Home > book reviews, philosophy, politics, reviews > Why I am falling in love with the writing of Mark Twain-again

Why I am falling in love with the writing of Mark Twain-again

“For in a republic, who is the country? is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a servant–merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who then, is ‘the country?’ Is it the newspaper? is it the pulpit? is it the school-superintendent? why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command. They are but one in the thousand. It is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t.

Who are the thousand–that is to say, who are ‘the country?’ In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of the pulpit, press, government, or empty catch phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country–hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Only when a republic’s life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.

This republic’s life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. it has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: ‘even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.’ Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people upon their terms-independence-would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam’s phrase-you should take it up again. He said, ‘An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.’

You have planted a seed, and it will grow.”

–Mark Twain, Passages from ‘Glances at History’ cited from The Bible According to Mark Twain. P. 88

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