How I learned about government


At my parents’ knee, of course.  But really, here’s the truth:

I read Robert Heinlein.  And although others may assert that he was a Libertarian or a Republican, I think he was wise in his scepticism.

For instance:

“Are you saying I ought not to criticize the government?”

“Nope.  Gadflies are necessary.  But it’s well to look at the new rascals before you turn your present rascals out.  Democracy is a poor system; the only thing that can be said for it is that it’s eight times as good as any other method.  Its worst fault is that its leaders reflect their constituents — a low level, but what can you expect.  So look at (the incumbent) and ponder that, in ignorance, stupidity and self-seeking, (s/he) resembles (his/her) fellow Americans but is a notch or two above average.  Then look at the (person) who will replace (him/her) if the government topples.”

“I never learned from a man who agreed with me.”

“No statement should be believed because it’s made by an authority.”

“Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” (I would add a third — those who want to control others.)

“When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives.”

“You can have peace.  Or you can have freedom.  Don’t count on having both at once.”

“Always listen to experts.  They’ll tell you what cannot be done, and why.  Then do it.”

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot…”

“Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.”

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”  (nota bene — I live by this some days.)

“Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.”  (n.b., it’s also political death.)

“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend.” (a good rule to take to any meeting.)

“Belief gets in the way of learning.”

“Take sides! Always take sides! You will sometimes be wrong – but the <person> who refuses to take sides must always be wrong.”

“Budget the luxuries first.”

“Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.”

There were so many good thoughts in Heinlein’s oeuvre.  I could pick and choose, but mostly I picked.  So some days I owe my political viewpoints to Heinlein and my vocabulary to Edgar Rice Burroughs.  And from this I learned that, teaching your children to learn may warp them just enough.

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2 Responses to How I learned about government

  1. John Floyd says:

    Would love to know the novels from which these quotes were taken.

  2. sbriere says:

    The older he got, the more Heinlein mused about people and organizations.

    Read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, If This Goes On, Methusula’s Children, Time Enough For Love (you can see his writing take an odd turn in this last book).

    If these five aren’t enough, get lost in the juvenalia — which is where I started, oh so many years ago.

    (You’ll find pages of pithy Lazarus Long observations in Time Enough For Love.)

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