The notion that everybody ought to be happy, and equally happy with all the rest, is the fine flower of the philosophy which has been winning popularity for two hundred years. All the petty demands of natural rights, liberty, equality, etc., are only stepping-stones toward this philosophy, which is really what is wanted. All through human history some have had good fortune and some ill fortune. For some the ills of life have taken all the joy and strength out of existence, while the fortunate have always been there to show how glorious life might be and to furnish dreams of bliss to tantalize those who have failed and suffered. So men have constructed in philosophy theories of universal felicity. They tell us that every one has a natural right to be happy, to be comfortable, to have health, to succeed, to have knowledge, family, political power, and all the rest of the things which anybody can have. They put it all into the major premise. Then they say that we all ought to be equal. That proposition abolishes luck. In making propositions we can imply that all ought to have equally good luck, but, inasmuch as there is no way in which we can turn bad luck into good, or misfortune into
good fortune, what the proposition means is that if we can not all have good luck no one shall have it. The unlucky will pull down the lucky. That is all that equality ever can mean. The worst becomes the standard. When we talk of “changing the system,” we ought to understand that that means abolishing luck and all the ills of life. We might as well talk of abolishing storms, excessive heat and cold, tornadoes, pestilences, diseases, and other ills. Poverty belongs to the struggle for existence, and we are all born into that struggle. The human race began in utter destitution. It had no physical or metaphysical endowment whatever. The existing “system” is the outcome of the efforts of men for thousands of years to work together, so as to win in the struggle for existence.
(William Graham Sumner, “Reply to a Socialist.” In: The Challenge of Facts, and Other Essays. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914, pp. 56–57).
There was in the Terror an element more disgraceful to France than the carnival of murder in which the members of the Mountain, maddened, let us hope, by their long draughts of what we have called intellectual absinthe, permitted themselves to indulge, and that was the astounding cowardice of those who were not mad. If there is one thing certain about the Terror it is that it was approved by a small minority, that the troops loathed it, that the respectables feared it, that even the populace, who three times moved the guillotine, at heart condemned it as ruthless and unjust. The moment a minute group in the Convention, in fear for their own necks, defied it, it was over, and could not by the most desperate efforts be re-established. Not only were the silent majority of the Convention, who were constantly voting proscription lists, opposed to them, but physical force was wholly on that side, and once appealed to, drove the true Terrorists into hiding as mere human vermin. Not a shot was fired when the Jacobin Club was closed, and the “furies of the guillotine” whipped with canes. For months, in fact, France, which was all the while rushing to battle on the frontiers, lay paralysed with nervous terror, afraid of pasteboard giants, who on the first symptom of real resistance exploded with a smell, leaving behind them a recollection which has been more fatal to true liberty than all the Kings and all the reactionary leaders who have succeeded them.
(“On the Edge of the Abyss,” The Spectator, Vol. LXXXII, February 11, 1899, p. 190).
Nations have great men only in spite of themselves — like families. They make every effort not to have them. Therefore, the great man must, in order to exist, possess an offensive force greater than the power of resistance developed by millions of individuals.
(Charles Baudelaire, Baudelaire. His Prose and Poetry. New York: The Modern Library, 1919, p. 214).
He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.
(G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923, p. 88).
Perhaps the most famous paradox discovered by the Greek philosophers is that of ‘the liar’. A Cretan says that all Cretans are liars: if what he says is true, then it is false. More simply, consider: ‘This sentence is false.’ If it is true it is false, if false, true. The ancients took this paradox seriously, since if the concept of truth is inherently contradictory, as the paradox implies, then all discourse, all argument, all rational decision-making, takes place in a void. One ancient philosopher, Philetas of Cos, in his despair at finding a solution, committed suicide. More recently, the great logician Alfred Tarski used the paradox to argue that truth can be defined in a language only through a ‘meta-language’ with an outside vantage-point. In Tarski’s view ‘This sentence is false’ is not a possible sentence. But I have just written it!
(Roger Scruton, “The Russian Way of Lying,” The Spectator, March 2017).
“It is inconceivable! It is absurd! It is not clear to you that what you are planning is a revolution? Absurd, because a revolution is impossible! Because our — I speak for myself and for you — our revolution was the last one. No other revolutions may occur. Everybody knows that.”
A mocking, sharp triangle of brows.
“My dear, you are a mathematician, are you not! More than that, a philosopher-mathematician. Well, then, name the last number.”
“What is… I… I cannot understand, which last?”
“The last one, the highest, the largest.”
“But I-330, that’s absurd! Since the number of numbers is infinite, how can there be a last one?”
“And why then do you think there is a last revolution… their number is infinite… The ‘last one’ is a child’s story. Children are afraid of the infinite, and it is necessary that children should not be frightened, so they may sleep through the night.”
My attention was called one day to Balzac the provincial, disclosing the great Parisian world, describing with the imagination of a dazzled country squire, a world he had never seen. Possibly this world is real to-day, in which case life has copied the romance. Such things are not so rare as is supposed.
In the present case, this is probably what happened: Russia, where the novels of Balzac had their first great success, imitated the manners of Parisian high life in his books; then these manners, applied there, and believed to be authentic, came back to us (as in the comedies of Musset), and we have now welcomed and adopted them. This is life in circulation.
(Alphonse Daudet, “Notes on Life.” In: The Novels, Romances, and Memoirs of Alphonse Daudet, Vol. 14. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1904, p. 188).