Archives for category: Aphorisms and Epigrams

So, if slavery is bad because liberty is good, and if the American conception of liberty is bad because of slavery, why is slavery bad?

At issue, you will immediately recognize, is the Project1619-adjacent notion that the existence of slavery in American history discredits the government and general political complexion of the United States of America. I have argued against/around this poison pill [meme] before, chiefly on Quora:

The leftist idea is to use the mere existence of past slavery as a rationale to set up a completely different kind of socio-political order. Since most of these ninnies are promoting some form of socialism, those of us who identify socialism with slavery must express some alarm.

The idea is bizarre when you break it down. But most young people seem not to move beyond statement and restatement of the core notion:

The temerity of the Left! One of today’s leftists’ characteristic charges is that capitalism and slavery are a package deal, somehow, and that American capitalism depended upon the institution of chattel slavery for its success, and that the wealth Americans now revel in is tainted by the institution of slavery that was abolished over a century and a half ago.

An astounding assertion, and utterly without merit.

As I stated in the piece quoted directly above, it is an extraordinarily loopy notion even to pretend “to redress past harms caused by slavery” by working “to oppose freedom generally.”

Americans have promoted the idea of freedom while not successfully living up to the idea. Sure. And slavery was the most obvious failing of freedom-loving Americans. But to say we should give up liberty and embrace socialism — servility to the coercive horde or the maximum state — because of this, is . . . witless.

Or, maybe, the wit of the Devil taking the hindmost brains. He loves a good laugh, and to urge his minions to abandon freedom “because slavery” is too droll even for a mere human archon.


Aldous Huxley (July 26, 1894 – November 22, 1963)

In any cause, the best or the most atrocious, zeal is always intoxicating. A world without zeal would be a world deprived of many simple but savage pleasures: but at least half its present excuses for interfering and bullying would have been taken away from it.

Aldous Huxley, Introduction to The Easton Press edition of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1934), signed July 24, 1933.

These lines follow a much-quoted but mis-cited passage first published here 11 days ago. This quotation, above, completes the paragraph that I have published in these pages (on as a corrective to the usually mis-cited “quote.”

The title, above, references an excellent piece of music by contemporary composer John Adams.


It is not sexist to acknowledge differences between the sexes. It is not racist to recognize differences among the races. It is not ageist to accept that you will grow old and die.


Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a new reality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 65–66.
…currently reading…
Edgar Allan Poe

Very pertinently it was demanded of Plato, why a picked chicken, which was clearly a ‘biped without feathers,’ was not, according to his definition, a man? But I am not to be bothered by any similar query. Man is an animal that diddles, and there is no animal that diddles but man.”

Edgar Allan Poe, “Raising the Wind; or, Diddling Considered as One of the Exact
” (1843)

N. B. The reader is entreated not to search for “diddling” using Google’s image search engine.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing and for the State to do something.



I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

The problem, in re H. L. Mencken’s admission, above, is that to obtain freedom for yourself you must bar others from abridging it not only from self, but from some or even all others. Liberty cannot be advanced except by taking license away from others.

And forswearing it for self, as well.

This is a corollary to William Allen White’s great maxim:

Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

Or, to summarize, the words of J. H. Morse:

Liberty is no respecter of persons. Freedom with an exception clause is spelled L.I.C.E.N.S.E.