Archive for November 5th, 2010

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
–  Traditional

Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night in the United Kingdom and some of her former colonies; it is the anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, led by Guy Fawkes.  The plot was an attempt by Catholic revolutionaries to destroy the House of Lords and assassinate King James I; the day was an official public holiday until 1859, but continued as a popular night of bonfires and fireworks until the present.  Traditionally, an effigy of Guy Fawkes was burned in the bonfire, but in recent years effigies of other public figures have joined or replaced “The Guy” in the fire.

Though the tradition ended in the United States after independence and faded out in several Commonwealth countries (it was actually banned in Australia in the 1970s by a paternalistic anti-fireworks law), perhaps non-Brits need to renew the holiday; not as an anti-Catholic demonstration or celebration of a failed revolution, mind you, but as a time to burn tyrants in effigy.  Governments need to be reminded (at least annually if not constantly) that they only hold power by the sufferance of all the people, not merely the majority, and that the overthrow of any government by a disgruntled minority is always a possibility.  I would like to see most if not all politicians and their minions paying for their power and privilege by being forced to live in a constant state of nervous anxiety; maybe then fewer would choose that path and more would concern themselves with keeping all the citizenry happy rather than merely pleasing barely enough of the population to keep themselves in office.  The dictatorship of the majority is, after all, the most oppressive tyranny of all because it has a huge army of sympathizers and informants with which to enforce its demands.

Interrogators have long understood something which both terrorists and pacifists alike fail to understand, which is that human nature tends to respond only to BOTH the promise of reward and the threat of punishment used in tandem.  Terrorism fails because it offers only violence, and pacifism fails because it offers only the reward of keeping the non-violent protesters happy, but the classic “good cop, bad cop” scenario works because it offers both.  Not even children consistently respond to the promise of the carrot without the threat of the stick; why then should we expect adults to, most especially the self-important adults who set themselves up over their fellows?  The civil rights movement worked because Martin Luther King and other peaceful protesters offered an attractive alternative to the race violence which had escalated since soon after the Second World War, but without the looming specter of race war their peaceful protests might never have accomplished anything.  In more recent times the peaceful activism of mainstream “gay rights” groups offered an attractive alternative to the disruptive antics of groups like ACT-UP and the quiet violence of “outing”.  Perhaps one of the reasons that the prostitutes’ rights movement has languished in futility for four decades is that there is no threatening alternative; maybe the “good girl” activists like those of SWOP, Desiree Alliance and myself need a few “bad girl” groups who run around outing politicians, disrupting fundamentalist religious services and neofeminist meetings, hacking prohibitionist websites and spying on police to publicly expose “stings” so the government will have some compelling reason to consider the reasonable alternative of decriminalization.

With all that in mind, I would like to devote the rest of today’s column to a series of quotes about government in general and the tyranny of mob rule in particular.  Yes, it’s a departure from my usual subject, but a lady is entitled to her whims.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

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

Lord Acton (1834-1902)

It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.

William L. Anderson (born ?)

Political elections do not choose leaders of society.  Rather, they are an exercise in which groups of people choose individuals who will assist them in looting other groups of individuals.

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877)

A democratic despotism is like a theocracy: it assumes its own correctness.

Dave Barry (born 1947)

Democracy: In which you say what you like and do what you’re told.

Iain Benson (born 1955)

Complete equality isn’t compatible with democracy, but it is agreeable to totalitarianism.  After all, the only way to ensure the equality of the slothful, the inept and the immoral is to suppress everyone else.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)

It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority.  Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Any doctrine that weakens personal responsibility for judgment and for action helps create the attitudes that welcome and support the totalitarian state.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.  Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)

In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.

Hildegard Hamm-Bruecher (born 1921)

Calm and order can be just as dangerous to democracy as uneasiness and disorder.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)

Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man.  How’s that again?  I missed something.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Unnecessary laws are not good laws, but traps for money.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

The majority is never right.  Never, I tell you!  That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against.  Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)

Tyranny and despotism can be exercised by many, more rigorously, more vigorously, and more severely, than by one.

Henry de Jouvenel (1876-1935)

A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.

Helen Keller (1880-1968)

Our democracy is but a name.  We vote?  What does that mean?  It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats.  We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999)

Fifty-one percent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.  This expresses my idea of democracy.

John V. Lindsay (1921-2000)

Those who suppress freedom always do so in the name of law and order.

James Madison (1751-1836)

Democracies have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

Adam Michnik (born 1946)

As a rule, dictatorships guarantee safe streets and terror of the doorbell.  In democracy the streets may be unsafe after dark, but the most likely visitor in the early hours will be the milkman.

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)

Despots and democratic majorities are drunk with power.

P. J. O’Rourke (born 1947)

Politicians are always interested in people.  Not that this is always a virtue.  Fleas are interested in dogs.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884)

To hear some men talk of the government, you would suppose that Congress was the law of gravitation, and kept the planets in their places.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

Lew Rockwell (born 1944)

The laws of economics tell us that the expansion of the central state can’t go on forever.  Its limit is reached when the looted turn on the looters.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

Tacitus (56-117)

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

That government is best which governs least.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Governments need armies to protect them from their enslaved and oppressed subjects.

Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939)

The essence of government is control, or the attempt to control.  He who attempts to control another is a governor, an aggressor, an invader; and the nature of such invasion is not changed, whether it is made by one man upon another man, after the manner of the ordinary criminal, or by one man upon all other men, after the manner of the absolute monarch, or by all other men upon one man, after the manner of modern democracy.

Gideon J. Tucker (1826-1899)

No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

Alexander Tytler (1747-1813)

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.

Voltaire (1694-1778)

A great many laws in a country, like many physicians, is a sign of malady.

It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

George Washington (1732-1799)

Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.


An armed man is a citizen; an unarmed man is a subject.

The most serious threat to democracy is the notion that it has already been achieved.

When a nation’s government becomes more fearful of its citizens’ rights than protective of them, that nation’s future is only despotism and extinction.

Read Full Post »