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Samizdata quote of the day

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Thucydides

This quote appears in an article pointing out that present UK Conservative Party seems to have more or less given up on making the case for liberty.

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19 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Penseivat

    “You can have freedom and you can have happiness. Just don’t count on having them both at the same time.”
    Robert Heinlein.

  • Graham Asher

    A fine sentiment but a rather free translation of Thucydides, where we find:

    Make them [famous men] your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war.

    Original: οὓς νῦν ὑμεῖς ζηλώσαντες καὶ τὸ εὔδαιμον τὸ ἐλεύθερον, τὸ δ᾽ ἐλεύθερον τὸ εὔψυχον κρίναντες μὴ περιορᾶσθε τοὺς πολεμικοὺς κινδύνους

    See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0105%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D43

  • Snorri Godhi

    Actually, Thukydides was just quoting Perikles. (From memory, not necessarily in a faithful way.)

    I like Popper’s translation, in The Open Society, chapter 10, section iv:

    We believe that happiness is the fruit of freedom and freedom that of valour, and we do not shrink from the dangers of war.

  • Andrew Duffin

    That’s all very well, but Corbyn and Co are not proposing what they’re proposing because they think it will make people better off (except possibly themselves of course); they’re doing it as part of a class war and and a power-grab. Economic results are not the ones they seek.

  • Ferox

    More presciently, it would be nice if our politicians figured out that it’s better to fight your enemy outside your gate today than it is to fight them inside your house tomorrow.

  • Paul Marks

    The hero of Thucydides, Pericles, did more to undermine both freedom in Athens and undermine Athens itself (by plundering the allies of Athens, thus turning them into enemies, and by playing “rich against poor” political games in Athens itself) than any other individual. Pericles was a good talker – but a bad influence. One problem that I have with Boris Johnson is that he had a bust of Pericles in this room in Oxford. I am quite serious, as this goes to judgement – Boris Johnson was a student of Ancient Greek, if his judgement was sound at the time he would have despised Pericles (let us hope Boris Johnson has improved with the time – judgement does improve with experience and I like some of Mr Johnson’s writings).

    As for Mrs May and her allies – there is nothing good to say, so I will say nothing.

  • Paul Marks

    As for the quotation – like the late Harold Prichard I think that confusing doing what is morally right with happiness is a mistake (see “Is Moral Philosophy Based Upon A Mistake” 1912 – at least I think the article was written in 1912). Doing what is morally right can lead to a life of misery and pain – and doing evil can lead to a life of happiness, but one should still do what it is morally right. One should fight the battle with evil that each of us faces within ourselves (in both large and small things) every day of our lives.

    Although, yes indeed, a Aristotelian may reply that they are using the word “happiness” in a special sense – not in the sense an ordinary person would use it. An inner satisfaction that can be experienced even as a person starves, or burns (screaming), to death.

    However, whatever the truth or error of this, it is certainly true that both to do what it is morally right and to preserve freedom one must have COURAGE – especially the courage to face (and, at least to some extent, defeat) the evil in one’s self each day.

    Listening to rich politicians say how much they use the NHS (as if it is a virtue for a rich person to use taxpayer funded services, or charitably financed services, thus denying a bed to a poorer person), and boasting of their “compassion” in taking, by FORCE, billions of Pounds from OTHER PEOPLE to waste on “overseas government aid” (an absurdity refuted by Peter Bauer decades ago) is a horrible experience.

    Just as it is horrible to listen to the logical contradictions of someone saying they support the Free Market and then propose endless interventions by the state.

    As Ayn Rand said of Richard Nixon – the worst thing one can say about such a wild Welfare State spending and price control regulating politician is that they are “sincere”. If the politician is corrupt (doing the terrible things they do for bribes or out of the hope of gaining votes) one could offer counter bribes, or explain how offering more government spending and regulations will NOT gain them votes – that people who like these things will still vote for the openly leftist opposition – as creatures such Corbyn and McDonnell will always offer bigger bribes – and people who do NOT like such policies will just stay home in despair on election day if both sides are following them.

    However, if the politician is sincere – if “solidarity” via government spending and regulations is the central feature of their world view, then there is no hope.

    I leave it to others to judge if there are contemporary politicians to which this applies.

  • Mr Ed

    if his judgement was sound at the time he would have despised Pericles

    I fear that he likes to be known as someone who had a bust of Pericles because it sounds so Oxford, not because of what Pericles did or did not think or do. Accordingly, it is not vanity, filling to the gunwales an otherwise empty vessel that could otherwise be laden with principles.

  • Jamesg

    This needs updating for 2017:

    “The secret of happiness is freedom from responsibility. The secret of freedom from responsibility is a council house with capped energy bill.”

  • Jamesg

    I used to assume that as the world became ever richer, and as the information age removed the need for intermediaries, that libertarianism was the inevitable next phase in the cycle.

    But now I’m beginning to think that fear of both of those wonderful developments is precisely what’s driving the timid into the arms of the state. And the timid have somehow won a monopoly on virtue, which means they will shame everyone else into getting their way.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Not sure that it makes sense for me to argue with Paul Marks … but actually i am just arguing with myself about what Paul said:

    like the late Harold Prichard I think that confusing doing what is morally right with happiness is a mistake

    That is true if, and only if, Paul takes a selfish view of happiness, because indeed

    Doing what is morally right can lead to a life of misery and pain – and doing evil can lead to a life of happiness

    However, surely Paul cannot mean that “what is morally right” can sometime make everybody less happy: every human being, and every sentient creature for good measure. “What is morally right” must make SOMEBODY happier, otherwise it cannot possibly said to be “morally right”.

    Having said that, i hasten to add that i reject the notion of interpersonal utility comparisons.

    The resolution of these paradoxes is beyond the scope of this comment.

  • Alisa

    No paradoxes – happiness is entirely subjective.

  • Mr Ed

    happiness is entirely subjective.

    I know some people who are only truly content when miserable and full of hate. It is not happiness, but utility that we seek.

    I think that humans are inevitably bound to seek utility from their actions and decisions, as this is in a way, a circular definition, what we do is what reduces unease.

  • Alisa

    Ed, your comment only goes to show that even the very definition of happiness is subjective. QED.

  • Snorri Godhi

    On a personal note, a few years ago i told my nephews (through their dads) that, if they wanted Christmas gifts from me, they had to earn them, by learning+reciting the Popper translation (slightly modified).

    My nieces had to recite a line from the Tilbury Speech:

    I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too

    Both nieces and both nephews got their gifts with a hug, and an applause from all present.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Another thought before going to bed late.
    Both the OP and the Popper translation posit the following:
    happiness <– freedom <– courage.

    The translation in Graham Asher's link, by contrast, posits that
    happiness = freedom = courage.

    The latter might well be what Perikles said, but i tend to agree more with the former.

  • Graham Asher

    The most flagrantly wrong and unnecessary part of the supposed quote is the word ‘secret’, which changes the meaning. The Greek of Thucydides contains no word corresponding to ‘secret’. It expresses the simple pair of equations, or identities if you will, “happiness is freedom, freedom is courage”, omitting the copula (‘is’) as usual.

    I don’t suppose Pericles said it, though. Thucydides tended to make up his heroes’ speeches, didn’t he?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “The Empire Strikes Back”:

    Liberty is a food easy to eat, but hard to digest; it takes very strong stomachs to stand it. I laugh at those debased peoples who, allowing themselves to be stirred up by rebels, dare to speak of liberty without having the slightest idea of its meaning, and who, with their hearts full of all the servile vices, imagine that, in order to be free, it is enough to be insubordinate.

    O proud and holy liberty! if those poor people could only know thee, if they realised at what a price thou art won and preserved; if they felt how much more austere are thy laws than the yoke of tyrants is heavy: their feeble souls, enslaved by passions that would have to be suppressed, would fear thee a hundred times more than slavery; they would flee from thee in terror, as from a burden threatening to crush them.

    -Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  • Shlomo Maistre (October 9, 2017 at 12:14 am), Jean-Jacques Rousseau was good at sounding plausible, and occasionally good at sounding good, but never at being any good (a point, I expect you already knew).

    “who, with their hearts full of all the servile vices, imagine that, in order to be free, it is enough to be insubordinate”

    Bit rich coming from Rousseau, though I suppose one might claim his vices were (most of the time) servile only to his own immense intellectual’s ego. 🙂

    I prefer Burke’s way of putting it (quoted from memory): “Men must have a certain fund of moderation to be fit for freedom, otherwise it becomes noxious to themselves and a perfect nuisance to everyone else.” Appropriately (and characterfully), the quote expresses its similar point more moderately than Rousseau’s.

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