Quote of the Day

“Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen’s imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.”
– John Ralston Saul



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3 responses to “Quote of the Day”

  1. Mark Avatar

    What’s wrong with charity and volunteerism? Or with holding them in high esteem? I must be missing some knowledge of the context of this quote.

  2. Ed Avatar

    It’s from Saul‘s book Reflections of a Siamese Twin, which I confess I have not read. In fact, based on snippets of his writing and descriptions of his themes, I suspect I would disagree with much or most of what he has written.

    In any case, what struck me was the idea of civic leaders who are not nobles adopting the concept of noblesse oblige – not in itself a bad thing – and pushing charity, giving, service, and sacrifice on poorly articulated ideological grounds. Again, I’m suspicious of Saul as a whole (because of my relative ignorance of his writing), but this struck me as a point for real concern. Such behavior smacks of a “soft” socialism or a “soft” paternalism (as opposed to “hard” forms enshrined in law), emphasizing and lauding these concepts as a means to obtaining and maintaining political power, rather than out of demonstrated and sincere personal commitment. Perhaps some of our current elected leaders, particularly those who give very little time or money to charitable groups, are praising such causes less for their praiseworthiness or even for political advantage than out of a need to assuage their own guilty consciences.

    Anyway, those are just my thoughts that floated through my head when I found the quote. I thought it was interesting, and any quote that makes me muse for more than a minute or two seems worth sharing with someone, even when I disagree (as I often do) with the sentiment or the underlying philosophical commitments of the speaker.

  3. Mark Avatar

    Ah, ok, got it now. Yes, pandering demagogues make me ill, always falling back on the excuse that they’re just trying to help.

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