10 Of The Best Political Quotes

Given that most politicians can barely pronounce their own names without cocking up, it’s easy to forget that politics is all about rhetoric. We’ve gone back through the last couple of millennia to find the sharpest political epithets in history. What do you think?

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1. ‘Politics is not an exact science’ – Otto Von Bismarck, 1863
It’s extraordinary how many people still don’t get this and expect politicos to do something other than bluff their way through a career.

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2. ‘Nationality is the principle of political independence – race is the principle of physical analogy’ – Benjamin Disraeli, 1848
Disraeli’s assertion is sense, pure and simple. If more people had listened, tragedy could have been averted.

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3. ‘Every advantage in the past is judged by its final issue’ – Demosthenes, c.340BC
Every government that presides over an unsustainable economic boom should really take heed. (Cough, Gordon Brown.)

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4. ‘Today I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, a freedom fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.’ – Yasser Arafat, 1974
Yasser Arafat’s speech to the UN General Assembly was a defining moment in the Palestine conflict. With this metaphor, he indicated he was willing to negotiate… but that no-one should take him for a pushover.

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5. ‘One can lead a nation only by helping it see a bright outlook. A leader is a dealer in hope’ – Napoléon Bonaparte
Napoléon understood the value of appearances better than anyone. And never was a universal truth so neatly summarised.

quotes 46. ‘Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other peoples’ freedom’ – Franklin D Roosevelt, 1941
If only Roosevelt’s successors had paid a bit more attention to his speeches…

Tony Blair - TGJ7. ‘The art of leadership is saying no, not yes – it’s very easy to say yes.’ – Tony Blair, 1994
Say what you like about him, but Blair was a brilliant orator. He was also in power for ten years, so he probably had some idea what he was talking about.

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8. ‘Every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness.’ – Niccolò Machiavelli, 1513
Pretty much any sentence from The Prince, Machiavelli’s how-to guide to dictatorship, could have made this list. But this is as true now as it was then – the soft touch approach never got anybody elected (well, except for Jimmy Carter).

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9. ‘Politics is war without bloodshed, war is politics with bloodshed’ – Mao Tse-Tung, 1938.
A great turn of phrase. Not quite true, though – Mao was very good indeed at shedding the blood of his rivals.

Plato10. ‘The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.’ – Plato, The Republic.
Or: why it’s a good idea to vote if you have the right to.

Further Reading