Animals can learn, but it is not by learning that they become dogs, cats, or horses. Only man has to learn to become what he is supposed to be.
Those who lack the capacity to achieve much in an atmosphere of freedom will clamor for power.
Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”
Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority.
Absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep.
Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.
Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.
We often use strong language not to express a powerful emotion but to evoke it in us.
The aspiration toward freedom is the most essentially human of all human manifestations.
Add a few drops of malice to a half truth and you have an absolute truth.
There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. Moreover, when we have an alibi for not writing a book, painting a picture, and so on, we have an alibi for not writing the greatest book and not painting the greatest picture. Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.
...the technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure.
Those of little faith are of little hatred.
The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do.
It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.
The individual’s most vital need is to prove his worth, and this usually means an insatiable hunger for action. For it is only the few who can acquire a sense of worth by developing and employing their capacities and talents. The majority prove their worth by keeping busy.
It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power—power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.
Self-righteousness is a manifestation of self-contempt.
It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs.
Failure in the management of practical affairs seems to be a qualification for success in the management of public affairs.
Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.
Collective unity is not the result of the brotherly love of the faithful for each other. The loyalty of the true believer is to the whole—the church, party, nation—and not to his fellow true believer. True loyalty between individuals is possible only in a loose and relatively free society.
When grubbing for necessities man is still an animal. He becomes uniquely human when he reaches out for the superfluous and extravagant.
The only index by which to judge a government or a way of life is by the quality of the people it acts upon. No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion—it is an evil government.
The real “haves” are they who can acquire freedom, self-confidence, and even riches without depriving others of them. They acquire all of these by developing and applying their potentialities. On the other hand, the real “have nots” are they who cannot have aught except by depriving others of it. They can feel free only by diminishing the freedom of others, self-confident by spreading fear and dependence among others, and rich by making others poor.
The awareness of their individual blemishes and shortcomings inclines the frustrated to detect ill will and meanness in their fellow men. Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves.
Nothing so offends the doctrinaire intellectual as our ability to achieve the momentous in a matter-of-fact way, unblessed by words.