Quote of the Day

Andrew Sullivan shared this quote from James Madison on Sunday, which was Madison’s birthday. It seems particularly prescient in light of the last 15 years, indeed in light of the entire history of the country.

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dunc

    No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

    Extra credit question: identify the last time the USA was not actively engaged in military conflict somewhere in the world.

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

    And you say psychics aren’t real…

  • Menyambal

    Which is why the US Constitution forbids a standing army. The gun nuts never care about that, because it would mean their precious Second Amendment is really about militias for defense, and not about their guns.

  • http://onhandcomments.blogspot.com/ left0ver1under

    Dunc (#1) –

    Extra credit question: identify the last time the USA was not actively engaged in military conflict somewhere in the world.

    The US is engaged in military conflict somewhere in the world to prevent democracy, not to protect it. Just ask the Cubans, Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Greece, Dominican Republic, etc.

  • dogfightwithdogma

    I give 100% agreement with all but the following line from the Madison quote:

    …and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

    While this may have had more truth in Madison’s time and the periods of history before him, I don’t think this is very true, if at all, today.

  • JasonTD

    Menyambal @3,

    “Which is why the US Constitution forbids a standing army.”

    Where do you get that from? Is that why we don’t have a standing army? /boggle

  • DaveL

    The constitution does not actually forbid the creation of a standing army, but it does force the funding for such an army to come up for Congressional review at least every two years.

    That hasn’t actually turned out to be much of a hurdle to the maintenance of a standing army within my lifetime, of course.

  • laurentweppe

    While this may have had more truth in Madison’s time and the periods of history before him, I don’t think this is very true, if at all, today.

    To be fair to Madison, the notions that the State was a different entity than the ruling class and that taxes were supposed to be something else than glorified rents were quite novel in his time: traditionally, taxes were money you had to give your lord by virtue of living on hisestates“, and if you were lucky enough to not live on the feudal domain of a sociopathic inbred parasite, then the money you gave the local lord could be used for stuff more useful than “fund the lord’s personal whorehouse” or “pay for the lords expansionist campaigns and family feuds“, but it was far from being the norm.

    And in cases you didn’t notice, western democracies are different today only insofar that only one half of their political class want to turn taxes into glorified feudal rents once again.

  • dhall

    Ironically, those who were against the War of 1812 called it “Mr. Madison’s War.”

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

    Except when 99% of the nation’s population is completely insulated from the effects of that continual warfare.

    Madison wrote that at a time when warfare between European nations was practically routine. He could not have imagined a world where the US armed forces were continually engaged in numerous armed conflicts thousands of miles away from home. Nor could he have envisioned the types of weapons used in those conflicts — weapons that minimize the cost in terms of lives lost to the American nation.

    In this particular set of circumstances, perhaps George Bush was closer to the mark when he told Americans that the best thing they could do in response to 9/11 was to go shopping.

  • Ichthyic

    Madison wrote that at a time when warfare between European nations was practically routine. He could not have imagined a world where the US armed forces were continually engaged in numerous armed conflicts thousands of miles away from home.

    so, wars were not fought by europeans thousands of miles from home before Madison said that?

    I’m sure Central and South America and Africa would be pleased that all the history of european warfare there never happened. Privateering also never happened, and there never was conflict between England Spain and Portugal in the Caribbean.

    what history books are you reading?

    I’m betting not the same ones Madison could have easily read during his day.

    not be able to imagine??? preposterous. Of course he could.

  • Ichthyic

    Nor could he have envisioned the types of weapons used in those conflicts — weapons that minimize the cost in terms of lives lost to the American nation.

    again, guns vs bows in south america, guns vs spears in Africa (well, with the exclusion of a couple of notable battles).

    again, anyone in their right mind easily had access to information about what having a superior army fighting in a foreign land thousands of miles away is like.

    it was hardly a stretch.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Dunc #1: Extra credit question: identify the last time the USA was not actively engaged in military conflict somewhere in the world.

    That’s a trick question. We have always been at war with eastasia.

  • Nick Gotts

    so, wars were not fought by europeans thousands of miles from home before Madison said that?

    I’m sure Central and South America and Africa would be pleased that all the history of european warfare there never happened. – Ichthyic

    QFT. Also, the American Revolutionary War was itself, among other things, a war fought by Europeans thousands of miles from home.