The Degeneration of Belief

Quotations on Fanaticism and Dogmatism

Compiled By Laird Wilcox

If you want a war, nourish a doctrine. Doctrines are the most frightful tyrants to which men are ever subject, because doctrines get inside a man’s reason and betray him against himself. Civilized men have done their fiercest fighting for doctrines. WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER (1840-1910), Essays.

You can prove almost anything with the evidence of a small enough segment of time. How often, in any search for truth, the answer of the minute is positive, the answer of the hour is qualified, and the answers of the year contradictory. EDWIN WAY TEALE (1889-1980), Circle Of The Seasons, 1953.

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it. EDWIN WAY TEALE (1889-1980), Circle Of The Seasons, 1953.

Whenever there is an organized movement to persuade people to believe or do something, whenever an effort is made to ‘propagate’ a creed or set of opinions or convictions or to make people act as we want them to act, the means employed are called propaganda. EDWARD A. TENNEY, A Primer For Readers, 1942.

If anything ails a man so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even — for that is the seat of sympathy — he forthwith sets about reforming the world. HENRY DAVID THOREAU (1817-1862), Walden.

Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas which, for various reasons, have to do with emotional safety we have very strong ties of whose meaning and consequences we have no clear understanding. LIONEL TRILLING (1905-1975), The Liberal Imagination, 1950.

It is wiser, I believe, to arrive at theory by way of evidence rather than the other way around … It is more rewarding, in any case, to assemble the facts first and, in the process of arranging them in narrative form, to discover a theory or a historical generalization emerging of its own accord. BARBARA TUCHMAN, Practicing History.

At the extreme, the process of stereotyping eventuates in dehumanization: the enemy is judged to be so inhumanly evil or contemptible that anything may be done to ‘it’ without subjectively compromising one’s own humanity and sense of loyalty. AUSTIN J. TURK, Political Criminality, 1982.

If we look closely, we will discover that because of externalizations and projections the enemy is not unlike the self. The enemy resembles his opponent, and although physically and psychologically ‘out there,’ the enemy is nevertheless linked to his opponent, having become a reservoir for the threatened groups’ externalizations and projections. VAMIK D. VOLKAN, The Need To Have Enemies And Allies, 1988.

It follows from the assumption of a universally valid ideology, just as night follows day, that other positions are heresy. PAUL WATZLAWICK, The Invented Reality, 1984.

Could it be brought home to people that there is no absolute standard in morality, they would perhaps be somewhat more tolerant in their judgments, and more apt to listen to the voice of reason. EDWARD WESTERMARCK (1862-1939), Origin And Development Of Moral Ideas, 1906.

Clearly it is not reason that has failed. What has failed — as it has always failed — is the attempt to achieve certainty, to reach an absolute, to find the course of human events to a final end … It is not reason that has promised to eliminate risk in human undertakings; it is the emotional needs of men. ALLEN WHEELIS, The Quest For Identity, 1958.

An ideology … gives significance to the lives of individuals who might otherwise be overwhelmed by a sense of purposelessness and insignificance. Usually some kind of black-and-white picture is an inherent part of the ideology, and gives meaning to the struggle between the good guys and the bad guys. RALPH K. WHITE, Nobody Wanted War, 1968.

The worse form of tyranny the world has ever known is the tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts. OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900).

Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drownd / The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS (1865-1939), The Second Coming, 1921.

(The fanatic is) the insecure person everywhere, at any time, who gives himself without reservation to any movement that promises him meaning through action. ROBERT ZWICKEY.