Thoughts from Will Durant

“Every vice was once a virtue, and may become respectable again, just as hatred becomes respectable in wartime.”

“Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

“you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”

“The older Romans used temples as their banks, as we use banks as our temples;”

“It has been the one song of those who thirst after absolute power that the interest of the state requires that its affairs should be conducted in secret… But the more such arguments disguise themselves under the mask of public welfare, the more oppressive is the slavery to which they will lead… Better that right counsels be known to enemies than that the evil secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens. They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a nation have it absolutely under their authority; and as they plot against the enemy in time of war, so do they against the citizens in time of peace.”

“But even democracy ruins itself by excess—of democracy. Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy. This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses (588). “As to the people they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them” (Protagoras, 317); to get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play (a hit, no doubt, at Aristophanes, whose comedies attacked almost every new idea). Mob-rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course. The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd do love flattery, it is so “hungry for honey,” that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the “protector of the people” rises to supreme power”

“This police supervision did not exclude coarseness and obscenity; the aedile wished to amuse the crowd, not to elevate it; and the Roman government was never displeased by the ignorance of the multitude. The audience preferred broad humor to wit, buffoonery to subtlety, vulgarity to poetry, Plautus to Terence.”

“Woe to him whom teaches man faster than he can learn.”

Will Durant

November 5, 1885- November 7, 1981



5 thoughts on “Thoughts from Will Durant

    1. I just finished Caesar and Christ and began The Age of Faith this morning. While there may be some long, grueling sections, the gems found along the path make it worth the journey.

    1. That book is a monster! I loved the first few hundred pages, some great insights on the early days of Mohamed. It put me to sleep at points but if you soldier on the Durants always pay off with some nuggets of gold.

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