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John Adams

“The science of government it is my duty to study… I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

John Adams, writing to his wife, Abigail Adams, in a letter sent from Paris on May 12th, 1780.

Thomas Jefferson

“Jefferson hungered for greatness, and the drama of his age provided him a stage which he never really left. Writing his William and Mary schoolmate and Revolutionary colleague John Page in 1803 — Page was governor of Virginia, Jefferson president of the United States — Jefferson said: ‘We have both been drawn from our natural passion for study and tranquility, by times which took from us the freedom of choice: times however which, planting a new world with the seeds of just government, will produce a remarkable era in the history of mankind. It was incumbent on those therefore who fell into them, to give up every favorite pursuit, and lay their shoulder to the work of the day.’

In his retirement at Monticello, he looked back over the years, through the haze of war and struggle and peril, and knew that he had done his duty…”

Jon Meacham, describing Thomas Jefferson in the introduction of his new biography Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

Charles Krauthammer

“[P]erhaps most eccentric of all, I left a life in medicine for a life in journalism devoted mostly to politics, while firmly believing that what really matters, what moves the spirit, what elevates the mind, what fires the imagination, what makes us fully human are all of these endeavors, disciplines, confusions and amusements that lie outside politics…

While science, medicine, art, poetry, architecture, chess, space, sports, number theory and all things hard and beautiful promise purity, elegance and sometimes even transcendence, they are fundamentally subordinate. In the end, they must bow to the sovereignty of politics.

Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything because, in the end, everything—high and low and, most especially, high—lives or dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”

Charles Krauthammer, reflecting on the relevance of his career choice in the introduction of his new collection, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics.


I’ve thrown together similar collections of words from a variety of luminaries on a single topic. (As always, if you’ve got any additional references that would fit into these posts, don’t hesitate to send them in.)


Marching (with Steinbeck, Orwell, and Einstein)

Albert Camus

2+2 (with Camus, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Rand, and Göring)

Albert Einstein

Science as Child’s Play (with Einstein, Newton, and Sagan)

John Updike, Massachusetts, 1984; photographs by Dominique Nabokov

The Existence of God (with Updike, Flew, Lewis, and Wittgenstein)