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August 20, 2014
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Quote, unquote, Part 2


The appeal of this quote is obvious. It’s facile, and catchy. It seems to justify the Republicans’ present attempts to dismantle all the regulatory apparatus that keep the market from consuming everything in sight. But it’s also paradoxical—would we say, “That police department is best that polices least?” “That nurse is best that nurses least?” “That teacher is best that teaches least?” “Those prisons are best that imprison the least?” “That army is best that fights the least?”(Hmm… I may have to think about the implications of that last one a bit.)

Let me offer what seems to me a more accurate alternative. Feel free to pass it along—who knows, maybe at some point it’ll be accepted as part of the historical canon as well…

“That nation is best, which is least in need of governance.”

No, wait—that’s not really enough, is it? We need a larger context. I’ll even couch it in antiqued language, to give it a bit more cachet.

“Therefore, let us not say ‘That government is best that governs least’—for would that not be the fondest wish of the brigand and the highwayman, that government itself should dissolve, and the rule of law disappear? Rather, let us declare that nation the best, which is least in need of governance.”

Ascribe this to “Anonymous,” if you like. Or maybe Ben Franklin.

P.S. When looking into the past, it can be hard to sort out truth from fantasy. Fortunately, some folks have devoted themselves to unraveling such historical conundrums. Besides the ever-useful www.snopes.com, you can also check sites like the following: quoteinvestiga tor.com, en.wikiquote.org/wiki/List_of_misquotations, www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/spurious-quotes (specifically about spurious Thomas Jefferson quotes), and see books like Paul Boller and John George’s compendium, “They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions” (Oxord University Press, 1990).