Worldly Wisdom

“Never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

–Napoleon Bonaparte

“If I have eight hours to fell a tree, I would spend four of them sharpening my axe.”

–Abraham Lincoln

“Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.”


“Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

–Don Vito Corleone

“If you do everything, you will win.”

–Lyndon Baines Johnson

“Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will break your word or lose your self-respect.”

–Marcus Aurelius

“At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche

“Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”

–James A. Baker III

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit.”


“And let this always weigh down your feet like lead,
to make you move as slowly as a weary man,
to refrain from ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when you do not see …

because hasty opinion too often
points the wrong way and then affection
for one’s own opinion binds up the intellect.”

–Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio XIII: 112-114, 118-120 (spoken by Aquinas).

“It seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labour and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat-hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat-hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the adminstrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, feeble man…”

–Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“To educate the intelligence is to expand the horizon of its wants and desires.”

“Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do that day, which must be done, whether you like it or not.”

“Greatly begin. Though thou have time, but for a line, be that sublime. Not failure, but low aim is crime. “

“I have always been of the mind that in a democracy manners are the only effective weapons against the bowie-knife.”

“Fate loves the fearless.”

“Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.”

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

“Blessed are they who have nothing to say and who cannot be persuaded to say it.”

“An appeal to the reason of the people has never been known to fail in the long run.”

–James Russell Lowell

“Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you–if you don’t play, you can’t win.”

–Robert Heinlein

“Some general, and even systematical, idea of the perfection of policy and law, may no doubt be necessary for directing the views of the statesman. But to insist upon establishing, and upon establishing all at once, and in spite of all opposition, every thing which that idea may seem to require, must often be the highest degree of arrogance. It is to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and wrong. It is to fancy himself the only wise and worthy man in the commonwealth, and that his fellow-citizens should accommodate themselves to him and not he to them. It is upon this account, that of all political speculators, sovereign princes are by far the most dangerous.

“This arrogance is perfectly familiar to them. They entertain no doubt of the immense superiority of their own judgment. When such imperial and royal reformers, therefore, condescend to contemplate the constitution of the country which is committed to their government, they seldom see any thing so wrong in it as the obstructions which it may sometimes oppose to the execution of their own will. They hold in contempt the divine maxim of Plato, and consider the state as made for themselves, not themselves for the state. The great object of their reformation, therefore, is to remove those obstructions; to reduce the authority of the nobility; to take away the privileges of cities and provinces, and to render both the greatest individuals and the greatest orders of the state, as incapable of opposing their commands, as the weakest and most insignificant.”

–Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

“Towering genius disdains a beaten path.”

–Abraham Lincoln

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle.

“The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”

–Ayn Rand

“Action is eloquence.”

–William Shakespeare

“Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”


“Do you need anything? How can I help? What can I do?”

–Johnny Unitas in the huddle.

“Modesty: The gentle art of enhancing your charm by pretending not to be aware of it.”

–Oliver Herford

“Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.”

–Warren Buffett

“In life, there is one elementary truth…that the moment one commits to boldness, then Providence moves in too, bringing a whole stream of undulant favorable events and material assistance. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success.”

–Christopher Lasch

“Rule through the fear of force, rather than force itself.”

–Grand Moff Tarkin

”Negotiations without arms are like music books without instruments.”

–Frederick the Great

“Fortuna Favet Fortibus.”

–Virgil, Aeneid.

“‘Funny’ is not the opposite of ‘serious.’ It is merely the opposite of ‘unfunny.’”

–G.K. Chesterton

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”


“The intellectuals’ vain search for a truly socialist community, which results in the idealisation of, and then disillusionment with, a seemingly endless string of “utopias”—the Soviet Union, then Cuba, China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Tanzania, Nicaragua—should suggest that there might be something about socialism that does not conform to certain facts.”

–Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism

“The advantage of a free market is that it allows millions of decision-makers to respond individually to freely determined prices, allocating resources — labor, capital and human ingenuity — in a manner that can’t be mimicked by a central plan, however brilliant the central planner.”

–Friedrich Hayek

“For every human problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

– H.L. Mencken

“Victory is never final. Defeat is never fatal. It is courage that counts.”

–Winston Churchill

“Power grinds down only those who do not have it.”

–Giuliano Andreotti

“Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.”

–Judy Garland

“To innovate is not to reform.”

–Edmund Burke

“Be a friend to yourself and others will.”

–Scottish Proverb

“I have never been hurt by what I have not said.”

–Calvin Coolidge

“I want to see you game, boys, I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender.

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground.

“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life.

“Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

“Listen for the special music, the song that nobody else can sing but you. Your own karma badly lived is better than someone else’s karma lived well.”

“What we poets can do in terms of what we know and our own honesty about that, is to write well within the articulation of our own experience. That is, to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles from home.”

–Two anonymous recipients of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant, as reported by Denise Shekerjian in Uncommon Genius.

“Emotion is not to be avoided – only to be controlled. Don’t whine, don’t complain. Instead, plot and conspire.”

–Garry Kasparov

“A man can never have too much red wine, too many books or too much ammunition.”

–Rudyard Kipling

“De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace et la patrie est sauvée.”

–Jacques Danton

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

–Lao Tzu

“If I have to give you some advice, the most important thing is: the sooner you become your own best friend, the better your life will be.”

–Diane von Furstenberg

“Past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom…..Now, as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: ‘All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.’”

–Robert F. Kennedy

“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. . . . That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.’

–John Milton, Areopagitica.

“They do not combat him energetically, they sometimes even applaud him. To his impetuosity they secretly oppose their inertia; to his revolutionary instincts, their conservative instincts; their homebody tastes to his adventurous passions; their good sense to the leaps of his genius; to his poetry, their prose. He arouses them for a moment with a thousand efforts, but soon after they get away from him, and, as if dragged down by their own weight, they fall back.”

–Alexis de Tocqueville, discussing the American popular reaction to radical plans in Democracy in America.

“That man who thinks Lincoln sat down calmly and gathered his robes about him, waiting for the people to call him, has a very erroneous knowledge of Lincoln. He was always calculating, and always planning ahead. His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.”

–Herndon on Abraham Lincoln.

“The trick is having a healthy ego. A healthy ego is when you are self-confident enough to be comfortable with who you are. You don’t have to prove who you are.”

–Jack Welch

“A statesman… must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.”

–Otto von Bismarck.

“When a man believes that any stick will do, he at once picks up a boomerang.”

–G.K. Chesterton

“But to come to those who, by their own ability and not through fortune, have risen to be princes, I say that Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and such like are the most excellent examples. And although one may not discuss Moses, he having been a mere executor of the will of God, yet he ought to be admired, if only for that favour which made him worthy to speak with God. But in considering Cyrus and others who have acquired or founded kingdoms, all will be found admirable; and if their particular deeds and conduct shall be considered, they will not be found inferior to those of Moses, although he had so great a preceptor. And in examining their actions and lives one cannot see that they owed anything to fortune beyond opportunity, which brought them the material to mould into the form which seemed best to them. Without that opportunity their powers of mind would have been extinguished, and without those powers the opportunity would have come in vain.

“It was necessary, therefore, to Moses that he should find the people of Israel in Egypt enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians, in order that they should be disposed to follow him so as to be delivered out of bondage. It was necessary that Romulus should not remain in Alba, and that he should be abandoned at his birth, in order that he should become King of Rome and founder of the fatherland. It was necessary that Cyrus should find the Persians discontented with the government of the Medes, and the Medes soft and effeminate through their long peace. Theseus could not have shown his ability had he not found the Athenians dispersed. These opportunities, therefore, made those men fortunate, and their high ability enabled them to recognize the opportunity whereby their country was ennobled and made famous.”

–Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.

“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims.

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

–Robert Louis Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books.

“It is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it: if you utterly decline to make due with what you get, then somehow or other you are very likely to get what you want.”

–W. Somerset Maugham, The Treasure.

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