Politics, worth quoting

To my mind, even though his language is dated, The Endless Adventure, by Frederick Scott Oliver and published as three volumes in the 1930s, has many great quotes. The book is out of print, so here’s a sampler:

“No politician has ever yet been able to rule his country, nor has any country ever yet been able to face the world, upon the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.”

“Without bringing all the Christian virtues into this discussion, it is enough to say that a positive and strict veracity is impossible for the politician. For truthfulness even forbids you to allow the person you are dealing with to deceive himself.”

“…like water can’t be kept out of most things, so too morals can’t be kept out of human affairs. But it is an external factor not inward gyroscope.”

“A wise politician will never grudge a genuflection…”

“In the years of preparation for a revolution, and afterwards, so soon as order of some kind has been restored, politicians are always busy; nor is it often that the obscurity of either of these periods is dense enough to resist the searchlights of history. But it is different at the actual crisis of a revolution; for the current of events is then such wild and turbid water as to make it impossible either for us, the observers, or for the swimmers themselves to be certain how many of their acts are purposeful, how many purely undeliberate. If afterwards any of them presumes to set for a collected and consistent story we are safe in treating it as unworthy of belief. During this period of confusion the craftsmanship of the politician is out of action; for things are then directed less by self-conscious human agency than by blindfold and savage forces.”

“For surprising accidents and sudden changes are the rule of politics. It is not often that the circumstances of the world will let a statesman have his head. The situation into which he comes so confident of victory may be transformed in a single revolution of the globe. Thereupon all the schemes that he has framed so carefully for the service of his country will vanish hurriedly like ghosts at cock-crow. He will be forced at once to devise a new plan fit for the occasion, and he will be lucky if he produces one that does not involve a sacrifice of this consistency.”

“The wisest government must make mistakes; nay, sometimes when it has acted with most wisdom it affords the easiest target for plausible misconstruction.”

“The student of politics will not make a beginning till he has realized that in this art there are antinomies everywhere, and that it is no shame to a politician, or to the man who writes about him, if the opinions he utters are often in conflict one with another. The politician or the writer who succeeds in proving his life-long consistency is less an object of admiration than of derision.”

“Phenomena of this sort, phenomena in a continual flux, will not submit themselves to the methods of a land surveyor.”

“Politicians, like soldiers, are often obliged to guess at the motives, intentions, and movements of the enemy. As they often guess wrongly, their own tactics are apt to appear purposeless and foolish, or altogether evil and malevolent, to a later generation which looks wonderingly, after ‘the fog of war’ has lifted, at the hooks and bends of an ancient controversy. . . .If actors themselves saw less clearly than we do, it is partly because there are now far fewer things to be seen. Much has long ago fallen through the sieves of memory and written records, while the historian, of set purpose, has eliminated much of what remained.”

Oliver also talks about political imponderables and chance, as if they were the flow in that watercourse—the thalweg—at the lowest part of the valley along which we cross and whose waters run off into sand out of sight.

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