Category Archives: Quotations

The Dalai Lama on Living in the Material World

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Nowadays the world is becoming increasingly materialistic, and mankind is reaching toward the very zenith of external progress, driven by an insatiable desire for power and vast possessions. Yet by this vain striving for perfection in a world where everything is relative, they wander even further away from inward peace and happiness of the mind.”

From My Tibet (1995) by the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan people. During his spiritual and political career, the Dalai Lama has earned numerous honorary doctorates and awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In a global poll conducted by Harris Interactive in 2013, the Dalai Lama was considered the most popular world leader (he tied with former U.S. President Barack Obama).


Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsPlato (427-347 BC) is considered one of the most brilliant and influential philosophers in history. Plato (his given name was Aristocles; Plato is his nickname, from platos, meaning “broad” since he had a broad physique and forehead.) was a student of Socrates and took what he learned to found the influential Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the West. Amidst a beautiful grove of olive trees, Plato taught some very fortunate and intelligent students (including Aristotle who later founded his own academy) philosophy, mathematics, politics, and astronomy. His most famous and influential work, that is still widely studied in universities, is the Republic, where Plato cover a broad (pun intended) range of significant topics: philosophy, ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, and of course, political philosophy. It is this last topic that concerns us today as we examine his views on political participation.

The quote that serves as the title of this post is actually a tongue-in-cheek variation (underscoring the importance of voting in a critical election) of the quote most often attributed to Plato, ubiquitous on the internet: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” There are many other variants of this famous quotation. Among them is this one crafted by poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that appears in Society and Solitude (1870): “Plato says that the punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is, to live under the government of worse men.”

The source of all these variants is The Republic, (Book 1, 346-347), where Plato makes the point that if good, honorable, intelligent men do not to wish to serve in government, then they will be punished by being ruled by those who are bad, dishonorable, and dumb. The actual sentence is: But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. For those who are curious to partake of the entire discussion of the issue among Socrates (Plato, of course, is speaking through Socrates), Glaucon (Plato’s older brother), and Thrasymachus (a sophist who believes essentially that it does not pay to be just), here is the relevant passage from The Republic

“Then, Thrasymachus, is not this immediately apparent, that no art or office provides what is beneficial for itself — but as we said long ago it provides and enjoins what is beneficial to its subject, considering the advantage of that, the weaker, and not the advantage the stronger? That was why… I was just now saying that no one of his own will chooses to hold rule and office and take other people’s troubles in hand to straighten them out, but everybody expects pay for that, because he who is to exercise the art rightly never does what is best for himself or enjoins it when he gives commands according to the art, but what is best for the subject. That is the reason, it seems, why pay must be provided for those who are to consent to rule, either in form of money or honor or a penalty if they refuse.” “What do you mean by that, Socrates?” said Glaucon. “The two wages I recognize, but the penalty you speak of and described as a form of wage I don’t understand.” “Then,” said I, “you don’t understand the wages of the best men for the sake of which the finest spirits hold office and rule when they consent to do so. Don’t you know that to be covetous of honor and covetous of money is said to be and is a reproach?” “I do,” he said. “Well, then,” said I, “that is why the good are not willing to rule either for the sake of money or of honor. They do not wish to collect pay openly for their service of rule and be styled hirelings nor to take it by stealth from their office and be called thieves, nor yet for the sake of honor, for they are not covetous of honor. So there must be imposed some compulsion and penalty to constrain them to rule if they are to consent to hold office. That is perhaps why to seek office oneself and not await compulsion is thought disgraceful. But the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil and because they are unable to turn it over to better men than themselves or to their like. For we may venture to say that, if there should be a city of good men only, immunity from office-holding would be as eagerly contended for as office is now, and there it would be made plain that in very truth the true ruler does not naturally seek his own advantage but that of the ruled; so that every man of understanding would rather choose to be benefited by another than to be bothered with benefiting him.”

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Read related posts: Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?

For further reading: The Republic by Plato (translated by Christopher Ellyn-Jones)
Society and Solitude by Ralph Waldo Emerson
https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-platos-famous-academy-112520

https://www.iep.utm.edu/academy/
https://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/


Serendipitous Discoveries in Used Bookstores

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Still, anyone with a taste for wonder — not all, apparently, have it — should learn to haunt used bookstores, even more than stores that sell new books… Each person should take pains to scout his own city on this score… The used bookstore, unlike the catalogue or even the library, puts us in a place where we can come across and buy some unsuspected title that turns out to get at the essence of what is.

From Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education by James Schall, S.J.

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A Life Lived Without Principle and Virtue is Empty

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThe Emperor’s Club (2002) is a powerful, inspirational movie written by Neil Tolkin based on the short story “The Palace Thief” by Ethan Canin. The film presents us with two diametrically opposed characters: William Hundred, a disciplined and very principled classics professor, William Hundert, and Sedgwick Bell, an iconoclastic, arrogant, and ambitious student who will stop at nothing to win. While the first character values integrity and virtue (Hundert is fond of quoting Socrates: “It is not living that is important… but living rightly.”), the other disdains it. At the end of the film, which occurs many years later after graduation, when the characters are now in their 30s, Hundred catches Sedgwick cheating to win a history trivia competition. They run into one another in the bathroom; Hundert confronts Sedgwick in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, that is so relevant to what we are witnessing in America’s current leadership: 

“I have no doubt you’re more clever than I am and would find some way to discredit me. ‘We live in an age’ as Seneca said, ‘where successful and fortunate crime is called virtue.’ But as a student of history, I know there will come a moment after the noise and the parties, not tonight but sometime when you will be forced like all men to look at yourself, really look at yourself, Sedgwick. And in that moment you will be confronted by the emptiness of a life lived without principle and without virtue. And for that, I pity you.”

Sedgwick looks at his former history teacher with scorn, and snarls “Can I say, Mr. Hundert, who gives a shit. Who out there gives a shit.. honestly… about your principles and your Seneca and your virtues. I mean, look at you. What do you have to show for it all?… I live in the real world. Where people lie and cheat and scratch to get what they want. And I’m okay with that, so… I’m going to go out there and win that election. I’ll worry about my contribution later.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Most Expensive Movie Props
Most Famous Movie Quotations
Famous Love Quotes from Movies
Best Academy Award Quotes
Best Books for Movie Lovers

For further reading: The Emperor’s Club: The Shooting Script by Neil Tolkin


For Writers, the Story Chooses You

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhen asked how he came up with his stories, American short-story writer Raymond Carver (1938-1988) responded, “Ideally the story chooses you, the image comes and then the emotional frame. You don’t have a choice about writing the story. I think that writers reach a point where they realize most areas of experience are not available to them—through lack of interest, lack of knowledge, lack of emotional involvement. I would be quite incapable of writing a story about young politicians, or even old politicians, or lawyers, or the world of high finance and fashion. There’s a filter at work which says this is or is not a story. And maybe there will be some little something, the germ of an idea, which will strike some kind of chord and begin to grow. I think a story ideally comes to the writer; the writer shouldn’t be casting the net out, searching for something to write about.”

From Conversations with Raymond Carver by Raymond Carver


The World Breaks Every One… Many are Strong at the Broken Places

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

The quotation is taken from this passage from A Farewell to Arms (1929) by American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961): “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

The world eventually broke Hemingway. At the age of 61, he died of a self-inflicted wound to the head using a double-barreled shotgun. Sadly, there were several suicides in the Hemingway family, which the press dubbed the “Hemingway Suicide Curse.” Hemingway’s father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway shot himself in the head with a .32 Smith and Wesson revolver back in 1928. Ernest’s brother, Leicester Hemingway, also a writer, committed suicide in 1982 with a gunshot to the head. Ursula Hemingway, Ernest’s sister, died of a drug overdose in 1966. Ernest’s granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway, a model, died of overdose in 1996. The Ernest Hemingway Memorial, located in Sun Valley, Idaho, displays a eulogy to the famous author, one that he himself had written for a friend a few decades earlier, written in his distinctive, simple style: “Best of all he loved the fall / the leaves yellow on cottonwoods / leaves floating on trout streams / and above the hills / the high blue windless skies / …Now he will be a part of them forever.”


I Am the Culmination of a Lifetime of Reading

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Who I am, what I am, is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, a lifetime of stories. And there are still so many more books to read. I’m a work in progress.”

American author Sarah Addison Allen, the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.


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