Political / Democracy Quotes

** Please note there is also a posting on civil disobedience quotations!

“Elections matter. Polls are increasingly unpredictable. And candidates or parties who argue that you should “hold your nose” and vote based on some calculation of what is “strategic,” are both factually misguided and are asking you to use elections as cynical tools devoid of principles. Both of these aspects are bad for democracy and establishing good government.” – Toronto Star article

“People will say with pride: ‘I’m not interested in politics.’ They might just as well say, ‘I’m not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future, or any future.’” – Martha Gellhorn

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan, 1882-1958

“We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.” – Chris Hedges 

“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” – George Orwell

 “There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.” – Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”  Plato, Greek philosopher, 427 B.C.- 347 B.C.

“Without public protest, democracy is dead. Every successful challenge to excessive power begins outside the political chamber. When protest stops, politics sclerotises: it becomes a conversation between different factions of the elite.”   U.K. writer George Monbiot

“You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents.” – Abbie Hoffman

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, & it never will.” – Frederick Douglass [full, longer version below]

“Silence is the voice of complicity.” – Source unknown (I have this on a button)

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” – Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil

“The modern conservative…is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” – John Kenneth Galbraith quoted in Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being & Why No One Saw it Coming, by Paul Hawken <Pg. 115>

Frederick Douglass quotation from August 1857:

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical. But it must be a struggle.Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – former slave Frederick Douglass, August 1857.

“Power is just like electricity; it can light the room or it can electrocute you.” – Margaret Atwood

Howard Zinn on civil disobedience: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it.” (Dr. Zinn was a professor of political science who believed civil disobedience is utterly necessary to maintain democracy.)

Tommy Douglas on Fascism: “Once more let me remind you what fascism is. It need not wear a brown shirt or a green shirt – it may even wear a dress shirt. Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege.” [Must-watch!! Tommy Douglas talking about Mouseland!!!!]

“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan, 1882-1958

“A politician is required to listen to humbug, talk humbug, condone humbug. The most we can hope for is that we don’t actually believe it.” – Character in P.D. James’ A Taste for Death

“I have come to believe that we must take bold and unequivocal action: we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.” – Al Gore

“I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously.The voice of caution whispers persuasively in the ear of every politician, often with good reason.But when caution breeds timidity, a good politician listens to other voices.” ~ Al Gore, Earth in the Balance

“True democracy is only possible when people have effective power over their own affairs, their own goals, and their own resources. The larger the governing unit, the less responsive it is to human needs, the more bureaucratic and inefficient its administration. Government, we must always remind ourselves, is not (or should not be) a professionally organized system to tell people how to run their affairs; it is (or should be) a means whereby people themselves are enabled to resolve matters in their own community.” ~ John Papworth in Putting Power In Its Place

“One of the things I argue in my book [A Journey Through Economic Time] is the extent to which people go to avoid rational decisions – the very large role of mental deficiency in economic history.Generally, people have been very resistant to attributing a causal role in history to stupidity.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith, Economist

“Life is a passion of activity, or it is nothing. Genuine democracy rests, not upon an attitude of pleased expectation of receiving, not upon an irresponsible sense of liberty to work one’s will, but upon unflinching self-surrender, unceasing activity in behalf of the common good. Services must be voluntarily rendered, often more strenuous than those exacted by superiors under the old feudal order. For democracy is a stern and lofty creed of willing self-denial, of responsibilities staunchly borne, or it is a chaos and a failure, a stampede of the masses for power or for gain.” – Margaret Sherwood, 1918

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892-1964), a Nazi victim who was imprisoned at Sachsenhausen & Dachau

“A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” – Bertrand De Jouvenel

“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.” – Franz Kafka

“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right.” – Martin Luther King [more MLK quotes]

“Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth.” – Doystein Dahle, former Exxon vice president for Norway and the North Sea

“Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism.” ~ Noam Chomsky

“Our overriding purpose, from the beginning right through to the present day, has been world domination – that is, to build and maintain the capacity to coerce everybody else on the planet nonviolently, if possible; and violently, if necessary. But the purpose of [U.S.] foreign policy of domination is not just to make the rest of the world jump through hoops; the purpose is to facilitate our exploitation of resources.” – Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General, The Sun (Aug. 2001)

“Evil thrives on apathy and cannot exist without it.” – Hannah Arendt

“Nothing is more irritating, and, in the final analysis, harmful to a government than to have to deal with people who will not bend to its will, whatever the consequences.” – Jawaharal Nehru

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein

“The real substance of conservation lies not in the physical projects of government, but in the mental processes of citizens.” – Aldo Leopold

“If material acquisition were truly the dominant value of the human species, then surely capitalism would find it unnecessary to spend $450 billion a year to propagate it throughout the world. Nor would so many of the advertising messages . . .be designed to appeal to our longing for acceptance, love and contact with nature.” – David Korten in The Post Corporate World; Life After Capitalism

“The greatest threat to world peace is American foreign policy.” – from Blowback – The Costs & Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

Czech President, Vaclav Havel: “In time I have become a good deal less sure of myself, a good deal more humble… every day I suffer more and more from stage fright; every day I am more afraid that I won’t be up to the job… more and more often, I am afraid that I will fall woefully short of expectations, that I will somehow reveal my own lack of qualifications for the job, that despite my good faith I will make even greater mistakes, that I will cease to be trustworthy and therefore lose the right to do what I do.”

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” ~ Harry S Truman

“A patriot must be willing to defend his country from his government.” – Edward Abbey

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, and its stupidity.” – Dwight Eisenhower, in a speech in Ottawa, 1946

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)

“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” – Alex Carey

“You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can’t get there, obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can’t get there, kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn’t disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth.” – Richard Grossman

“The most serious threat to democracy is the notion that it has already been achieved.” – Source unknown

“Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.” Abbie Hoffman

“Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.” – Frank Zappa