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July 18, 2013

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”


THE FAMOUS ORIGINAL QUOTE:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
       Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
       British writer, wit and lexicographer  
       Remark by Johnson during a discussion with friends at a tavern, first quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 
       In his biography of Johnson, Boswell added this note about the quote: “But let it be considered that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest.”
       Although Johnson’s dictionary was the first major dictionary of the English language and hugely significant, he poked fun at himself in this pioneering work by defining the word Lexicographer as: “A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”


EDWARD SNOWDEN-RELATED USE #1:
 
“Raising the specter of terror has become the last refuge of scoundrels.”

       Margaret Kimberley 
       Progressive journalist and blogger
       Comment in a June 2013 edition of her “Freedom Rider” column. Kimberley’s piece discussed how Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked details about the US government’s surveillance of emails and phone calls, had been vilified by President Obama and Republican and Democratic members of Congress who defended the massive, secrecy-shrouded electronic snooping program by claiming it protects Americans from terrorists.
       (Cartoon by Jeff Parker.)

      

EDWARD SNOWDEN-RELATED USE #2:

“Edward Snowden is a reminder that patriotism — as Samuel Johnson noted two and a half centuries ago — is the last refuge of a scoundrel...He may be a hero in the eyes of civil libertarians, but he has also turned around and placed those very citizens in potential jeopardy by passing secrets to China, and, perhaps Russia. Snowden originally tried to portray himself as a lonely hero speaking truth to power. He now comes off as a smug, narcissistic Benedict Arnold.”
       Paul Brandus 
       Political journalist and columnist for The Week magazine 
       In his June 25, 2013 column on TheWeek.com
       (Cartoon by Chappatte.)


BIERCE’S DEVILISH DEFINITION:

“PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.”
       Ambrose Bierce (1842-c. 1914)  
       American journalist and curmudgeon 
       This is one of his characteristically sarcastic definitions in The Devil’s Dictionary, first published as a book in 1906 but originally begun in his newspaper columns in 1881. Bierce defined the word Patriot as: “The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”
       (Portrait of Ambrose Bierce painted by John H. E. Partington.)


A FAMOUS ATHEIST’S COUNTERQUOTE:

“Religion is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Patriotism is next to last.”
       Andy Rooney (1919-2011)
       American journalist and avowed atheist, best known for his commentaries on the 60 Minutes television series 
       This was one of the biting remarks made in his syndicated news column about President Ronald Reagan’s January 1987 “State of the Union” speech. In that speech, Reagan ducked any mention of the huge controversy over the Iran-Contra scandal and tried to divert attention from that issue by focusing on the debate over allowing prayers in public school. (Reagan was for it, of course.)

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