Crises and Power
U.S. Foreign Policy

Quotes on Power

About the book Crisis and Leviathan

Center on Peace & Liberty “A” Quotes
On Power


Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
Author and Environmentalist

“Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth.”

“Government: If you refuse to pay unjust taxes, your property will be confiscated. If you attempt to defend your property, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, you will be clubbed. If you defend yourself against clubbing, you will be shot dead.”

“The tragedy of modern war is not so much that the young men die but that they die fighting each other--instead of their real enemies back home in the capitals.”

“Taxation: how the sheep are shorn.”

“Liberty cannot be guaranteed by law. Nor by any thing else except the resolution of free citizens to defend their liberties.”

“A true libertarian supports free enterprise, opposes big business; supports local self-government, opposes the nation-state; supports the National Rifle Association, opposes the Pentagon.”

“The ideal society can be described, quite simply, as that in which no man has the power of means to coerce others.”

“If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns.”

“Government should be weak, amateurish and ridiculous. At present, it fulfills only a third of the role.”

“In history-as-politics, the ‘future’ is that vacuum in time waiting to be filled with the antics of statesmen.”

“Our ‘neoconservatives’ are neither new nor conservative, but old as Bablyon and evil as Hell.”

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

“The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state controlled police and the military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an ‘equalizer.’ Egalite implies liberte. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed--but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. . . If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government--and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws.”

Lord Acton [John E. E. Dalberg-Acton] (1834–1902)
Scholar, Author and Member of Parliament

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

“Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for the security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.”

“There is no worse heresy then that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”

“There are many things the government can’t do, many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people.”

“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason.”

“The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.”

“I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disordres of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved as Waterloo.” [1866, in a letter to General Robert E. Lee]

Abigail S. Adams (1744-1818)
Women of Letters

“. . . in the new Code of Law which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. . . . If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

“Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so. If man is Lord, woman is Lordess--that is what I contend for, and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)
Historian and Author

“Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

“Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.”

“A friend in power is a friend lost.”

“You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!”

“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”

“In plain words, Chaos was the law of nature Order was the dream of man.”

“It is always good men who do the most harm in the world.”

“Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central powerhouses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces.”

“No man, however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or Senator, and remain fit for anything else.”

“Politics are a very unsatisfactory game.”

“Power is poison. Its effect on Presidents had always been tragic.”

“The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence to upset Darwin.”

“Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself.”

John Adams (1734-1826)
First Vice President and Second President of the United States
Delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to know that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”

“The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles.”

“Arms in the hands of the citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defense of the country, the overthrow of tyranny, or private self defense.”

“A government of laws, and not of men.”

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

“The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor.”

“I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all.”

“Fear is the foundation of most governments.”

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
Sixth President of the United States, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State

“Posterity--you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.”

“She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. . . . [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.” [July 4, 1821, from his address as Secretary of State]

“The pretence of an absolute, irresistible, despotic power, existing in every government somewhere, is incompatible with the first principle of natural right. Take for example the right to life. The moment an infant is born, it has a right to the life which it has received from the Creator . . . no human being, no combination of human beings, has the power, I say not the physical, but the moral power, to take a life not so forfeited [by commission of a crime], unless in self-defense or by the laws of war .”

“Law logic--an artificial system of reasoning, exclusively used in courts of justice, but good for nothing anywhere else.”

“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.”

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
Signer of the Declaration of Independence,

Delegate to the First Continental Congress, Governor of Massachusetts

“How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!”

“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.”

“The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.”

“If our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess, or use? This we conceive annihilates our charter rights to govern and tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited, we hold in common with our fellow subjects, who are natives of Britain. If tastes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation, where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects, to the state of tributary slaves. We, therefore, earnestly recommend it to you, to use your utmost endeavours to obtain from the general court, all necessary advice and instruction to our agent, at this most critical Juncture. . . . We also desire you to use your endeavours, that the other colonies, having the same interests and rights with us, may add their weight to that of this province; that by united application of all who areagreed, all may obain redress!”

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”

“If Virtue and Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav’d. This will be their great Security.”

“Our unalterable resolution would be to be free. They have attempted to subdue us by force, but God be praised! in vain. Their arts may be more dangerous then their arms. Let us then renounce all treaty with them upon any score but that of total separation, and under God trust our cause to our swords.”

“A Standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People.”

“While the people are virtuous, they cannot be subdued: but when once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”

“The Constitution shall never be construed . . . to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

“Man’s rights are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”

“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

“Let us contemplate our forefathers, and posterity, and resolve to maintain the rights bequeathed to us from the former, for the sake of the latter. The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance. Let us remember that ‘if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.’ it is a very serious consideration. . . that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers of the event.”

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”

“If ye love wealth more than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our country men.”

“I am perfectly satisfied of the necessity of a public and explicit declaration of independence. I cannot conceive what good reason can be assigned against it. Will it widen the breach? This would be a strange question, after we have raised armies, and fought battles with the British troops; set up an American navy; permitted the inhabitants of these colonies to fit out armed vessels, to capture the ships, &c. belonging to any of the inhabitants of Great Britain; declaring them the enemies of the United Colonies; and torn into shivers their acts of trade, by allowing commerce, subject to regulations to be made by ourselves, with the people of all countries, except such as are subject to the British king. It cannot surely, after all this, be imagined that we consider ourselves, or mean to be considered by others, in any other state, than that of independence.”

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
English Essayist, Dean of Lichfield, Commissioner of Appeals,
Under Secretary of State, Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,
and Chief Secretary for Ireland

“No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.”

“Justice is an unassailable fortress, built on the brow of a mountain which cannot be overthrown by the violence of torrents, nor demolished by the force of armies.”

“Man is subject to innumerable pains and sorrows by the very condition of humanity, and yet, as if nature had not sown evils enough in life, we are continually adding grief to grief and aggravating the common calamity by our cruel treatment of one another.”

“The post of honour is a private station.”

“To say that authority, whether secular or religious, supplies no ground for morality is not to deny the obvious fact that it supplies a sanction.”

Aeschylus (525 B.C.-456 B.C.)
Greek Playwright

“In war, turth is the first casualty.”

Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996)
38th United States Vice President, Governor of Maryland;
Second Person in History to Resign the Vice-Presidency,
After Allegations of Bribery from Taking Kickbacks

“Confronted with the choice, the American people would choose the policeman’s truncheon over the anarchist’s bomb.”

“A tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t go into ghetto areas. I’ve been in many of them and to some extent I would say this; if you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.”

“In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.”

“The student now goes to college to proclaim rather than to learn. A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

“We can afford to separate [protesters] from our society with no more regret than we should feel over discarding rotten apples from a barrel.”

“A Nixon-Agnew administration will abolish the credibility gap and reestablish the truth--the whole truth--as its policy.”

“I think if the War were over, they would find something else to use as an excuse for throwing firebombs into the Bank of America.” (In reaction to protests over the invasion of Cambodia on the day before the Kent State massacre)

“Ultraliberalism today translates into a whimpering isolationism in foreign policy, a mulish obstructionism in domestic policy, and a pusillanimous pussyfooting on the critical issue of law ’n order.”

Madeleine K. Albright (1937-)
64th Secretary of State of the United States and Ambassador to the United Nations

“All power is limited by definite boundaries and laws. No power is absolute, infinite, unbridled, arbitrary, and lawless. Every power is bound to laws, right, and equity.”

“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

“What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?”

“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.” [In response to a question from Leslie Stahl, “We have heard that a half million children have died (as a result of sanctions against Iraq). I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”]

“Our strategic dialogue with China can both protect American interests and uphold our principles, provided we are honest about our differences on human rights and other issues and provided we use a mix of targeted incentives and sanctions to narrow these differences.”

Richard E. G. Aldington (1892-1962)
English Poet, Novelist, and Biographer

“Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on his own dunghill.”

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Italian Poet

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

“Mankind is at its best when it is most free. This will be clear if we grasp the principle of liberty. We must recall that the basic principle is freedom of choice, which saying many have on their lips but few in their mind.”

Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002)
Author and Histoirian

“Life came cheap in the world of 1945. The Anglo-Americans at Dresden had slaughtered thousands of women and children in air raids that had no discernable military purpose.”

Fisher Ames (1758-1808)
U.S. Congressman

“Mr. Madison has introduced his long expected amendments. . . The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people.”

“A monarchy is a merchantman which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and go to the bottom; whilst a republic is a raft which would never sink, but then your feet are always in the water.”

Anacharsis (600 B.C.)
Scythian Philosopher and Inventor

“Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will, like them, only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily break through them.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Philosopher, Theologian and Author

“Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.”

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
Philosopher and Author

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

“Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

“Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.”

“Total loyalty is possible only when fidelity is emptied of all concrete content, from which changes of mind might naturally arise.”

“It is in the very nature of things human that every act that has once made its appearance and has been recorded in the history of mankind stays with mankind as a potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past.”

“There is all the difference in the world between the criminal’s avoiding the public eye and the civil disobedient’s taking the law into his own hands in open defiance. This distinction between an open violation of the law, performed in public, and a clandestine one is so glaringly obvious that it can be neglected only by prejudice or ill will.”

“Wherever the relevance of speech is at stake, matters become political by definition, for speech is what makes man a political being.”

“Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.”

“Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.”

“Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.”

“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution.”

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)
Philosopher and Author

“It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered.”

“Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms.”

“Law is mind without reason.”

“Inferiors revolt in order that they may be equal, and equals revolt that they may be superior.”

“For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all, since armed injustice is the more dangerous, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, he is the most unholy and savage of all animals, and the worst of full of lust and gluttony.”

“That judges of important offices should hold office for life is not a good thing, for the mind grows old as well as the body.”

“Therefore, the good of man must be the end [i.e. objective] of the science of politics.”

“Politicians also have no leisure, because they are always aiming at something beyond political life itself, power and glory, or happiness.”

“Of the tyrant, spies and informers are the principal instruments. War is his favorite occupation, for the sake of engrossing the attention of the people, and making himself necessary to them as their leader.”

“The tyrant, who in order to hold his power, suppresses every superiority, does away with good men, forbids education and light, controls every movement of the citizens and, keeping them under a perpetual servitude, wants them to grow accustomed to baseness and cowardice, has his spies everywhere to listen to what is said in the meetings, and spreads dissension and calumny among the citizens and impoverishes them, is obliged to make war in order to keep his subjects occupied and impose on them permanent need of a chief.”

Dominick T. Armentano (1940-)
Economist and Author

“Social efficiency, if the expression has any meaning whatever, is to be associated with a society that allows full scope for free and voluntary exchange agreements. Social arrangements are efficient if they provide the widest opportunity for private plan fulfillment and private plan coordination. A free society is both the necessary and the sufficient condition for efficient action and efficient resource allocation. To attempt to prohibit certain merger agreements or price-fixing agreements in the name of enhancing social efficiency is a contradiction in terms. Such agreements are efficient since they represent explicit evidence of social coordination.”

Richard Armour

“Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
Science and Science Fiction Author

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

“It is quite clear that as long as the nations of the world spend most of their energy, money, and emotional strength in quarreling with words and weapons, a true offensive against the common problems that threaten human survival is not very likely.”

“You don’t do anything automatically, simply because some ‘authority’ (including me) says you should.”

“[John] Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.”

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Theologian and Philosopher

“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?”