John Jay Chapman
The short lesson that comes out of long experience in political agitation is something like this: all the motive power in all of these movements is the instinct of religious feeling. All the obstruction comes from attempting to rely on anything else. Conciliation is the enemy.
You can get assent to almost any proposition so long as you are not going to do anything about it.
Everybody in America is soft, and hates conflict. The cure for this, both in politics and social life, is the same--hardihood. Give them raw truth.
Wherever you see a man who gives someone else’s corruption, someone else’s prejudice as a reason for not taking action himself, you see a cog in The Machine that governs us.
The worst enemy of good government is not our ignorant foreign voter, but our educated domestic railroad president, our prominent business man, our leading lawyer.
Good government is the outcome of private virtue.
A magazine or a newspaper is a shop. Each is an experiment and represents a new focus, a new ratio between commerce and intellect.
A political organization is a transferable commodity. You could not find a better way of killing virtue than by packing it into one of these contraptions which some gang of thieves is sure to find useful.
If American politics does not look to you like a joke, a tragic dance; if you have enough blindness left in you, on any plea, on any excuse, to vote for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party (for at present machine and party are one), or for any candidate who does not stand for a new era,--then you yourself pass into the slide of the magic-lantern; you are an exhibit, a quaint product, a curiosity of the American soil. You are part of the problem.
The average educated man in America has about as much knowledge of what a political idea is as he has of the principles of counterpoint. Each is a thing used in politics or music which those fellows who practise politics or music manipulate somehow. Show him one and he will deny that it is politics at all. It must be corrupt or he will not recognize it. He has only seen dried figs. He has only thought dried thoughts. A live thought or a real idea is against the rules of his mind.
It is just as impossible to help reform by conciliating prejudice as it is by buying votes. Prejudice is the enemy. Whoever is not for you is against you.
All progress is experimental.
The reason for the slow progress of the world seems to lie in a single fact. Every man is born under the yoke, and grows up beneath the oppressions of his age. He can only get a vision of the unselfish forces in the world by appealing to them, and every appeal is a call to arms. If he fights he must fight, not one man, but a conspiracy. He is always at war with a civilization. On his side is proverbial philosophy, a galaxy of invisible saints and sages, and the half-developed consciousness and professions of everybody. Against him is the world, and every selfish passion in his own heart.
People who love soft methods and hate iniquity forget this,--that reform consists in taking a bone from a dog. Philosophy will not do it.
If you are to reach masses of people in this world, you must do it by a sign language. Whether your vehicle be commerce, literature, or politics, you can do nothing but raise signals, and make motions to the people.
Our goodness comes solely from thinking on goodness; our wickedness from thinking on wickedness. We too are the victims of our own contemplation.
Is there something in trade that dessicates and flattens out, that turns men into dried leaves at the age of forty? Certainly there is. It is not due to trade but to intensity of self-seeking, combined with narrowness of occupation. . . . Business has destroyed the very knowledge in us of all other natural forces except business.
The world values the seer above all men, and has always done so. Nay, it values all men in proportion as they partake of the character of seers. The Elgin Marbles and a decision of John Marshall are valued for the same reason. What we feel in them is a painstaking submission to facts beyond the author’s control, and to ideas imposed upon him by his vision. So with Beethoven’s Symphonies, with Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”--with any conceivable output of the human mind of which you approve. You love them because you say, “These things were not made, they were seen.”
The fact that a man is to vote forces him to think. You may preach to a congregation by the year and not affect its thought because it is not called upon for definite action. But throw your subject into a campaign and it becomes a challenge.
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