October 27, 2014

“Every nation has the government it deserves” – and the criminals, drugs and donuts…


THE FAMOUS MISINTERPRETED QUOTE:

“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
(“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”)
      
Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821)
       French-speaking Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer and diplomat
       Comment in a letter he wrote in August 1811, later published in Lettres et Opuscules Inedits (1851)
       Whenever Election Day draws near, I am reminded of this famous quote by Joseph de Maistre. He wrote this aphorism in 1811 when he was serving as the King of Piedmont-Sardinia’s envoy to Russian Czar Alexander I. At that time, Alexander was introducing reforms that were moving Russia toward a European-style constitutional government. It’s ironic that Maistre’s quote is now commonly used to suggest that citizens should get more involved in politics, actively push for more democratic governments and rebel against tyrants. Maistre disliked democracy and believed that hereditary monarchies were a divinely-sanctioned, superior form of government. For example, he opposed the French Revolution and supported restoration of the French monarchy. And, in his 1811 letter, Maistre was actually expressing his negative views of Alexander’s reform policies in Russia. He said a European-style constitutional system would be “over the heads” of the Russian people.
One early translation of Maistre’s aphorism in that letter was: “Every nation has the government which it is fit for.” This paternalistic translation may best capture what Maistre really meant. The more familiar translation — “Every nation [or ‘country’] has the government it deserves” — is often wrongly attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln. They never said it. Maistre did, but what he meant by it is probably different than what most people think.


THE FAMOUS VERSION ABOUT CRIMINALS:

“Society has the criminals it deserves.”
(“La société a les criminels qu’elle mérite.)
       Alexandre Lacassagne (1843-1924)
       French physician and criminologist
       In “L’homme criminel comparé a l’homme primitif,”  Bulletin du Lyon médical (1882)
       This is often translated as “Every society has the criminals it deserves,” to parallel Maistre’s quotation. It comes from a longer comment Lacassagne made about the justice system: "Justice shrivels up, prison corrupts and society has the criminals it deserves." (“La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite.”)


ROBERT KENNEDY’S RESPONSE:

“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”
      
Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
       U.S. Attorney General and Democratic politician
       In his book
The Pursuit of Justice (1964)


GEORGE ORWELL’S FAMOUS FACE VARIATION:

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.”
      
George Orwell (1903-1950)
       Last words in his notebook, April 17, 1949
       Published posthumously in
The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell (1968)


THE WOODSTOCK GENERATION VARIATION:

“Everybody gets the drugs they deserve. Everyone gets the god they deserve. Everyone gets the electrons they deserve. Go for it all.”   
      
Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996)  
       American psychologist, writer and psychedelic drug guru 
       In the spoken word piece “Fifty Million Years,” on his posthumously released CD
Beyond Life (1996)


THE NEW GENERATION’S VARIATION:

“Not every generation gets the politics it deserves. When baby boomer journalists and politicians talk about engaging with youth politics, what they generally mean is engaging with a caucus of energetic, compliant under-25s who are willing to give their time for free to causes led by grown-ups...We need to being to formulate an agenda of our own.”
      
Laurie Penny 
       British journalist and social activist
       In a chapter she contributed to the multi-author book
Fight Back! (2010)


A PIONEERING PORN MAVEN’S OPINION:

“Every nation gets the pornography it deserves…and if we forbid the writing of erotica to all but those willing to break the law, we have no complaint if the results are mean and inartistic.”
      
Ralph Ginzburg (1929-2006)
       Pioneering American author, editor, publisher and free speech advocate
       In his book An Unhurried View of Erotica (1958)


A PIONEERING RIGHT-WING TELEVANGELIST’S OPINION:

“A godless people will chose a godless leader. A democratic people gets the kind of government it deserves!”
      
Father Charles E. Coughlin (1891-1979)
       Controversial American radio evangelist
       Comment made on
his radio show on January 7, 1940, in one of his rants attacking President Franklin D. Roosevelt


THE FILM CRITIC’S PSYCHOKILLER THEORY:


“Every era gets the psychos it deserves, at least in art. Our own violent culture has splattered us with real-life assassins and serial killers who have pervaded our consciousness through television and newspapers and left a disturbing, revealing, often entertaining legacy of fictional lunatics.” 
       Caryn James
       American film critic
       In
an article about recent psychokiller movies, published in The New York Times, March 10, 1991


THE THEATRE CRITIC’S THEORY:


“Every civilization gets the theatre it deserves.”
      
Michael Feingold 
       Theatre critic for The Village Voice
       Quoted in
Directors and the New Musical Drama (2008)


THE DONUT CRITIC’S VERSION:



“Was it Alexis de Tocqueville or Jonathan Gold who said, ‘Every city gets the donuts it deserves’? Either way, you have to wonder what Houston did to deserve Shipley Do-Nuts. The Shipleys may be lovely people, and the corporation gets much respect for being active in the community and maintaining its Houston roots. But their donuts are consistently mediocre.”
      
Matthew Dresden   
       Food critic and journalist
       In
an article posted on HoustonPress.com, February 10, 2011

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Further reading: books of quotations about government and politics….

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