Notable Quotes about Authority
That a quote appears on this page does not mean that I condone, or have read, the entire work from which it is quoted. I like these quotes in isolation. Many sources are given the way they appear in their linked secondary source. I didn’t check sources for accuracy or consistency. Thanks to Logan Chipkin for recommending Lysander Spooner.
If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own - I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!
[A]sk me to be deeply respectful to a tyrant and I’ll metaphorically spit in your face. If I did less I might be betraying the child who is suffering behind the tyrant’s sugar-coated self-justification, and certainly the readers out there who want to read the truth, for once, unalloyed.
[O]ur principal objective in setting up institutions must not be to identify the right policies and ensure that they will take precedence over all rival policies; it must be to ensure that bad policies, once implemented, can be abandoned as easily as possible.
Those who rest their hopes for the future on specious assumptions about the ability of benevolent rulers to choose rightly, usually assume that abandoning one’s faith in authority entails losing hope that things can work out, or improve, at all. That is one reason why fallibilism often seems frightening and disorienting when one first takes it seriously. But in fact, fallibilism is not a pessimistic posture when it is combined with (critical) rationalism. On the contrary, it is entirely compatible with the belief that all errors are correctable. It is just that they are not correctable once and for all (for the corrections themselves will contain errors, or lead us into new errors), and not all at once, for the only way of making progress is piecemeal criticism: correcting one apparent error at a time with a tentative improvement, backtracking when it seems not to be an improvement after all.
[N]on-coercive child rearing is by its nature difficult or impossible to implement piecemeal, for freedom is not conveniently divisible. Nor can it be implemented experimentally, for freedom granted conditionally is not freedom at all.
The most important thing is to distrust all those great prophets who have a silver bullet in their pocket and tell you, ‘If you just give me full power, I will take you to heaven.’ The answer to that is, ‘We don’t give anyone full power over us. We want power to be kept to a minimum.’ Power is itself wrong, and two wrongs do not make a right.
– Karl Popper, translated freely from https://open-thource.com/karl-popper-ein-gespraech-1974. (Arguably, the quote is better in the German original, as the word Popper uses for ‘power’ is the same word as ‘violence’, which underscores how power and violence are often the same.)
It is wrong to think that belief in freedom always leads to victory; we must always be prepared for it to lead to defeat. If we choose freedom, then we must be prepared to perish along with it. […] Democracy and freedom do not guarantee the millennium. No, we do not choose political freedom because it promises us this or that. We choose it because it makes possible the only dignified form of human coexistence, the only form in which we can be fully responsible for ourselves. Whether we realize its possibilities depends on all kinds of things — and above all on ourselves.
People should not fear their government. Government should fear their people.
Since mankind’s dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We’ve seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse.
[I]t’s no good blaming the drop in work standards upon bad management, either… Though, to be sure, the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words… The management is terrible! [Shows pictures of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.] We’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact. But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you! While I’ll admit that anyone can make a mistake once, to go on making the same lethal errors century after century seems to me nothing short of deliberate. You have encouraged these malicious incompetents, who have made your working life a shambles. You have accepted without question their senseless orders. You have allowed them to fill your workspace with dangerous and unproven machines. You could have stopped them. All you had to say was “no.” You have no spine. You have no pride.
– Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
Love your rage, not your cage.
They offered you a choice between the death of your principles and the death of your body. You said you’d rather die. You faced the fear of your own death, and you were calm and still.
If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.
Revolution is engendered by an indignation with tyranny, yet is itself pregnant with tyranny.
As long as parents and teachers in general shall fall under the established rule, it is clear that politics and modes of government will educate and infect us all. They poison our minds, before we can resist, or so much as suspect their malignity. Like the barbarous directors of the Eastern seraglios, they deprive us of our vitality, and fit us for their despicable employment from the cradle.
It is absurd to expect the inclinations and wishes of two human beings to coincide, through any long period of time. To oblige them to act and live together is to subject them to some inevitable potion of thwarting, bickering, and unhappiness.
Experience [has shown] that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.
When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.
This is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering… And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
[A]ll Men [have] certain unalienable Rights, […] among [which] are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness […].
The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.
A man chooses…a slave obeys.
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? “No,” says the man in Washington, “it belongs to the poor.” “No,” says the man in the Vatican, “it belongs to God.” “No,” says the man in Moscow, “it belongs to everyone.”
Amazing what a man can create once he gets government and God off his back.
Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.
It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost.
It is curious that people tend to regard government as a quasi-divine, selfless, Santa Claus organization. Government was constructed neither for ability nor for the exercise of loving care; government was built for the use of force and for necessarily demagogic appeals for votes. If individuals do not know their own interests in many cases, they are free to turn to private experts for guidance. It is absurd to say that they will be served better by a coercive, demagogic apparatus.
Whenever someone starts talking about ‘fair competition’ or indeed, about ‘fairness’ in general, it is time to keep a sharp eye on your wallet, for it is about to be picked.
We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself?
The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax.
Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State’s openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d’etre.
And, indeed, what is the State anyway but organized banditry? What is taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked, scale? What is war but mass murder on a scale impossible by private police forces? What is conscription but mass enslavement? Can anyone envision a private police force getting away with a tiny fraction of what States get away with, and do habitually, year after year, century after century?
Capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism. Not only are they compatible, but you can’t really have one without the other. True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism
Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?
While liberals are in favor of any sexual activity engaged in by two consenting adults, when these consenting adults engage in trade or exchange, the liberals step in to harass, cripple, restrict, or prohibit that trade. And yet both the consenting sexual activity and the trade are similar expressions of liberty in action.
Libertarians make no exceptions to the golden rule and provide no moral loophole, no double standard, for government. That is, libertarians believe that murder is murder and does not become sanctified by reasons of state if committed by the government. We believe that theft is theft and does not become legitimated because organized robbers call their theft “taxation”. We believe that enslavement is enslavement even if the institution committing that act calls it “conscription.” In short, the key to libertarian theory is that it makes no exceptions in its universal ethic for government.
A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.
If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.
A man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime; whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, or by millions calling themselves a government.
The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life…The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber…Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful ‘sovereign,’ on account of the ‘protection’ he affords you.
If any man’s money can be taken by a so-called government, without his own personal consent, all his other rights are taken with it; for with his money the government can, and will, hire soldiers to stand over him, compel him to submit to its arbitrary will, and kill him if he resists.
No man can rightfully be required to join, or support, an association whose protection he does not desire.
The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this–that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot.
No middle ground is possible on this subject. Either “taxation without consent is robbery,” or it is not. If it is not, then any number of men, who choose, may at any time associate; call themselves a government; assume absolute authority over all weaker than themselves; plunder them at will; and kill them if they resist.
To say that majorities, as such, have a right to rule minorities, is equivalent to saying that minorities have, and ought to have, no rights, except such as majorities please to allow them.
So these villains, who call themselves governments, well understand that their power rests primarily upon money. With money they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. And, when their authority is denied, the first use they always make of money, is to hire soldiers to kill or subdue all who refuse them more money.