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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

After experiencing “despotism” first hand in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, Thomas Hodgskin began thinking how despotism came to take over entire countries. He came to the conclusion that despotic power first intimidates or “unnerv(es) the arm of the poor man” who would be the “legitimate defender of his country”. It then is able to take the first step to despotism unopposed, which “gives it additional power to take a second”, and then a third, and so on until full despotism has been achieved. This is quite similar to the thought of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises who wrote in 1950 that a “middle-of-the-road policy leads to socialism”. By this Mises meant that each government intervention in the economy inevitably fails thus leading to a decision to either repeal it or add an additional intervention to correct the failure of the first. The latter step is usually taken leading to full socialism. Hodgskin argues along similar lines concerning the “road to despotism”. His solution is like that proposed by John Adams - “Obsta principiis, nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud”.

Other quotes about Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots:

4 August, 2008

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Thomas Hodgskin wonders how despotism comes to a country and concludes that the “first step” taken towards despotism gives it the power to take a second and a third - hence it must be stopped in its tracks at the very first sign (1813)

Read the full quote in context here.

In his protest against impressment (conscription) and flogging in the Royal Navy, An Essay on Naval Discipline (1813) the ex-naval officer Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869) argues that the brutal behavior of the officers has a corrupting influence which leads to outright despotism:

When I look around me in society, and see the nations of the earth most celebrated for the rigour and despotism of their government, groaning under the most grievous calamities, while ours from her freedom has had safety ensured to her; can these calamities be possibly traced to any other cause than this despotism, which has destroyed every manly feeling … Can the rise of despotism in any society be ever so well resisted as at first.—The first step it takes gives it additional power to take a second. It goes on thus increasing, till men’s opinions are bound up in its sanctity, and then it is irresistible.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

To display to the public the abuses existing in the navy, has lately, to me, become an imperative duty: for, the absurdity of its laws and customs has deeply injured myself. My opinion of these is so irretrievably bad, that, in common with many others, I feel no shame at having fallen under their lash,—and but that they have deprived me of the good opinion of society, which is too generally built upon success; but that they have partially deprived me of the esteem of my friends; and, but that they have completely excluded me from that road to fame and fortune, the navy, in which my whole life has been past, I should not have felt punishment an injury. Having received so deep an injury from these laws, it has become a positive duty in me to attempt to alter them through the medium of public opinion; a duty equally strong with that which every man thinks it right to practice to relieve himself from a physical pain, by every possible means. When I look around me in society, and see the nations of the earth most celebrated for the rigour and despotism of their government, groaning under the most grievous calamities, while ours from her freedom has had safety ensured to her; can these calamities be possibly traced to any other cause than this despotism, which has destroyed every manly feeling; which, by unnerving the arm of the poor man (the legitimate defender of his country), has opened every pass to its enemies. Can the rise of despotism in any society be ever so well resisted as at first.—The first step it takes gives it additional power to take a second. It goes on thus increasing, till men’s opinions are bound up in its sanctity, and then it is irresistible.

[More works by Thomas Hodgskin (1787 – 1869)]