The Importance of (Not) Misquoting

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Actually, that’s not true. Despite the fact that I’ve seen the quote on numerous websites and blogs, I have been unable to find the quote within the text of TAM. Now, it is possible that I am simply missing it, but I’ve read it twice now (and spent this morning skimming the text + my notes) only to find nothing. So then I resorted to finding an online text version and conducting a search (taking into account that maybe some variations in wording were possible), but still: nada. My initial thoughts are “he never said this.” I could be wrong, and I hope I am because I love the quote, but thus far the evidence is not working in my favor.

Unfortunately, part of my skepticism is due to my past experiences.

Ever heard this one? “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” – Alexis de Tocqueville. I heard this a couple years ago, thought about using it in a blog but couldn’t find it in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I started digging, and found that no one could actually attribute the quote to anything he wrote or said (here’s a decent summary of the “Tocqueville Fraud”). Turns, even great presidents aren’t above the occasional falsifying of a quote if it sounds good.

Or how about this one? “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” – Edmund Burke. Bogus. There are hundreds of variants of this one on the internet, and yet no one ever sources it (here’s another good examination of web forgeries like these). It’s a sentiment that I think Burke might have agreed with, but you can’t put words into his mouth. That’s a terrible way to treat such a brilliant mind.

What bothers me most about this kind of thing is that all three of these examples are perpetrated most often by Christians. While I still hold on to a sliver of hope that the Lewis quote will one day be attributed to him, perhaps through some essay I haven’t read, I will not use the quote to make my point in a discussion. Period. Traditions are fine, but in age where men like these can easily be researched, it’s just sloppy of a Christian to use a quote they cannot validate.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly perpetrating things that are false.


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