Monday, January 03, 2005

Various Thoughts on Nonconfornity

Human will begins in a "no." The "no" is a protest against a world we never made, and it is also the assertion of one's self in the endeavor to remold and reform the world.

Rollo May (b.1909), Existential therapist, humanist,
in Love and Will (1969)

[Quoted in Seldes, The Great Thoughts (1980), as
hereafter, unless otherwise stated.]


The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950),
Maxims for Revolutionists


Men have always looked before and after, and rebelled against the existing order. But for their divine discontent men would not have been men, and there would have been no progress in human affairs.

Kabir (1400-1499),
Hindu philosopher and reformer


Innovators have done the greatest service to society. ...

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893),
in Sexual Inversion


As a child, ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson was, as he put it, "Reluctant to accept the straitjacket of a world I didn't comprehend."

from Birds Over America, quoted in Reader's Digest.


To be a revolutionary is to love your life enough to change it, to choose struggle instead of exile, to risk everything with only the glimmering hope of a world to win.

Andrew David Kopkind (b.1935),
American writer,
quoted in New York Times Magazine, November 10, 1968.


Persecution is the first law of society because it is always easier to suppress criticism than to meet it.

Howard Mumford Jones (1892-1980),
Primer of Intellectual Freedom (1949), "Introduction".


A great poet has seldom sung of lawfully wedded happiness, but often of free and secret love, and in this respect, too, the time is coming when there will no longer be one standard of morality for poetry, and another for life.

Ellen Key (1849-1926),
Swedish writer and feminist,
quoted in Sprading, Liberty and the Great Libertarians (1913).


All art is based on non-conformity.

Ben Shahn (1898-1969),
American artist,
contribution, Atlantic, September 1957.


The degree of non-conformity present--and tolerated--in a society might be looked upon as a symptom of its state of health.

Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content (1957)


An artist is always out of step with the time. He has to be.

Orson Welles (1916-198?),
American actor and producer,
quoted in New York Times, August 7, 1966.


Art for me ... is a negation of society, an affirmation of the individual, outside of all the rules and all the demands of society.

Emile Zola (1840-1902),
French novelist,
in Mes Haines (1866)


"I will not cease from mental fight," Blake wrote. Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. ... It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941),
British writer,
contribution, New Republic, October 21, 1940.


Art is always subversive. It's something that should NOT be free. Art and liberty, like the fire of Prometheus, are things that one must steal, to be used against the established order.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973),
Spanish painter and sculptor,
quoted in Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life With Picasso (1964).


Every artist and every poet is an anti-social being.

Picasso, quoted in Saturday Review, May 28, 1966


What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or his ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet, or, if he is a boxer, only his muscle? On the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly alert to the heart-rending, burning, or happy events in the world, moulding himself in their likeness.

How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people and because of an ivory-tower indifference, detach yourself from the life they bring with their open hands?

No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war, for attack and defense against the enemy.

Picasso, from a reply to criticism and attacks for joining the French Communist Party during the Spanish Civil War, quoted in Les Lettres Francaises (1944).


I am a radical of radicals, but I don't belong in any school.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892),
quoted in Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden.


Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril.

John Dewey,
Characters and Events (1929)


Liberty, then, is the sovereignty of the individual, and never shall man know liberty until each and every individual is acknowledged to be the only legitimate sovereign of his or her own person, time, and property, each living and acting at his own cost; and not until we live in a society where each can exercise his right of sovereignty at all times without clashing with or violating that of others.

To require conformity in the appreciation of sentiments or the interpretation of language, or uniformity of thought, feeling, or action, is a fundamental error in human legislation--a madness which would only be equalled by requiring all to possess the same countenance, the same voice, or the same nature.

Josiah Warren (1799-1874),
American inventor, philosophical anarchist,
credited by John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer with first proclaiming the sovereignty of the individual.


The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for
unfettered [*] freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily deprives others of the right to listen to those views. [And perhaps have the chance to exchange error for truth. cf. John Stuart Mill]

C. Vann Woodward (b.1908),
American historian,
Woodward Committee, Report on Free Speech, New York Times, January 28, 1975.

* How can this word possibly be qualified, or otherwise limited? (T.J.W.)


Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900),
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1895)


Mere unorthodoxy or dissent from the prevailing mores is not to be condemned. The absence of such voices would be a symptom of grave illness in our society.

Earl Warren (1891-1974),
Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court,
Sweezey vs. New Hampshire (1957)


All political ideas cannot and should not be channeled into the programs of our two major parties. History has amply proved the virtue of political activity by minority, dissident groups, who innumerable times have been the vanguard of democratic thought and whose programs were ultimately accepted.

Earl Warren, op. cit.


Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistence.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924),
28th President, U.S.A.,
Address, New York Press Club, May 9, 1912.


Theodore Roosevelt picked up this last phrase and, apparently not knowing that Jefferson had made a similar declaration, attacked Wilson as a dangerous radical. Compare the following:

As late as 1958, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when a representative of Americans for Democratic Action read a statement of Thomas Jefferson's, one of the Senators from the State of Utah, A.V. Watkins, denounced it as false and unbelievable. Confronted with the evidence--a letter from Jefferson to Madison in 1787, available in most history books in most of the nation's libraries--Senator Watkins declared, "If Jefferson were here and advocated such a thing, I would move that he be prosecuted." What Jefferson had written to Madison was simply this: "I hold that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing."

George Seldes, The Great Thoughts (1980), Introduction, "Censorship and Suppression".


Freedom of expression is the well-spring of our civilization. ... The history of civilization is in considerable measure the displacement of error which once held sway as official truth by [*] beliefs which in turn have yielded to other truths. Therefore the liberty of man to search for truth ought not to be fettered, no matter what orthodoxies he may challenge. Liberty of thought soon shrivels without freedom of expression. Nor can truth be pursued in an atmosphere hostile to the endeavor or under dangers which are hazarded only by heroes.

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965),
U.S. Supreme Court Justice,
concurring opinion, Dennis et al. vs. U.S. (1951).

*I would here insert the words 'previously unpopular' (T.J.W.).


It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions make it impossible to earn a living.

Bertrand Russell (1879-1970),
Skeptical Essays (1928), XII.


To be nobody-but-myself--in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

e.e.cummings (1894-1963),

Letter to a high school editor, 1955.