Equality Under the Law

I came across this great quote in Jeffrey Toobin’s new book and I’m really quite surprised I’ve never heard it before.

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” — Anatole France

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • brianwestley

    I’m surprised you’ve never heard it before, too. I usually see it quoted about once a year, somewhere.

  • lofgren

    I have quoted this in the comments more than once. I actually thought that I learned it from you.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com Gretchen

    It’s a quote I try hard not to abuse. Like the only quotes that should be used, one whose source doesn’t matter.

    This sentiment is particular relevant to today’s conservative, who responds to every effort by liberals to make us more equal by saying “But we already are…and if we’re not, it’s your own fault.”

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    As soon as I read it, I was reminded of the anti-marriage equality argument that I’m sure some use facetiously, but I’ve heard it used seriously – Gays and lesbians already have the same right as everyone else to marry someone of a different sex.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    The actual quote is: La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.

    A more accurate translation would be “The magistic equality of the laws, which forbid both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges, from pissing in the streets and from stealing bread.”

  • trucreep

    Pretty clever

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    “The majestic equality of the laws…” Sorry, the caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet.

  • davidhart

    Gregory @ 7: I’m pretty sure the primary meaning of ‘mendier’ is indeed ‘to beg’, rather than ‘to piss’.

  • http://www.thomaswebb.net pinkboi

    I like the translation better. I hope they don’t try to outlaw begging!

  • scottmange

    I read somewhere a version of this that goes something like:

    “The law, in its majestic equality, PERMITS the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to BEG FOR bread BUT IT IS ONLY THE POOR THAT AVAIL THEMSELVES OF THESE RIGHTS.”

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com Gretchen

    Scottmange, was that from someone who also explains the punchlines of jokes?

  • baal

    I’ll note that the same logic (opposition to notice of bias) doesn’t apply to tax cuts i.e. the rich get the same tax cut as the poor if the first marginal income bracket has it’s tax rate cut. They somehow find a reduction on the tax rate for the first $250,000 of earnings immoral and ‘not a tax cut’ even though all tax payers get the break (even the ones with 5mill in income).

    the rich instead mirror the original quote and allow that the bush tax cuts on the top 2% are fair and equal since the poor would get the same cut were they rich.

  • scottmange

    Gretchen, some of us NEED to have the jokes explained to us.

    In truth, I find the more straightforward logic as I presented it to be more helpful.

    Best wishes.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    You’re surprised? I’m flabbergasted.

  • davem

    For a quote that’s so famous, it sure does hide itself well. I’ve never heard it before, either.

    What’s its context?

  • Ben P

    For a quote that’s so famous, it sure does hide itself well. I’ve never heard it before, either.

    What’s its context?

    It may be that the original is in french, but I’ve heard it numerous times before. It comes from Anatole France’s novel, the red lily.

    The best part of the quote is when conservatives quote it, not realizing the quote itself is sarcastic.

  • jakc

    It’s long been a favorite quote of mine. isn’t it nice to know that there are still wonderful bits of writing out there to be discovered

  • lofgren

    To me an important take away from this quote is that outlawing sleeping under bridges will not actually stop it. Given a choice between breaking the law or sleeping in the rain, most people will choose to break the law. If you want to stop people from sleeping under bridges, you need to give them somewhere else to sleep.