Special Feature: The best quotations about liberty

Here are 74 of liberty's best aphorism, insights, and soundbites

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

At the risk of arguing with such a distinguished writer, Mr. Emerson is in a distinct minority when it comes to hating quotations.

In fact, for Libertarians, quotations from such famous figures as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine, P.J. O'Rourke, Milton Friedman, Robert Heinlein, and H.L. Mencken (to name just a few) make up an indispensable part of our debating arsenal -- furnishing us with a satisfying mix of aphorisms, distilled wisdom, pithy retorts, and just plain common sense.

Good quotations are the mortar that can bind a speech together; the gunpowder that can ignite a press release; the flashlight that can illuminate the darkness of ignorance; and the chocolate sprinkles that can make a newsletter of book more appealing.

Whether making a concise argument for the merits of liberty, or poking fun at government or its programs, or simply reminding us of the eloquent libertarian principles of our nation's Founding Fathers, quotations allow us to "recycle" the wisdom of others. They're instructive. And they're fun.

His alleged "hatred" aside, even Emerson had to acknowledge that he, too, was not immune to the charms of a good quotation, writing: "By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote."

So, for your necessity, for your proclivity, and for your delight, here are 74 of the best quotes about liberty.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.
-- Thomas Jefferson (1791)

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
-- George Bernard Shaw (1944)

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
-- Winston Churchill

There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
-- P.J. O'Rourke (1993)

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
-- Ronald Reagan (1986)

I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.
-- Sidney Hook

America needs fewer laws, not more prisons.
-- James Bovard

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.
-- Albert Einstein (1950)

War is just one more big government program.
-- Joseph Sobran

War is the health of the State.
-- Randolph Bourne (1917)

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
-- John Adams (1814)

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
-- Douglas Casey (1992)

Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.
-- Thomas Jefferson (1801)

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
-- The Bible, II Corinthians 3:17.

If you want government to intervene domestically, you're a liberal. If you want government to intervene overseas, you're a conservative. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you're a moderate. If you don't want government to intervene anywhere, you're an extremist.
-- Joseph Sobran (1995)

One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.
-- Thomas B. Reed (1886)

In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
-- Voltaire (1764)

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin (1755)

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
-- William Pitt (1783)

If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all.
-- Jacob Hornberger (1995)

I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least."
-- Henry David Thoreau

Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
-- Attributed to George Washington

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
-- P.J. O'Rourke

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
-- P.J. O'Rourke

A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.
-- Barry Goldwater (1964)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
-- Will Rogers

Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.
-- Milton Friedman

Politicians are the same all over: they promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.
-- Nikita Khrushchev (1960)

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
-- H.L. Mencken

Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.
-- John Bradshaw

There are just two rules of governance in a free society: Mind your own business. Keep your hands to yourself.
-- P.J. O'Rourke (1993)

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
-- Pericles (430 BC)

The more corrupt the state, the more it legislates.
-- Tacitus

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he's willing to try to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he'll do good with his own money -- if a gun is held to his head.
-- P.J. O'Rourke

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
-- Herbert Spencer (1891)

More laws, less justice.
-- Marcus Tullius Ciceroca (42 BC)

No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
-- Mark Twain (1866)

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
-- Thomas Jefferson

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.
-- Robert Heinlein

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

The true danger is when Liberty is nibbled away, for expedients.
-- Edmund Burke (1899)

I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war.
-- Thomas Jefferson (1823)

America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She well knows that by enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom.
-- John Quincy Adams (1821)

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.
-- Thomas Paine (1795)

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
-- Frederic Bastiat

Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your government is doing to you.
-- Joseph Sobran (1990)

God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
-- Daniel Webster (1834)

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
-- Justice Louis Brandeis (1928)

The saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time.
-- Justice George Sutherland (1938)

The era of resisting big government is never over.
-- Paul Gigot (1998)

Not a place upon earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them.
-- Thomas Paine (1776)

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.
-- Honore de Balzac

Whoever prefers life to death, happiness to suffering, well-being to misery must defend without compromise private ownership in the means of production.
-- Ludwig von Mises (1920)

The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society.
-- Mark Skousen

Good intentions will always be pleaded for any assumption of power. The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
-- Daniel Webster

If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government that is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
-- James Madison

Let the people think they govern and they will be governed.
-- William Penn (1693)

In 1940, teachers were asked what they regarded as the three major problems in American schools. They identified the three major problems as: Littering, noise, and chewing gum. Teachers last year were asked what the three major problems in American schools were, and they defined them as: Rape, assault, and suicide.
-- William Bennett (1993)

The threat posed by humans to the natural environment is nothing compared to the threat to humans posed by global environmental policy.
-- Fred L. Smith (1992)

The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.
-- Milton Friedman

The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom -- they are the pillars of society.
-- Henrik Ibsen (1877)

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping, and unintelligent.
-- H. L. Mencken

Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer.
-- Ludwig von Mises

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
-- Thomas Jefferson (1801)

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
-- Thomas Jefferson (1801)

This country is a one-party country. Half of it is called Republican and half is called Democrat. It doesn't make any difference. All the really good ideas belong to the Libertarians.
-- Hugh Downs (1997)

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
-- Lord Acton (1887)

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
-- Mao Zedong (1938)

The difference between libertarianism and socialism is that libertarians will tolerate the existence of a socialist community, but socialists can't tolerate a libertarian community.
-- David D. Boaz (1997)

We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
-- Winston Churchill (1903)

If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.
-- Thomas Sowell (1992)

War has all the characteristics of socialism most conservatives hate: Centralized power, state planning, false rationalism, restricted liberties, foolish optimism about intended results, and blindness to unintended secondary results.
-- Joseph Sobran (1991)

There never was a good war or a bad peace.
-- Benjamin Franklin (1773)