Favorite Aphorisms

Favorite Aphorisms

In what does barbarism consist, if not in the failure to appreciate what is excellent?



The glory of God is man fully alive.



A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection, is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

—Lewis Mumford


The spiritual is a quality perceived as other than physical or purely intellectual. It is not opposed to the natural; it is a natural part of life.

—William James


Technology makes all kinds of things possible, but how many of those things are necessary—and how many would we not have bothered with if technology had not made them so easy. The tail wags the dog, and we can do without a great many new technologies.


The invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

—George Orwell


A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

—William James


Modern churches have lost intelligent believers by going either liberal or literal.

—William James


Habits of the mind literally become structures of the brain.


We should to the last moment of our lives continue a settled intercourse with all the true examples of grandeur.



The beautiful teaches us to love without self-interest.

—Immanuel Kant


As long as we regard elitism

as a dirty word, and the superego as unadulterated repression, we cannot maintain a civilization; we can only watch it come apart.

—Morris Berman in The Twilight of American Culture


It is the audience that is failing classical music, being mostly ill-educated, conditioned to a short attention span, with a head full of none but current ideas and what appeals to a childish sense of humor.

—Jacques Barzun, 2005


Criticism is necessary if the culture is to be protected from decay.

—Roger Scruton

So in the final analysis criticism is about the culture.



Good criticism requires style, enthusiasm, and discrimination.

—HG Wells


In matters of art, music, politics, and literature the majority is always in the wrong.

—Mark Twain


Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.

—Mark Twain


It is not what people have in common that counts, but what makes them different—what individuates them.


The most expensive things are all overpriced, and they sell to people who are under the delusion that price means quality.


Song is the sweetest of all things.



Just as we have exercise for the body, for the soul we have music.



Music’s wordless gospel proclaims in a universal language what the thirsting human soul is seeking beyond this life.

—Bruno Walter


The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality that cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.

—Bishop NT Wright


Anyone who understands reason understands its limits.


Music will get you thru times of no money better than money will get you thru times of no music.


What is remarkable about western music is that by its chosen scales, modified through equal temperament, and by developing complex forms and instruments, it has raised the expressive power of music to heights and depths unattained in other cultures.

—Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence


The only authentic performance is one that reflects our own time and the character of the musician playing. Nothing could be more unauthentic than a reconstruction of historical performance practice.


Make use of vibrato as often as possible.

—Geminiani to string players, 1751


The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.

Glenn Gould


People do not like the warhorses merely because they are familiar; but they are familiar because people like them, and people like them because they are beautiful.


There is nothing particularly desirable about freshness per se. Works of art are not eggs.

—TE Hulme


There’s no reason why a new idea should be better than an old one.


If you are as open-minded at 60 as you were at 20, you haven’t learned anything in life.


The longer we live the more we realize that all the old stereotypes and cliches are essentially true.


Of all the minor dissipations in which temperate men indulge, there is none more alluring than the after-breakfast pipe.

—R Austin Freeman


All change must happen fast. Gradual change allows the opposition to develop and organize.


Research, like money, is a good servant but a bad master.

—Paul Henry Lang


The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.



Geniuses so often seem melancholy because they have come to an early realization of how well busy fools do in the world.

—Sidney Harris


I love the earth and hate the world. God made the one, man the other.



People who are self-taught are sometimes original but more commonly just eccentric, erratic, and bizarre.


Great men are pretty odd. Only small men seem “normal”.


The surest path to self-righteousness is an over-eager piety.


If it turns out that your god hates all the same people you do, it is obvious that you have created a god in your own image.


It is better to discuss a question without settling it than to settle a question without discussing it.

—Adlai Stevenson


The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

—Bertrand Russell


Any frontal attack on ignorance is bound to fail, because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession: their ignorance.

—Hendrik van Loon


Liberalism…means a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance for authoritarianism, and a love of freedom.

—New York Times


The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercizes in moral philosophy: the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

— JK Galbraith


A man who is tired of complaining is tired of life.


But antipathy is a trap; you never learn anything from it, and it never takes you out of yourself.


Stagnant ponds don’t cause floods, but neither do they grow fish.


Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children (before self-importance comes upon them) learn so easily—and why older people, especially if vain or important, cannot learn a thing.

—Thomas Szasz (slightly edited)


Why should education be expected to “take” in a society where the qualities of intelligence and wisdom are classified not even as byproducts of its corporate life, but as waste products?

—AN Nock


One of the primary aims of education is to teach us to like what is worthy and dislike what is unworthy.

—Aristotle & Augustine


The young think their follies are mistaken by the old for pleasures, and the old hope that their gravity is mistaken by the young for wisdom.


The world of youth is filled with novelties gone stale.


Only the old feel bad about the death of trees.

—EM Forster


An animal that kills other animals is obviously a depraved and fallen creature.

“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”


The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man keeps trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

—GB Shaw


Political correctness is shoved down people’s throats in totalitarian countries. Who would have thought that people in democratic countries would accept it voluntarily?


We learn from history that we do not learn from history.



History is the study of things that happened only once.

—after Valery


It is part of probability that many improbable things will happen.



Marriage teaches you loyalty, forbearance, self-restraint, meekness, and a lot of other qualities you wouldn’t need if you stayed single.


When a woman complains to a man, he tries to deal with the problem—tries to come up with a solution, offers advice and suggestions. But that is not what she is looking for at all. What she wants is sympathy and attention; she wants him to look at her, not the problem.


Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any more important than that of not praising where praise is not due.

—Sydney Smith


The man who is always worrying whether or not his soul would be damned generally has a soul that is not worth a damn.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes


If you try always to be sensitive to how people are reading you and receiving you, you lose your self-forgetfulness and have nothing to offer—or can’t offer it because you’ve become self-conscious.


It is better to go all the way half the time than to go half way all the time.


The simple want everyone else to be simple. The wise know that even the simple are complex. Yet there is a wise simplicity.


The proof of the padding is in the deleting.


There is an intimate relationship between thinking and talking. A good thinker is almost always a good talker—though the reverse is often not true. But talking helps thinkers think.


The bond of all companionship is conversation.

—Oscar Wilde


Pleasure shared greatly increases its worth.

—Immanuel Kant


Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel; and people who live only by laws are both wrong and cruel.


Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.



Distrust all men in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.



Public opinion is less tolerant than any system of law.



Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.

—Bertrand Russell


Every law is an infraction of liberty.

—Jeremy Bentham


One of the greatest delusions in the world is that evils can be solved by passing laws.

—Thomas Reed, edited


It is nonsense to make any pretense of reconciling the state and liberty.

—AN Nock


The form of government that most suits the artist is no government at all.

—Oscar Wilde


Resist much; obey little.



A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.

—Thomas Jefferson


Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.



What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.



It is easy to fool most of the people most of the time.


It is as dangerous to believe nothing as it is to believe everything.


When you are certain you cannot be fooled, you become easy to fool.

—Edward Teller


He who says, “Rich men are fools, but when I am rich I will not be a fool” is already a fool.



Truth does not change because it is or is not believed by a majority of the people.



The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

—Lord Acton


A civilized society is one that tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.

—Robert Frost


The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and the exploiters.

—Helen Keller, 1911


Capitalism isn’t just an unjust economic system. It’s a way of life that leads to a corruption of important values. Television is only one example.

—Nikita Khrushchev


Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.



Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.

—Sloan Wilson


Unless there is within us that which is above us we shall soon yield to that which is about us.

—PT Forsyth


Everyone is looking for someone to make them do what they know they ought to do.



Learning teaches more in one year than experience in 20, and learning teaches safely, while experience makes you more miserable and cynical than wise.


We should honor our teachers more than our parents, because while our parents cause us to live, our teachers cause us to live well.

—A Greek philosopher


A man’s country is where the things he loves are most respected. Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it remains his country.

—AN Nock


Carry from the past the fire not the ashes.


The compulsion to take ourselves seriously is in inverse proportion to our creativity. When the creative flow dries up, all we have left is our importance.


Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.

—TS Eliot


If a man does not laugh when he is alone, his inner life must be barren.



Look upon every man who tries or vexes you as a means of grace to humble you.

—Andrew Murray


The trouble with humility and meekness is that it isn’t good for other people to let them trample you.


A true master does not develop pupils but new masters.

—Robert Schumann


Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.



The gifts of God are there to be delighted in. To fall short of joy would be ingratitude.

—Ellis Peters


The more we love our friends the less we flatter them.

It is by excusing nothing that pure love shows itself.



It takes a very long time to become young.



Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.


He lives twice who enjoys both the past and the present.

—Marcus Martial


Nothing in the world is inconsequential.


One of the marks of maturity is the ability to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t—and a great deal doesn’t!



The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.

—William James


The best measure of a person’s mentality is the importance of the things he will argue about.

—Margery Wilson


The cult of the common man is a cult of mediocrity.

—Herbert Hoover


Beware of people who are always well dressed.


The sexual pleasure that pornography brings to some people is in itself a redeeming social value.


Remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will destroy everything with lust.

—St Augustine


The problem with romantic love is that sex should be a joyful release and a delightful distraction, not a morbid obsession.


Chastity is the most unnatural of the sexual perversions.

—Aldous Huxley


Many abstainers are an effective argument for a drink now and then.

—Sidney Smith


The worst mistakes of judgement are made by people who believe that reason and the passions are opposites. Reason does not exist to oppose the passions but to mediate among them. The man who uses reason to repress his emotions will soon be as mad as the man who permits his emotions to override his reason.

—Sidney Harris


Passions are the winds that fill the sails of the vessel. Sometimes they sink it, but without them it would be impossible to go ahead.



It is a fact that without our emotions making any decision is impossible. Nothing can be decided without the participation of the emotions.


We understand only what we love; and if we love we grow in understanding.


All genuine love comes from strength and is a kind of surplus energy in living. False love comes from weakness and tries to suck the vitality out of its object. Most popular songs, with their whining lyrics of self-pity, are embarrassing exhibitions of this false love.

—Sidney Harris


No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, there is always something to learn, and there is always someone to love.



The world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.



You cannot play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for the weeds.

—Dag Hammarskjold


By all means, let 1000 flowers bloom! But keep attacking the weeds.


After a while one becomes responsible for one’s face.



A man’s face is his autobiography; a woman’s face is her work of fiction.



Men are more vain than women but also more generous.

—Wilkie Collins in the 1850s


Women won’t leave men alone, and men like to be alone.

—EM Forster


The artist must be partly male and partly female. Unfortunately, the female part is nearly always intolerable.



Women are possessive and insecure; they need far too much reassurance. They are also frantic, alarmist, and irrational. The average woman is a high-maintenance companion and spends money like water.


Women and people of low birth are very hard to deal with. If you are friendly with them they get out of hand, and if you keep your distance they resent it.



Nature has given women so much power that law has very wisely given them little.

—Samuel Johnson


Women govern America, because America is a land of boys who refuse to grow up.

—a Spanish philosopher


Eternal boyhood is the dream of a depressing percentage of American males, and the locker room is the temple where they worship arrested development.

—Russell Baker


The taste for violence is enhanced and sharpened by the spectacle of violence we call “sports”.


Claims for the educational value of sports are no more than a cynical cover for academic treason…pretending that games are of some benefit to the mind. The coach…is promoted to equality with the professor, and the stadium supplants the library. Intellectual life is devastated.

—HG Wells


Football has the same relation to education that bullfighting has to agriculture.

—Robert Hutchins


Athletics are a symbol of a society whose values are bankrupt—not only a reinforcement of an unsound value system, but also one of the main ways young people are socialized into that system, coerced into conformity.

—from American Values



Sports serve as an opiate of the people, diverting the masses from their real problems with a “dream world” of glamour and excitement.

—Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism



The mere athlete becomes a savage.



Military service produces moral imbecility.



A weapon is an enemy even to its owner.

—Turkish proverb


The desire for security stands against every great and noble enterprise.



Fear is the ruler’s best friend.



They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

—Benjamin Franklin


The world has never been so good—and never will become so good—that the majority will desire the truth.



The more we study art the less we care for nature. What art really reveals to us is nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition.



Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality that they can never satisfy.



If democracy dies, it is always equality that kills it.

—Lord Acton


American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralise every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good-will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism.




If you suppress the things that make you unique, if you blur and dilute the qualities that make you different from others, then you have weakened the very benefits that it is in your power to confer upon the world.

—John Garlock, edited


Egalitarianism is the opiate of the masses.


If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, it may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the majority.



Freedom of opinion does not exist in America.



Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.

—Benjamin Franklin


“Peace” is really an alien concept in an overstimulated, overcompetitive society.


I need to be quiet in order to be free.



The amount of noise a person makes—and can put up with—is in inverse proportion to his intellect. Stupid people love noise and make a lot of it. Intelligent people are quiet people and like silence. Especially in a democracy, intelligent people suffer much at the hands of stupid people.


Genius grasps instantly what mediocrity spends years learning.


Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.

—A Conan Doyle


Mediocrity frustrates the more able and flatters the incompetent. This mediocrity is making Americans increasingly dull, standardized in opinions, fearful of argument, cliched in conversation.

—Crowd Culture, Bernard I Bell (1952)


A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.



Material abundance without character is the surest way to destruction.

—Thomas Jefferson


If your income is greater than your expenses and you are spending all you want to spend, consider yourself rich.

—Gibbon (slightly edited)


The way to enjoy life is to accept all its necessary ordinary details and turn them into pleasures by taking an interest in them. Modern civilization has done them in a venal and slovenly manner till they become real drudgery.

—William Morris


We must be disappointed with the lesser things of life before we can comprehend the full value of the greater.



You become greater by a humility toward great things.


The learned have their superstitions, and prominent among them is the belief that superstition is evaporating.

—Garry Wills


Nothing is more immodest than religious immodesty.


Christianity is one beggar telling another that he has found bread.

—DT Niles


We must be on guard against interpretations of scripture that are far-fetched or opposed to science, so exposing the word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers.

—St Augustine


A valuable book has not been read if its pages are not marked and underlined.

—Sidney Harris (edited)


A society has already grown rotten when a person who simply speaks the truth is charged with committing an indiscretion.

—Sidney Harris


It is foolish to use offensive terms when there is no necessity to do so. But it is also foolish to wrap hard facts in soft words.


The hottest place in hell is reserved for people who remain neutral in a crisis.


If you limit your actions to things that nobody could possibly find fault with, you will not accomplish much.

—Lewis Carroll


Never put yourself in a position that allows any man or institution to decide things that you know you must decide for yourself.


It is better to love and to sin than not to love and not to sin.

It is better yet to love and not to sin, but that isn’t always possible.


All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.



Experience isn’t everything. Intelligence is far more useful in almost any area. Intelligence prepares you for the new and the unknown, but experience alone cannot see beyond the old and the known. Experience often makes people timid.


The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole by the pattern—the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it—this cluster of gifts may be said to constitute experience.

—William James (edited)


Life is a battle. Evil is insolent and strong, beauty enchanting but rare, goodness very apt to be weak, folly very apt to be defiant, wickedness to carry the day, imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy.

—Henry James


Citations we used from Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa:

Commodity fetishism…has displaced any other cultural, intellectual, or political reality. Men and women become active consumers of objects–many of them useless and superfluous–that fashion and advertising impose on them, emptying them of social, spiritual, or even human concerns…

The “entertainment culture” has replaced almost everywhere what scarcely half a century ago was understood as culture.

Our superficial and glitzy culture…cannot replace the certainties, myths, mysteries, and rituals of religions that have stood the test of centuries.

The essential difference between the culture of the past and the entertainment of today is that the products of the former sought to transcend mere present time, to endure, to stay alive for future generations, while the products of the latter are made to be consumed instantly and disappear, like cake or popcorn.

The disappearance of any minimal consensus about aesthetic value means that in this field confusion reigns and will continue to reign for a long time.

Political correctness has convinced us that it is arrogant, dogmatic, colonialist, and even racist to speak of superior and inferior cultures and even about modern and primitive cultures.

TV stars and football players exert the sort of influence over habits, taste, and fashion that was previously the domain of teachers and thinkers and (further back still) theologians.

Stupidity has become the ruling value of postmodern life, and politics is one of its main victims. it has been increasingly replacing ideas and ideals, intellectual debate and programs, with mere publicity and an obsession with physical appearance.

Almost everywhere, literary and artistic works of the highest worth are under-appreciated and marginalized because they are difficult and require a certain intellectual background and refined sensibility to be fully appreciated.

In the days of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, criticism played a central role in the world of culture, because it helped guide citizens in the difficult task of judging what they heard, saw, and read. Now critics are a dying breed.

The great majority of humanity does not engage with, produce, or appreciate any form of culture than what used to be considered by cultured people, disparagingly, as mere popular pastimes, with no links to the intellectual, artistic, and literary activities that were once at the heart of culture. This former culture…still survives in small social enclaves, without any influence on the mainstream.

The vacuum left by the disappearance of criticsim has been filled, imperceptibly, by advertising… The public lacks the intellectual and discriminating antennae to detect when it is being duped.

Quick and easy pleasures immunize people against worries and responsibility, allowing them to turn their backs on any self-knowledge that might be gained through thought and introspection…activities that are now considered tedious in our fickle, ludic culture.

Culture has little to do with quantity, everything to do with quality.