On the Evolution of Aphorisms


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We've all heard the following quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

'If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart; if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.'

When I became a libertarian, this aphorism seemed horribly incomplete (and you'll see my revision later in this essay). Despite its defects, many of us have traveled through the political spectrum and understand its meaning perfectly. We were first captive to what is commonly called liberalism-progressivism'a relic from infancy that we did not jettison until we became responsible, independent beings. Some of us, on the other hand, abandoned liberalism when we realized that 'trust in government' is really just a new type of faith-based religion'but one with an even worse track record than conventional religions.

Moving to the second part of Churchill's aphorism, perhaps some of us flirted with conservatism when we realized that taxation really is a form of theft'a favorite scheme used by dictatorial personalities who do not have the honesty (or courage) to join a gang of street thugs to get what they want from their victims. Of course, among people who do not share the blindness of conservatives, the trip to the right side of the aisle is usually short lived as we discover the lies, hypocrisy, and contradictions that plague it from beginning to end. The right can always be trusted to betray the concept of liberty and lick the boot of government in its pursuit of new 'enemies''whether they are of the cultural or geopolitical variety.

Eventually many of us were attracted to libertarianism because of its internal consistency. In making this change, we took a first step toward abandoning the psychotic quest to control other people. I only hope that psychiatry someday will evolve to the point where 'political activism' becomes recognized as a symptom of a bona fide mental illness. What else can explain the anger that has poisoned so many of our relationships with friends and relatives when we abandoned the chocolate-vanilla spectrum of coercive politics? Of course some of us went even further. We extracted ourselves from the sticky muck of government-worship by becoming voluntaryists and anarchists'the final and logical step in our evolution. We realized that active participation in 'acceptable' political channels'as in the case of the alien life force encountered on planet Beta XII-A of the original Star Trek television series'only makes politics thrive: the parasitic 'life-force' of left-right politics grows ever stronger by feeding upon the emotion-laden conflict between right and left.

And this brings us back to Churchill's truncated aphorism. Since evolving into a libertarian-anarchist in the mid-1980s, I've made a habit of taking it one step further'and thus perfecting it:

'If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart.

If you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.

If you're not a libertarian (or anarchist) at forty-one, you have no integrity.'

I first began to use this new and improved aphorism as a member of the Libertarian Party in the Detroit area. At the time (around 1986), some of us were tempted to become allies of the Republicans in an effort to thwart the creeping statism of the left. I was among a small group who were suspicious of this tactic. First, I knew that the Republicans would never cooperate with us in the reciprocal way of civilized people'by defending what were called 'personal-lifestyle freedoms' in return for our help in defending the personal freedoms that are commonly labeled 'economic freedoms.' Even worse'and perhaps a better reason for opposing the alliance tactic'was the impression that our hands were somehow dirtied by working with the enemy on the right'as if we somehow became co-sponsors in their statist nonsense by joining the fight against the statist nonsense of the left. Anyway, the tactic failed, much as the anti-war posturing on the left (regarding Iraq ) has been smothered by the greedy quest for control over the healthcare industry'as if healthcare weren't already plagued by enough political interventionism! Of course, forming brief alliances to defeat evil is not entirely without merit, but too often we become smeared by the same broad brush (by the opposition) when seen in the political neighborhood of our temporary allies.

Anyway, I recommend using my improved version of the Churchill aphorism when in the physical presence of Republican and conservative gasbags'especially when they are caught brandishing the original Churchill quote with too much relish.

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Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.