Presented by Fisher Investments: VP Shortlist; Conspiracy Theories; Quote of the Week
Hello, it’s Friday, July 12, 2019, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation intended to be uplifting or thought-provoking. Today’s comes from Winston Churchill, with an assist from an earlier writer named Robert Briffault, courtesy of The Yale Book of Quotations and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
If that seems like a lot of sourcing for a single quote, so be it: As regular readers of this morning missive know, I’m a stickler for attribution. So is British-American linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum, whose brief essay published three years ago today inspired today’s quotation, which I’ll offer in a moment.
First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Predicting the Democrats’ VP Shortlist. Myra Adams dons her prognosticator hat as potential pairings begin to suggest themselves.
Isikoff Spins His Own Russian Conspiracy Theories -- Again. Frank Miele takes issue with the Yahoo news reporter’s new article on the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich in 2016.
In Post-Roe World, Pro-Lifers Equip Families to Succeed. Scott Walker and Kristan Hawkins spotlight efforts to provide mothers, fathers and struggling families with support.
Why the Right Should Cheer Marijuana Legalization. In RealClearMarkets, Brady Cobb advises the GOP to seize upon a winning issue with broad crossover appeal in 2020.
Washington Needs a Nicaragua Strategy. In RealClearWorld, Ryan Berg argues that continued pressure is needed to capitalize on actions that forced Daniel Ortega to empty his jails of political prisoners.
Social Capital Is America’s Stock-in-Trade. In RealClearPolicy, Erin Rodewald hails a survey indicating that Americans’ sense of wealth hinges less on economics than on good old-fashioned relationships.
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In the early summer of 2016, British voters’ decision to leave the European Union (albeit by a small majority) left intellectuals on both sides of the British Channel -- and both sides of the Atlantic Ocean -- searching for answers.
Geoffrey Pullum was one of them. Born in Scotland and raised in England, Pullum moved to America in 1980, became a U.S. citizen, and spent 27 years as a college professor on the West Coast before returning to Britain in 2007. Three years ago, he felt unmoored by Brexit. So he turned, as any good Anglo-American would, to Winston Churchill for solace. Specifically, what came to his mind was the famous Churchillian observation about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others.
“As soon as I got back to my library after the referendum,” Pullum wrote on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, “I took down the only really serious reference book on quotations to check on the accuracy of the half-remembered Churchill remark.”
The volume he was referring to is one I often consult myself. It’s The Yale Book of Quotations, edited by the incomparable Fred R. Shapiro. I won’t say it’s my Bible, because that would be blasphemous, but I will reveal that it’s on the same bookcase shelf as the Bible. But I digress.
Here is the Churchill line Pullum found: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
These words are from a speech in the House of Commons on Nov. 11, 1947. As the “it has been said” caveat indicates, Churchill had heard this sentiment previously. Fred Shapiro, as is his wont, found the original source: Robert Briffault’s writings from 1930.
Pullum reports being not quite mollified by either version. “The Churchillian bon mot remains a classic, a witty and memorable expression of a paradoxical truth about political systems,” he wrote. “But whereas it used to make me smile, today it doesn’t.”
Before the year was out, the results of the U.S. presidential election would induce similar doubts in the hearts of many other intellectuals. But let’s return for a minute to the original observations of Briffault, who pulled no punches.
“Democracy is the worst form of government. It is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical,” he wrote. “It reduces wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap and demagogy.”
“Yet,” he continued, “democracy is the only form of social order that is admissible, because it is the only one consistent with justice.”
And there’s your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics