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Month: December 2021

“People do not obey, unless rulers know how to command; obedience is a lesson taught by commanders. A true leader himself creates the obedience of his own followers; as it is the last attainment in the art of riding to make a horse gentle and tractable, so is it of the science of government, to inspire men with a willingness to obey.” – “Lycurgus,” Plutarch’s Lives (trans. A. H. Clough)

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“A ruler’s first end is to maintain his office, which is done no less by avoiding what is unfit than by observing what is suitable. Whoever is either too remiss or too strict is no more a king or a governor, but either a demagogue or a despot, and so becomes either odious or contemptible to his subjects.” – “Comparison of Romulus with Theseus,” Plutarch’s Lives (trans. A. H. Clough)

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“That age produced a sort of men, in force of hand, and swiftness of foot, and strength of body, excelling the ordinary rate, and wholly incapable of fatigue; making use, however, of these gifts of nature to no good or profitable purpose for mankind, but rejoicing and priding themselves in insolence, and taking the benefit of their superior strength in the exercise of inhumanity and cruelty, and in seizing, forcing, and committing all manner of outrages upon every thing that fell into their hands; all respect for others, all justice, they thought, all equity and humanity, though naturally lauded by common people, either out of want of courage to commit injuries or fear to receive them, yet no way concerned those who were strong enough to win for themselves.” – “Theseus,” Plutarch’s Lives (trans. A. H. Clough)

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“The Keiths are Keiths because they are not particularly handsome, not particularly intelligent, not particularly kind. A Keith would never train to compete in professional sports or practice an instrument until he became a maestro. Neither would a Keith jump in front of a loaded gun, but he would help you gather the contents of your grocery bag if you spilled it on the sidewalk. On a city bus, your gaze would pass pleasantly over a Keith as though over a stretch of ocean. There are warehouses of Stephanies, warehouses of Daniels, warehouses of Mayas, Georges, Crystals, Jamals, and Nicoles, but I am in Keiths. It’s always sad when one of your Keiths is harvested,” – Mary South, “Keith Prime”

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“This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good disposition on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith,” February 21, 1825

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“According to Aristotle, the Pythagoreans held that the elements of number were the elements of things, and, therefore, that things were numbers. To us, accustomed as we are from childhood to the multiplication table, such an assertion seems simply meaningless. We are so familiar with the idea of counting without counting anything, that it is only by an effort that we can realise what a very abstract process this is. It is certain, however, that, natural as it may be to us to speak of numbers as things that can exist by themselves, it was long before men learnt to think of a number, except as a number of something.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy

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“Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. The dead are not even things. The particles of matter which composed their bodies, make part now of the bodies of other animals, vegetables, or minerals, of a thousand forms. To what then are attached the rights and powers they held while in the form of men? A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.” Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Major John Cartwright,” June 5, 1824

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“Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding, and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties, which may make anything mean everything or nothing.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Justice William Johnson,” June 12, 1823

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“And the father lifts up his own son in a changed form and slays him with a prayer. Infatuated fool! And they are dragged along begging mercy from the madman, while he, deaf to their cries, slaughters them in his halls and gets ready the evil feast.” – Empedokles, Purifications (from John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy)

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“A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real business of life.” Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Nathaniel Burwell,” March 14, 1818

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“I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these. His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. Although in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas, nor fluency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short and embarrassed. Yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalizing his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Walter Jones,” January 2, 1814

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“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Norvell,” June 14, 1807

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“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behoves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God & himself.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush,” April 21, 1803

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“The short story is the most purely artistic form; it expresses the ultimate meaning of all artistic creation as mood, as the very sense and content of the creative process, but it is rendered abstract for that very reason. It sees absurdity in all its undisguised and unadorned nakedness, and the exorcising power of this view, without fear or hope, gives it the consecration of form; meaninglessness as meaninglessness becomes form; it becomes eternal because it is affirmed, transcended and redeemed by form.” – Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel (trans. Anna Bostock; emphases in original)

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“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the legant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and the less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue & freedom, would be my choice.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush,” September 23, 1800

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“The whole body of the nation is the sovereign legislative, judiciary and executive power for itself. The inconvenience of meeting to exercise these powers in person, and their inaptitude to exercise them, induce them to appoint special organs to declare their legislative will, to judge & to execute it. It is the will of the nation which makes the law obligatory; it is their will which creates or annihilates the organ which is to declare & announce it.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Edmund Randolph,” August 18, 1799

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“I have seen enough of political honors to know they are but splendid torments: and however one might be disposed to render services on which any of their fellow citizens should set a value; yet when as many would deprecate them as a public calamity, one may well entertain a modest doubt of their real importance, and feel the impulse of duty to be very weak. The real difficulty is that being once delivered into the hands of others, whose feelings are friendly to the individual and warm to the public cause, how to withdraw from them without leaving a dissatisfaction in their mind, and an impression of pusillanimity with the public.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Martha Jefferson Randolph,” June 8, 1797

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“Political dissension is doubtless a less evil than the lethargy of despotism, but still it is a great evil, and it would be as worthy the efforts of the patriot as of the philosopher, to exclude it’s influence, if possible, from social life. The good are rare enough at best. There is no reason to subdivide them by artificial lines. But whether we shall ever be able so far to perfect the principles of society, as that political opinions shall, in it’s intercourse, be as inoffensive as those of philosophy, mechanics, or any other, may well be doubted.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Thomas Pinckney,” May 29, 1797 (punctuation in original)

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