- People know many things, and half of them are wrong. If only we knew which half, we'd have reason to be proud of our intelligence. What is knowledge? A belief that is shared by all the respectable people in a community, whether there is any real evidence for it or not. What is faith? A belief that we hold so strongly that we act as if it is true, even though we know there are many who do not believe it. What is opinion? A belief we expect other people to argue with. What is scientific fact? An oxymoron. Science does not deal in facts. It deals in hypotheses, which are never fully and finally correct.
- Human beings are not designed to keep secrets. Every aspect of our being is shaped for the sharing of information - through speech, gesture, facial expression, posture, and every other deliberate or inadvertent sign of emotion and intent. Thus, it should not surprise us that every would-be dictator, tyrant, conqueror, prophet, colonizer, politician, artist, and dog-catcher in history clearly signaled his intentions long before he acted and in plenty of time for others to prevent them. Neither Hitler nor Churchill, neither Pol Pot nor Abraham Lincoln ever did anything they hadn't told us and shown us they would do. That they are rarely prevented has more to do with our inattention, cowardice, or ambition to ride his coattails than with his particular skill. Dogs might run from the dogcatcher as soon as they see the net, but they rarely tear out his throat and kill him, which is, of course, the only rational course of action for the dog that values its life, liberty, or happiness.
- Chapter 9: Defending the Dead
- Praying for rain is such a bad idea. Even in the midst of a terrible drought, someone will say, Of course I want it to rain, but not today. Politics is the art of simultaneously satisfying groups with conflicting goals. The traditional way of accomplishing this is to speak to the groups separately, lie, and then, if you are caught, deny it. You count on the voters to forget or lose interest or change their minds, and they almost always come through for you. In our time, between national television and the internet, contradictions are more easily caught, so not the best method of pleasing everyone is to promise nothing while seeming to promise everything.
- Everything is too long a list to work with. No one knows everything about anything. No one knows something about everything. Everyone knows something about something. Anyone could be the world's foremost expert on something. Anyone who thinks that just because they didn't already know a thing, it must not be true or important, is an idiot.
- War will exist as long as any community desires to impose its will on another community more than it desires peace. Coercive men see only slaves and rivals in the world. If the meek refuse war to defend themselves against coercion, then they deserve to be slaves. Peace-lovers can only have what they love by being better at what they hate than those who love war. There is no road to peace that does not pass through war.
- A string of unbroken success leads people expect their leaders to be infallible, and when he falls short, they hate him. Complete failures are even worse, for then the leader is seen as weak. He is no longer treated as a factor by his rivals, who immediately move to fill the vacuum. The successful leader is one who is able to convince his people that they are in desperate straits, and only he has the strength and wisdom to keep them safe. Then the trick is never to put this reputation for strength and wisdom to the test. Glorious but untested reputations last forever.
- Chapter 15: War Correspondent
- A ruler's friend's judge him by his achievements, his enemies by the means he used to obtain them.