(Bumped up from 9 May 08, as I found it while reflecting on Britain today.)
On the basis that those who are not familiar with history are condemned to repeat it, I have begun to study Pitt, Gladstone and Disraeli. Here are some quotations, which seem apt in the present circumstances. I will let them stand for themselves.
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” Speech to Parliament 1783
“I return you many thanks for the honour you have done me; but Europe is not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.” (reply, at the Guildhall, 1805, in response to the Lord Mayor toasting him as the ‘Saviour of Europe’. From: Ellis & Treasure Britain’s Prime Ministers (2005), p.80)
But how is the spirit of expenditure to be exorcised? Not by preaching; I doubt if even by yours. I seriously doubt whether it will ever give place to the old spirit of economy, as long as we have the income-tax. There, or hard by, lie questions of deep practical moment.
As the British Constitution is the most subtile organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off by the brain and purpose of man.
You should avoid needless and entangling engagements. You may boast about them, you may brag about them, you may say you are procuring consideration of the country. You may say that an Englishman may now hold up his head among the nations. But what does all this come to, gentlemen? It comes to this, that you are increasing your engagements without increasing your strength; and if you increase your engagements without increasing strength, you diminish strength, you abolish strength; you really reduce the empire and do not increase it. You render it less capable of performing its duties; you render it an inheritance less precious to hand on to future generations.
We live at a time when there is a disposition to think that the government ought to do this and that, and that the government ought to do everything…If the government takes into its hands that which the man ought to do for himself, it will inflict upon him greater mischiefs than all the benefits he will have received or all the advantages that will accrue from them.
That doctrine [of peace at any price] has done more mischief than any I can well recall that have been afloat in this country. It has occasioned more wars than any of the most ruthless conquerors. It has disturbed and nearly destroyed that political equilibrium so necessary to the liberties and the welfare of the world.
You have despoiled churches. You have threatened every corporation and endowment in the country. You have examined into everybody’s affairs. You have criticised every profession and vexed every trade. No one is certain of his property, and nobody knows what duties he may have to perform to-morrow. This is the policy of confiscation as compared with that of concurrent endowment.
For nearly five years the present Ministers have harassed every trade, worried every profession, and assailed or menaced every class, institution, and species of property in the country. Occasionally they have varied this state of civil warfare by perpetrating some job which outraged public opinion, or by stumbling into mistakes which have been always discreditable, and sometimes ruinous. All this they call a policy, and seem quite proud of it; but the country has, I think, made up its mind to close this career of plundering and blundering.
Despair is the conclusion of fools.