our laws, does not the ruler own the city?
HAEMON: By yourself you’d make an excellent king but in a desert.
[tr. Johnston (2005)]

CREON: Should I rule the land for anyone other than myself?
HAEMON: There is no city that is one man’s.
CREON: Is not the city considered to belong to the ruling man?
HAEMON: Nobly you could rule an empty land, alone.
[tr. Tyrell/Bennett (2002)]

Also:
  • "The state which belongs to one man is no state at all." [tr. @sentantiq (2020)]
  • "A state is not a state if it belongs to one man."
Added on 5-Jan-09 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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