Every now and then, you hear a quote that amazes you, filling you with passion and feeling because it so clearly and succinctly relates a thought that you have never been able to put into words.
And sometimes, you find out later that the person who supposedly said that awesome thing didn’t actually say it – and may not have ever even felt that way – and this brings your whole ideological world crashing down.
Such was the case for me with the following quote, which is frequently – though incorrectly – attributed to lawyer/writer/historian Alexander Fraser Tytler:
The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
- From bondage to spiritual faith;
- From spiritual faith to great courage;
- From courage to liberty;
- From liberty to abundance;
- From abundance to selfishness;
- From selfishness to complacency;
- From complacency to apathy;
- From apathy to dependence;
- From dependence back into bondage.
Another such instance involves a quote (not) from famed writer Alexis de Tocqueville:
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
These are such great quotes! And they have become so deeply entrenched in the landscape of American politics that I am sure many people would try to argue with me that they are actually legitimate. However, they are not. Their true origins are unknown.
I really don’t think this is such a tragedy, though. Plenty of great people have resulted from illegitimate births, and so have plenty of great quotes. So if you want to use them and model your life after their tenets, do so. Just don’t falsely attribute them.