April 4, 2012

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

A quote that came up in conversation just now. I had to look it up to get it verbatim and was delighted to see it came from Samuel Johnson, whom I happened to quote yesterday. Nice to get a second use so soon for a newly created tag, referring to someone long dead. I hesitate to add new tags on individual names, and when it's someone buried in history, it seems like a particularly bad idea.

But I wish I could replicate the conversation that led Meade to paraphrase the quote. He said "Patriotism is the last bastion of the scoundrel." Which makes me wonder: What's the difference between a refuge and a bastion?
refuge
late 14c., from O.Fr. refuge, from L. refugium "a taking refuge, place to flee back to," from re- "back" (see re-) + fugere "to flee" (see fugitive) + -ium "place for."

bastion
1560s, from M.Fr. bastillon, dim. of O.Fr. bastille "fortress, tower, fortified, building," from O.Prov. bastir "build," perhaps originally "make with bast" (see baste (1)).
The dictionary man chose the better word for his aphorism. And Meade's deviation says something about his relationship with patriotism. I love the details in the etymology of those 2 words — fleeing versus a fortress. We'd puzzled some of that out before checking the wonderful Online Etymology Dictionary. Fascinating to look closely at a word and find the dead metaphor. It's easier to discover "fugitive" inside "refuge" than "bastille" inside "bastion," which shows the reward of paying even closer attention to things.

But let me try to summarize the conversation that led us to that quote.

1. I was saying how impressed I am that the American people genuinely care about the Constitution and that we believe our elected representatives must abide by it. I was thinking of this poll that showed that only 20% of American voters think the individual mandate is constitutional and only 37% think the Supreme Court should uphold it. That, despite the media effort to treat the challenge to the law as trivial or worse and to promote the idea that it's embarrassingly retrograde to think courts should enforce constitutional limits on Congress's enumerated powers.

2. After I used the word "sacred" to characterize the way Americans think of the Constitution, Meade expressed suspicion about regarding worldly things as religious, and I agreed, noting the way we Americans have come up with our own alternative to ancient ideas about monarchs embodying God's will.

3. We talked about how, when we were young, coming out of the culture of the 1960s, we thought of "patriotism" in a negative light. It was all about mindless deference to power (which, I note now, is the opposite of what constitutional limits on government represents).

4. Meade comes up with the quote.

84 comments:

Meade said...

And then I said... Hey, put down that bastion blog of yours and let's go walk out in nature. (unless of course you'd rather do your patriotic duty and go back to bed)

Patrick said...

Meade and Althouse. At the intersection of religion, politics, law, language and love.

Because we don't know the context for Mr. Johnson's quote, we can only imagine. I always assumed that it referred to someone in trouble, publicly, then hiding behind a deep patriotism, which had never before been evident.

Luke Lea said...

At that point Meade comes up with the quote? He must not have been listening.

Bob said...

Today, in the United States, it is popular to sneer at patriotism. They seem to think that it is axiomatic than any civilized man is a pacifist, and they treat the military profession with contempt. "Warmongers"--"Imperialists"--"Hired killers in uniform"--you have all heard such sneers and you will hear them again. One of their favorite quotations is: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

What they never mention is that the man who made that sneering wisecrack was a fat, gluttonous slob who was pursued all his life by a pathological fear of death.


- - Robert Heinlein, James Forrestal Memorial Lecture, US Naval Academy, 5 April 1973, "The Pragmatics of Patriotism."

bagoh20 said...

Patriotism is first target of the bored.

Pastafarian said...

I like Meade's version better. That little partial rhyme gives it more bounce in its step.

Now I'll forever misquote it because this new version will stick in my head. Damn it, Meade.

Then again, I can't think of many situations where I'd use this quote. I can't remember many scoundrels who have used patriotism as a refuge. Most of today's scoundrels flee to egalitarianism, disloyalty, and internationalism.

MadisonMan said...

Ergo, the PATRIOT act is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

bagoh20 said...

Who's Ergo?

Christopher in MA said...

Without an ouija board, we don't know what Dr. Johnson meant by the quip. Boswell tells us he said it on the evening of April 7, 1775, but gives no context. It could refer to any number of people or events, perhaps even to the "yelps of liberty from the drivers of slaves," those pesky American colonists.

As far as the term 'sacred' in respect to the founding documents, I've never used it in a purely religious way, but more to express a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty of the documents and their ideas (eternal truths, actually).

As an adjunct to this, read Pauline Meier's American Scripture, a wonderful dissection of the evolution of the Declaration.

Luke Lea said...

There was a nice discussion of how "sacred" things are often surrounded by a penumbra of willful ignorance over at Bloggingheads the other day.

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/9376

Maybe so but I still think the Declaration of Independence is a sacred document. When Franklin substituted the word "self-evident" for Jefferson's "sacred and eternal" he only reinforced that penumbra. That "all men are created equal" was a moral axiom of our new republic, not a topic for debate. I'd like to keep it that way. Those who confuse it with the idea that all men are equally talented do a disservice. Together with the "promote the general welfare" clause in the preamble to the Constitution what it means is that in so far as government policy is concerned the happiness of all our citizens should be equally important regardless of class, race, gender and so on. That's why our current trade and immigration policies are wrong: they favor the interests of the few (capital) at the expense of the many (labor). It's just that simple (assuming you know something about trade theory).

Tregonsee said...

A good quote, but be certain to be familiar with Patriot Party and John Wilkes (not Booth) for the full flavor of what the good doctor was really saying.

traditionalguy said...

The oldest human understanding of relations among persons involve classifying others as dangerous persons who are without rules or restraint and safe persons who are submitted to a Covenant that contains rules of submission and restraints on conduct.

The Code of the USMC is a popular restatement of the need for a Covenant among men.

For 350 years Americans were raised in a land where the Judeo-Christian Covenants were the accepted standards. We went through the Civil War over that Covenant's power. Lincoln and the Radical Republicans won and they then added 13, 14, and 15 to nail it down.

So respect for the Covenant we call the Constitution is a natural. That's why Marbury v. Madison thinking has been allowed to govern us.

Of course Obama sees nothing of value in American Traditions except as targets for his power to destroy us from within like a Fifth Column that once openly called itself Marxist and now hides as Environmentalists.

SGT Ted said...

Leftists use the charge to smear patriots because they themselves aren't patriotic much, as their policy choices reveal a preference for Euro-Progessive Collectivism over US Consitutional limits to Central Government in order to protect individual liberty, so they feel free to use it as a negative.

They can't aknowledge that, so they have to impugn their critics who rightly call them out on their il-liberal and anti-Liberty agenda for what it is.

ricpic said...

Lefties are patriots of the whole voyald. That's what big patriots they are. And what big scoundrels.

bagoh20 said...

The Declaration and Constitution are as close to holy as worldly can get.

Unless you are a heretic like R.B. Ginsburg.

Carnifex said...

Are you sure about the quote attribution? I thought it was Lisa Simpson talking to Bart

Dan in Philly said...

I love this kind of thing, delving into the difference of bastion vs. refuge. Of course using the word "scoundrel" kind of colors the meaning so much as to make the two words a distinction without a difference - if a man is a scoundrel what difference does it make if he is defending something or being defended by it?

YoungHegelian said...

Does the scoundrel in his patriotic refuge meet the devil quoting Scripture?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Mitchell said...

Paths of Glory (1957)

edutcher said...

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Two corollaries, in my experience:

First, it's only the case in a Republican Administration. In a Democrat Administration, any resistance to Administration policy is unpatriotic.

Second, in modern times, so is the abnegation. And much more often.

Meade said...

And then I said... Hey, put down that bastion blog of yours and let's go walk out in nature. (unless of course you'd rather do your patriotic duty and go back to bed)

It's How The West Was Won.

Joe said...

Regardless of what Dr. Johnson meant, for me it is referring to those who resort to claims of patriotism as a substitute for considering the hard issues, such as is my country being imperialistic. It is akin to the "for the children" argument; meant to cut off debate out of fears of being labeled in the negative.

You see this done by both sides in Congress. (Heinlein does the same in the above quote.)

(Genuine patriotism is, for me, like genuine humility and love; you show it by every day action, not by bragging, wearing pins or such.

“The patriot never, under any circumstances, boasts of the largeness of his country, but always, and of necessity, boasts of its smallness.” G.K. Chesterton)

Maguro said...

Speaking of patriotism and scoundrels, anyone know if Prez Obama's sporting an American Flag lapel pin these days?

AllieOop said...

Bagoh, here ya go.

Ergo

bagoh20 said...

Thanks Allie, but I still don't get why people are always talking to that dog, I don't think he gives a damned about any of this.

Rick67 said...

Re #2 and "sacred" meaning religious.

I would respectfully disagree with the excellent Meade. In my opinion one of the best treatments of the subject is Reverence by Phil Woodruff, who argued (persuasively) that reverence is a much forgotten and much needed virtue, but does not necessarily mean religion or belief in a God.

I suggest we can understand "sacred" not only in terms of religion/God(?) but also in terms of reverence properly defined and understood. That the "sacred" thing is something toward which we have reverence, awe, it represents something larger than ourselves that we do not control and is not subject to our whims (a key ingredient in Woodruff's definition of reverence).

Peter said...

" only 20% of American voters think the individual mandate is constitutional and only 37% think the Supreme Court should uphold it."

Umm, doesn't that imply that at least 17% are not convinced that the individual mandate is constitutional but think teh Supreme Court should uphold it anyway ?

AllieOop said...

He's a true independent, he'll jump from one side of the fence to the other for a doggie treat!

phx said...

~~They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings
~~Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you a king~~

Bob Dillon

rhhardin said...

Ambrose Bierce

In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.

Amexpat said...

Dylan, in one of his Magpie songs, "Sweetheart like You", throws in the Samuel Johnson quote along with quotes from a Bogart movie and the bible. It's a bit of an enigmatic mash, but it works.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
There’s only one step down from here, baby
It’s called the land of permanent bliss
What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?

Sigivald said...

Dr. Johnson is "buried in history"?

Huh.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

The irony is that the people understand, better than office holders, the meaning of the clause that all of us Federal Officers take:

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same

Congresscritters and the POTUS seem to think that anything they do should be construed as Constitutional.


Which group are the patriots? and which the Scoundrels

shiloh said...

America, love it or leave it! ~ Safire er Nixon.

You're either w/us or against us! ~ cheney/bush.

Swiftboating Kerry yada yada yada.

etc. etc. ie the ailes/atwater/turdblossom scorched earth presidential politics of the past (40+) years of hate/division/fear mongering/misinformation.

Hey, it's how Reps roll and the irony that most of them are chicken hawks attacking actual war heroes ie Max Cleland, Tammy Duckworth, etc.

And remember how dweeb, chicken hawk Bush and his Svengali ;) turdblossom went after war hero McCain in 2000.

I yield back the balance of my time to Althouse conservative patriots! :D

Gabriel Hanna said...

Dr Johnson did not say patriotism is only appealed to by scoundrels. Note the qualifier, "last refuge". He was very careful with words and always thinking of what people said versus what they meant. Heinlein was wrong to sneer at Johnson, the two had much in common.

An example:

Boswell: Have not they vexed yourself a little, Sir? Have not you been vexed by all the turbulence of this reign, and by that absurd vote of the House of Commons, 'That the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished'?

Johnson: Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor eat an ounce less meat. I would have knocked the factious dogs on the head, to be sure; but I was not vexed.

Boswell: I declare, Sir, upon my honour, I did imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it was, perhaps, cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less.

Johnson: My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, 'Sir, I am your most humble servant.' You are not his most humble servant. You may say, 'These are sad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times.' You don't mind the times. You tell a man, 'I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.' You don't care six-pence whether he was wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society; but don't think foolishly.

Matthew said...

"He's a true independent, he'll jump from one side of the fence to the other for a doggie treat!"

-- Sounds like Arlen Specter!

Smilin' Jack said...

I hesitate to add new tags on individual names, and when it's someone buried in history, it seems like a particularly bad idea.

Johnson is well known as one of the most quotable men who ever lived. The fact that you haven't done so until now is more a reflection on your education than on his prominence.

sam said...

Hello Professor Althouse –

Hope all is well. Sam Munson here, deputy opinions editor at The Daily. I was wondering if you might be interested in writing an op-ed for us on the gender gap among Romney voters. If you’re interested, do let me know (sam.munson@thedaily.com) – we’d love to have you in our pages. Many thanks, and all best,

Sam

Gabriel Hanna said...

From an essay by Dr Johnson on patriotism. Perhaps it will clarify some things.

...It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities; who tells, that the last peace was obtained by bribing the princess of Wales; that the king is grasping at arbitrary power; and, that because the French, in the new conquests, enjoy their own laws, there is a design at court of abolishing, in England, the trial by juries.

Still less does the true patriot circulate opinions which he knows to be false....
A patriot is always ready to countenance the just claims, and animate the reasonable hopes of the people; he reminds them, frequently, of their rights, and stimulates them to resent encroachments, and to multiply securities.

But all this may be done in appearance, without real patriotism. He that raises false hopes to serve a present purpose, only makes a way for disappointment and discontent. He who promises to endeavour, what he knows his endeavours unable to effect, means only to delude his followers by an empty clamour of ineffectual zeal.

A true patriot is no lavish promiser: he undertakes not to shorten parliaments; to repeal laws; or to change the mode of representation, transmitted by our ancestors; he knows that futurity is not in his power, and that all times are not alike favourable to change.

Much less does he make a vague and indefinite promise of obeying the mandates of his constituents. He knows the prejudices of faction, and the inconstancy of the multitude. He would first inquire, how the opinion of his constituents shall be taken. Popular instructions are, commonly, the work, not of the wise and steady, but the violent and rash; meetings held for directing representatives are seldom attended but by the idle and the dissolute; and he is not without suspicion, that of his constituents, as of other numbers of men, the smaller part may often be the wiser.



The full essay can be found here.

shiloh said...

"writing an op-ed for us on the gender gap among Romney voters."

It has more to do w/the extreme conservative Rep party, than w/mittens.

So, in that sense, Romney is the best Rep nominee by default and definitely the least threatening as he is harmless lol. Which, of course is a definite negative when running for C-in-C.

Again, I yield back the balance of my time.

>

Oh yea, don't be shy er "shylow" Althouse, go for it! :)

gadfly said...

In the first (1755) and fourth (1773) editions of his Dictionary, Johnson defines "patriot" as "One whose ruling passion is the love of his country." In the fourth edition, Johnson adds: "It is sometimes used for a factious disturber of the government."

The name of patriot had become [c.1744] a by-word of derision. Horace Walpole scarcely exaggerated when he said that ... the most popular declaration which a candidate could make on the hustings was that he had never been and never would be a patriot. [Macaulay, "Horace Walpole," 1833]


So the difficulty seems to be just how the word "patriot" was used in the 18th century.

machine said...

It's funny how President Obama is attacked as anti-American for health reform, but President Bush is beloved on the Right for his illegal (and anti-American)authorization of torture...all in the name of patriotism.

rhhardin said...

I read somewhere that sacred meant set off from other things before it meant anything spiritual, back in whatever langauge it came from.

I don't see that though in the Latin.

Paul Zrimsek said...

A mighty fortress is our God-Zero.

Tim said...

"...But all this may be done in appearance, without real patriotism. He that raises false hopes to serve a present purpose, only makes a way for disappointment and discontent. He who promises to endeavour, what he knows his endeavours unable to effect, means only to delude his followers by an empty clamour of ineffectual zeal."

Now, just who the hell does that describe...?

traditionalguy said...

Your refuge is where you find temporary shelter to rest from the fight.

Your bastion is your mind that has not sought a refuge, but still battles on.

Patriotism is often a head fake asserting that you are a Covenant man and should be trusted.

The How The West Was Won scene comes to mind of the patriotic symbols all over the the River Store/Bar where a gang of thieves lurked and tried to kill Jimmy Stewart and steal his furs.

Rich Rostrom said...

What Johnson meant (and Heinlein failed to get) was that patriotism, like religious piety, good manners, personal honor, commpassion, parental concern, and other virtues, was exploited by scoundrels as a cover for their misdeeds, or an appeal for support when brought to account.

It can be used three ways.

The scoundrel, charged with crimes, appeals to other members of his ethnic group, religion, nationality, political faction, or profession to defend him because "they" are out to get "one of us".

Or the scoundrel claims his actions are for the good of the nation (or other group).

Or the scoundrel loudly asserts his patriotism (or other group loyalty) as evidence of his good character.

I don't know that scoundrels consistently turn last to patriotism, but that is what Johnson meant.

rcommal said...

Love it! Online Ety + Johnson . Definitely not boring, and I am grateful.

shiloh said...

"How The West Was Won scene"

After Shiloh, the South never smiled!

traditionalguy said...

But Shiloh, you always make me smile.

And speaking of Covenants, Moses set up his Tent/Tabernacle that had the tablets of the Covenants inside an arc in Shiloh where it stayed for 300+ years until a feisty shepherd named David arranged a new location for it in a hill country City of the Jebusites he had recently conquered.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." -- Benjamin Franklin

caplight45 said...

Sacred

4.reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: a morning hour sacrd to study.

5.regarded with reverence: the sacred memory of a dead hero.

The word "sacred" is not exclusively religious but it is its religious meaning that gives power to its secular usage.

"And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Chip S. said...

The "gender gap" is the first refuge of a lazy editor.

LarsPorsena said...

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

ergo.....dissenters are scoundrels.

bgates said...

It's apt how President Obama is attacked as anti-American for anti-American and unconstitutional power grabs, but President Bush is beloved on the Right for his commonsense interrogation reform.

Quaestor said...

I don't know what Meade had in mind, but the hippie proclivity to use that one quote from Doctor Johnson, spoken during a light conversation on the evening of April 7, 1775 and reported sans context by Boswell, was hardly an example of intellectual rigor, which is all one could expect from jejune mentalities living in a age of puerile arts and letters. The fact that they would have found most of Johnson's ideas abhorrent undermines the appeal to authority. (If authority is not the foundation of the hippie argument, then why use the quote?) That hippies would gleefully trot out Doctor Johnson as a defense of their disloyalty to the nation that gave them the liberty to be disloyal is like using Hitler's opinions about tobacco to bolster an argument against smoking. Here's a quote from samueljohson.com that puts it succinctly: All scoundrels may resort to patriotism, but this doesn't mean that everyone who expresses patriotic sympathies are automatically scoundrels.

Allow me to relate another quote from Johnson:

To be prejudiced is always to be weak; yet there are prejudices so near to laudable, that they have been often praised, and are always pardoned. To love their country has been considered as virtue in men, whose love could not be otherwise than blind, because their preference was made without a comparison; but it has never been my fortune to find, either in ancient or modern writers, any honourable mention of those, who have, with equal blindness, hated their country. (Taxation No Tyrany)

Some scholars believe that the famous scoundrel quote refers to John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, former Prime Minister and notable the Tory party member, with whom Johnson had an ongoing feud (Johnson was himself a Tory by disposition, but he never had much good to say about any politician of any strip and color). Furthermore Lord Bute was proudly Scottish, something that was bound to push the buttons of a notorious bigot like Johnson. The conversation regarding Lord Bute may have gone something like this:

Goldsmith: Bute? A sycophant and a scoundrel...

Boswell: But nevertheless a patriot...

Johnson: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The problem with this notion is that it fails to account for the fact that by 1775 Lord Bute had been out of the Government for a dozen years.

As to the musing about bastion and refuge and their uses... Refuge and bastion are alike in that they can refer to a place of protection, however, a bastion is also a place from which one may fight. It has an active character. One may retreat to a bastion and still be in the battle. A refuge is a passive place; one who seeks refuge is not able to fight. A refuge is a shelter. A bastion is a fort. Furthermore I know of no uses of bastion as a metaphor in 18th literature, perhaps because in those days it was foremost a technical term borrowed from the French for a type of fortification, specifically a triangular defensive position located along the perimeter of the main fortification wall. The dominant fortification technology of the 1700s was developed by S├ębastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Forts built according to his doctrine had a distinctive star-shaped plan. The points of the star were known as bastions. Forts could have three or more bastions, but never only one, so a "last bastion" doesn't work very well as a metaphor.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

I fail to see the equivalence some make between the Bush admin's selective use of waterboarding to extract intelligence from bad actors and a lack of patriotism.

If I am defending this country against invaders foreign or domestic and have the chance to slit throats, I'm slitting throats.

Slit throats don't get a second chance to breathe. Get over it, you whiners about 'torture'.

The incessant outcry about what is 'torture' is hilarious. Here's what torture is; having to listen to a petulant president concerned with nothing more than his own self-aggrandizement and reelection, and all those sops so quick to defend. Now THAT is torture that is unbecoming of a REAL American.

You betcha, I'm calling all you out.

pduggie said...

I approve (see image)

shiloh said...

"The "gender gap" is the first refuge of a lazy editor."

Re: politics, there's nothing new under the sun as most reporters and cable news media hosts/pundits have a keen grasp of the obvious ... on a good day!

Again, presidential politics is not all that complicated.

Incumbency
Likability
Believability
$$$
Enthusiasm
GOTV machine
Debate preparation/knowledge

in no particular order. :-P

btw, mittens has a big advantage ;) as he could say just about anything re: his political positions and it would be true as referenced to his previous speeches.

Indeed, multiple choice multiple choice Romney is quite entertaining.

Now back to patriotism!

Rabel said...

My favorite Johnson quote has always been;

"But you doesn't hasta call me Johnson"

But he also said:

"We naturally indulge those ideas that please us. Hope will predominate in every mind, till it has been suppressed by frequent disappointments."

Which might be more applicable to the Professor's thoughts in the previous thread.

rehajm said...

"The "gender gap" is the first refuge of a lazy editor."


au contraire- the gender gap is the first refuge of a scoundrel editor, when said gender gap is amongst mostly registered Democratic voters in hand-picked states...many things he is, though lazy he is not...

Meade said...

Chip S. said...
The "gender gap" is the first refuge of a lazy editor.

Now THAT made me laugh.

Lem said...

Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities..

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987

Blue@9 said...

I have always found this statement to be ambiguous.

Compare: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

versus

"Patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel."

The second statement seems more lucid and better relays the meaning that people attribute to Johnson.

To see what I mean, compare to the following:

"Truth is the last resort of a liar."

Jeffery said...

I so worry that the core of the country continues to pay its taxes and fight the wars ... and yet is held in contempt by many of our current elites. Doesn't sound like a sustainable situation.

Pogo said...

It's been a long time since anyone was called a 'scoundrel'.

In 1976, Lillian Hellman published her third(!) volume of memoirs, called Scoundrel Time.

Another Johnson, historian Paul, in his excellent book, Intellectuals, had a chapter entitled: Lies, Damned Lies and Lillian Hellman.

He found her to be a real scoundrel: "... for Hellman, disregard for the truth came to occupy a central place in her life and work."

In 1979, author Mary McCarthy gave Hellman the bestest critique ever: "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."

cassandra lite said...

My favorite Johnson quote, allegedly offered to an aspiring writer who'd given Johnson a manuscript to read: "You're writing is both good and original. Unfortunately, the part that is original isn't good, and the part that's good isn't original."

LarsPorsena said...

Johnson's most quotable quote and the one most used on this blog over the years: 'Second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience.'

Tom from Virginia said...

If the floor is open to Johnson-related quips, here are two:

1. I do not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but I believe the gentleman was an attorney.

2. While Dr. Johnson spoke of patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel, he did not comprehend the uses to which the word "reform" could be applied.

Tom from Virginia said...

When a man knows he is to be hanged...it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

SGT Ted said...

When Special Forces personnel and pilots go thru SEER(Survival, Evasion, escape & Resistance School, they waterboard them, to get them ready for harsh innterrogation techniques as well as show them how effective something that does no physical harm and doesn't break the skin can be. They do it by scaring the crap out of you.

Its not torture. It doesn't matter how much you are a drama queen about it.

edutcher said...

So, in that sense, Romney is the best Rep nominee by default and definitely the least threatening as he is harmless lol. Which, of course is a definite negative when running for C-in-C.

Bathtub swabbie didn't get the memo - yet again.

Dictator Zero and the Demo Slime Machine have already started attacking the Romster, so Zero thinks he's threatening.

PS Bathtub swabbie doesn't even know anything about movies. The money scene in "How The West Was Won" is the train robbery. The Civil War is a warmed over bit form an old "Wagon Train".

Jose_K said...

It have nothing to do with patriotism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Whig
Instead it does have to do with patriotism: "patriotism is the first refuege of scoundrels" . Ambrose Bierce. Devil´s dictionary

Bob said...

The key to understanding this famous remark is that it isn't a definition of patriotism, it's a definition of scoundrel (as one who, when all his other deceptions have failed, will finally take refuge in feigned patriotism).

Tim said...

"Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987"

Now, *that* was a book worth reading, and worth remembering.

yashu said...

Re supposed Romney "gender gap", I think neoneocon is on to something here.

I.e., the USA Today/ Gallup poll this MSM meme is based on is fallacious-- or misleading.

For example,

"While women typically are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than men are, that difference widens to a chasm in the USA TODAY poll. By 41%-24%, women call themselves Democrats; men by 27%-25% say they’re Republicans."

So here we have a poll in which, among women, self-professed Democrats outnumber Republicans by 17 points (we can imagine that the other 35% of the women are Independents). In that same poll, Obama is outdoing Romney by 14 points. Hmmm. Sounds like Romney is pulling in some of the Democratic women and at least half of the Independents, and Obama isn’t getting any of the Republican women.

And how does this breakdown of women by party affiliation compare to that of previous USAToday/Gallup polls on the same subject? Darned if I can find the answer, and I’ve tried (maybe you can).


And the sampling is ridiculously small.

Anyone relying on any MSM polls this election should be sure to look at the fine print. Even then, in many cases, they'll omit the fine print. So they'll give you the spin, and hinder you from checking the breakdown of the numbers and relevant comparisons.

rcommal said...

The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities..

This, YES.

(I still have my original, hard-copy book of that, purchased at a time when I couldn't afford to purchase new, hard-copy versions of books, generally speaking, and therefore only did so on rare occasions.)

Exceptions.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

"The key to understanding this famous remark is that it isn't a definition of patriotism, it's a definition of scoundrel (as one who, when all his other deceptions have failed, will finally take refuge in feigned patriotism)."

The most cogent explanation, and thanks to Bob.

Constantine said...

I understand the phrase in a different way than the majority here:

Love for the motherland (not for the government) is the last chance a scoundrel has to prove that s/he is not completely hopeless.

Robdon said...

Bob got it right when he said:

"The key to understanding this famous remark is that it isn't a definition of patriotism, it's a definition of scoundrel (as one who, when all his other deceptions have failed, will finally take refuge in feigned patriotism."

It is the demagogic appeal to patriotism (Merriam-Webster's: love for or devotion to one's country)which makes it the last refuge for a scoundrel. At least in more naive times it was the last.

Re "dissent is patriotic": as a female friend of mine put it, since she had no chance of being a patriarch, she preferred the phrase "dissent is democratic."

GaGaGareth said...

My apologies to you: if I'm me-too-ing anything previously said. I haven't read through all the replies (there are a satisfyingly lot of them, and I hope to read them later) but...

That said...

This is a favourite quote of mine and I'm a huge Dr. Johnson fan.

I've always taken the quote to mean that when a scoundrel or charlatan has had his or her arguments or position exposed for what they/it are by reason or proof they fall back on some kind of bogus appeal to patriotism as a last resort ('last refuge') hoping that only a 'scoundrel' will disagree with anything patriotic.
Essentially they challenge their opponent to risk bringing general opprobrium down on own their head by seeming to be opposing patriotic sentiment when they oppose the scoundrel's position.
It is a given that everyone in your audience feels they are a patriot since they would else-wise be a traitor!
The quote is not a denigration of patriotism but rather is an attack on those who prey on the sensitivity of our patriotic sentiments; and its also a warning that 'scoundrels' will ever play on our better feelings in their attempt to hoodwink us.
Patriotism is a sentiment that is commonly felt but is very difficult to precisely define so it presents the 'scoundrel' with a very usefully broad grey area to exploit.
He might say ('All true Scotsmen would feel that...' [[scoundrel statement inserted]]'. Are we not all true Scotsmen here?' - 'Yes!' comes the automatic reply and cheers all round from all true Scotsmen before thoughts have even connected with throats.)
Whew! The scoundrel escapes because sentiment overtakes reason in his audience.
Ever seen that?
As to the difference between a refuge and a bastion I would say that a refuge is a place that is sought for protection by those who are defeated or defenceless whereas a bastion provides not only security but also shows a degree of defiance, and even the possibility of counter attack. A refuge is occupied by a whipped cur whereas a bastion is a steep cliff topped by a snarling dog. Even if the dog is only a paper tiger!
In some ways 'bastion' is arguably the more accurate comment since many scoundrels do remain aggressive when cornered but I like the insult that Johnson builds in to his original, and off the cuff, put-down of 'refuge'.
The Doctor was a master of our language where inference and implication can be more telling than direct statement.

Greatest sources of English language quotes?:
Shakespeare, Wilde, Johnson...
or
Shakespeare, Johnson, Wilde, ...
or ...?
Any thoughts?

derk said...

It is simply a reference to a "differential equation" pertaining to Hypocrisy, which is all about GOD and is therefore entrenched in all human beings and life in general. To know thyself and your own hypocrisy is the only way to bring about a balanced understanding in your own mind and in all things. No one is perfect.

derk said...

It is simply a reference to a "differential equation" pertaining to Hypocrisy, which is all about GOD and is therefore entrenched in all human beings and life in general. To know thyself and your own hypocrisy is the only way to bring about a balanced understanding in your own mind and in all things. No one is perfect.

Chas said...

I always quoted it as, Patriotism is the last bastion of scoundrels." But I tend to reorganize quotes in my memory to make them flow off my tongue more freely. To me it means simply that when a person of power has no good reason for something he/she resorts to patriotism. In many ways it has replaced religion as the main tool used to get the people to kill each other for no particular reason.