The optimist view of politics assumes that there must be some remedy for every political ill, and rather than not find it, will make two hardships to cure one. If all equitable remedies have failed, its votaries take it as proved without argument that the one-sided remedies, which alone are left, must needs succeed.
(Lord Salisbury, “The Position of Parties,” The Quarterly Review, Vol. CXXXIII, 1872, p. 569).
The reason why we are often deceived as to changes, which we desire without believing them possible, is, that we are unacquainted with the theory of moral forces. The physical world is but an image, or if you will, a repetition of the spiritual; and one we may alternately study in the other. Water only sufficient to fill a girl’s thimble, when reduced to vapour, bursts a shell. The same phenomenon is observable in the moral order of things. An idea — an opinion — a simple adhesion of the mind are but what they are: but, if a degree of sufficient heat make them pass to the state of vapour, then those sober principles become enthusiasm, fanaticism, passion in a word, (good or bad,) and under this new form they can raise mountains. Be not discouraged by the coldness you see around you: there is nothing so tranquil as a powder magazine half a second before it explodes. We have but need of fire: Ferte cito flammas; and this is what we possess.
(Joseph de Maistre; quoted in James Burton Robertson, “Joseph de Maistre,” The Dublin Review, Vol. XXXIII, 1852, p. 457).
As De Tocqueville predicted, innovations in the direction of extensions of suffrage will always be successful in America, because of the selfish timidity of her public men. It is the nature of ultra democracy to make all its politicians time-servers; its natural spawn is the brood of narrow, truckling, cowardly worshippers of the vox populi and of present expediency. Their polar star is always found in the answer to the question, “Which will be the more popular?” As soon as any agitation of this kind goes far enough to indicate a possibility of success, their resistance ends. Each of them begins to argue thus in his private mind: — “The proposed revolution is of course preposterous, but it will be best for me to leave opposition to it to others. For if it succeeds, the newly enfranchised will not fail to remember the opponents of their claim at future elections, and to reward those who were their friends in the hour of need.” Again: it has now become a regular trick of American demagogues in power to manufacture new classes of voters to sustain them in office. It is presumed that the gratitude of the newly enfranchised will be sufficient to make them vote the ticket of their benefactors. But as gratitude is a very flimsy sort of fabric among Radicals, and soon worn threadbare, such a reliance only lasts a short time, and requires to be speedily replaced.
(Robert Lewis Dabney, “Women’s Rights Women,” The Southern Magazine, Vol. VIII, 1871, p. 328).
One of the features of a revolutionary era is the prevalence of a feeble facility of abdication. The holders of power, however natural and legitimate it may be, are too ready to resign it on the first demand. They do not take time to consider whether their power is rightful or not, whether it has or has not on the whole been used for good, whether, if in any case it has not been used for good, they cannot amend their course, or whether it is likely to be better employed by those to whom they are called upon to transfer it. The nerves of authority are shaken by the failure of conviction. It is an inevitable consequence of the demagogic system that every demand for the suffrage, reasonable or unreasonable, should prevail as soon as it shows strength, because the politician is afraid by opposition to make an enemy of the coming vote.
(Goldwin Smith, “Woman Suffrage.” In: Essays on Questions of the Day. New York: Macmillan & Hall, 1893, p. 185).
When Captain Leigh Fermor, working with the Cretan resistance in the 1939 war, captured General Kreipe and carried him off to a cave in the Cretan mountains, the General was at first not unnaturally nervous of the villainous appearance of his captors, but the next morning was a brilliant one, and they all crowded together to the cave mouth. You could see the snow on every peak in the White Mountains blazing with sunlight, and eagles floating in the clear blue sky. Captain Leigh Fermor was entranced, and murmured to himself the first stanza of Horace’s Soracte poem, ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum…’ The General heard him, and continued the poem in Latin to the end. The link held of course, and they became friends from that moment. There is something about this story, some resonance of the past — it could have happened after all in 1643 and not 1943 — that suggests that was the last moment of the old Europe.
(Peter Levi, Horace: A Life. New York: Routledge, 1998, p. 2).
The angry buzz of a multitude is one of the bloodiest noises in the world.
(George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections. London: J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, 1750, p. 89).
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).