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Do We Deserve Good Government?

In politics nothing is contemptible.

Benjamin Disraeli

The illusion of political progress is enshrined in the legend of the Bad Old Days. Through the medium of the school history book, we look back on a past in which madly tyrannical kings gave place to lawless barons and despotic squires, all replaced finally by the quiet machinations of the Urban District Council. From Richard III to Richard Dimbleby would seem to represent a sort of progress. Granted that this is so, we have to realize that the Bad Old Days were essential to all that has followed. Without the Monarchy there could have been no nation. Without the Bad Barons there could have been no Parliament. Without the Squire there could have been no Bench of Magistrates. None of the Reforms of Parliament which curbed the aristocracy would have been possible without the Parliament being there to reform. None of the executive powers now vested in the Prime Minister could have been his without their previous concentration under the authority of the Crown. The competence and honesty we expect of the Civil Service is something that remains of its exclusive tradition—not something created by the success of our primary schools. That our armed services keep out of politics is not the result of democratic theory but of aristocratic practice. It is folly, therefore, to regard the Bad Old Days as a nightmare from which we have been aroused. Whether bad or not, they were essential to all we now regard as valuable and progressive. This fact we rediscover each time we confer Representative Government on a colonial territory which has not passed through the stages of kingship and aristocracy. Everything may be there from the mace on the table to the wig on the Speaker’s head, but all pretense of democracy is lost in a matter not of years but of weeks. Observing the chaos which is apt to result we often blame each other for knowing so little about the country we are trying to liberate. Our real fault is in knowing so little about the country in which we live.

C. Northcote Parkinson (from Left Luggage, 1967)

Every nation has the government it deserves.

Joseph de Maistre

[The following excerpt is from an article entitled ‘Harper has learned well’ by Andrew Coyne. It appeared in the National Post on April 9, 2007.]

It would be wrong to call [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s latest adventure with the truth—his claim to have “delivered” on the health care guarantee he promised in the last election, when the whole world can see he has not—a lie. What distinguishes a lie, after all, from other species of falsehood is that it is intended to be believed. I do not think Mr. Harper is so far gone as to believe his own guff, and it is scarcely more probable he thinks anyone else would.

So we are left to conclude that it does not matter to him whether anyone believes him or not. And if it does not matter to him, this must be because he believes it does not matter to anyone else. At the very least, he must have calculated, there is no political price to be paid for telling the public obvious untruths. It may even be that we prefer it. That is the rational implication, and he is nothing if not rational. What is more, he is probably right.

We have now had a procession of leaders who have shown such astonishing disregard for the truth, or their word, or both, that it no longer particularly shocks us. We expect it, in fact. So much so, that we no longer think to punish those who deceive us; rather, we reward them for it, preferring to punish those so foolish as to tell us truths we would prefer not to hear. We say we want honest politicians, but our actions give us away. We are just as much a fraud as they.

The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.

Gustave Le Bon

Thoughts about Politics, Politicians & Government

A politician is someone who is totally amoral and corrupt through and through, with the very occasional exception.

Graham Greene

Ninety percent of politicians give the other ten percent a bad name.

Henry Kissinger (attributed)

All politicians lie to a greater or lesser degree in order to get elected. That is a fact of political life.

During election campaigns politicians make speeches which we know to be, at best, a very carefully selected part of the truth.

Northrop Frye

Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.

Harry S. Truman

Politicians neither love nor hate. Interest, not sentiment, directs them.

Lord Chesterfield

Government has no other end than the preservation of property.

John Locke

The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control and outnumbers both of the other classes.


Government comprises a large part of the organized injustice in any society, ancient or modern.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

H. L. Mencken

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable evil.

Thomas Paine

The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman, and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives.

C. S. Lewis

Government is impossible without a religion: that is, without a body of common assumptions.

George Bernard Shaw

Parliamentary government only works in communities which are essentially united. The moment you have a real conflict, whether of race, or class, or religion, democracy is unworkable.

Malcolm Muggeridge

In politics stupidity is not a handicap.


Intelligence is not all that important in the exercise of power and is often, in point of fact, useless.

Henry Kissinger

In the 1913 elections my father became an ardent fan of the Australian Labour party. Unfortunately, it won and set some sort of record for breaking its promises. Frank decided then and there to put not his faith in politicians.

Wilfrid Sheed

In daily political discussion we think it greatly important whether an individual is of the right or of the left, liberal or conservative, an exponent of free enterprise or of socialism. We do not see that, very often, circumstances close in and force the same action on all—or on all who are concerned to survive... The choices are regrettably few.

John Kenneth Galbraith

It is vain to expect governments to act continuously on any other ground than national interest.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal.

Lord Palmerston

Most government is by the rich for the rich.

Government’s motto often seems to be, “To them that hath it shall be given.”

Only through big government can democratic authority resist concentrated economic power.

Conservatives who rail against big government often wrongly assume that rolling back the power of the national government will liberate individuals to pursue their own ends rather than leaving them at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control.

Politicians are not cynical, but extremely sentimental and credulous. They will believe anything, of themselves or anyone else.

Malcolm Muggeridge

I think that in public affairs stupidity is more dangerous than knavery, because it is harder to fight.

Woodrow Wilson

Politicians make good company for a while just as children do—their self-enjoyment is contagious. But they soon exhaust their favourite subjects—themselves.

Garry Wills

POLITICS: a struggle of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Ambrose Bierce

Our effective choice is never between good government and bad government, but between bearable government and unbearable government.

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.

Ronald Reagan

Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.

John F. Kennedy

The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform itself.

Alexis de Tocqueville

As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.

Adolf Hitler

The path that leads from moral standards to political action is strewn with our dead selves.

André Malraux

All politicians surrender some personal belief to political necessity.

John Kenneth Galbraith

We are governed by bloody fools wirepulled by damned thieves.

George Bernard Shaw

I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.

John Maynard Keynes

When they attain power reformist parties and movements usually become friendly to the big business interests they had once denounced.

Linda McQuaig

Money and power soothe the savage idealist.

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