Robert A. Heinlein quotes in Stranger in a Strange Land

I just finished re-reading one of my all-time favorite books, and certainly a foundationally influential one, and decided to compile my favorite quotes from the book.

“Secrecy begets tyranny.”
– Ben Caxton (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“[Pay attention to politics.] It’s only barely less important than your own heartbeat.”
– Ben Caxton (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“A government is a living organism. Like every living thing its prime characteristic is a blind, unreasoned instinct to survive. You hit it, it will fight back.”
– Ben Caxton (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk ‘his life, his fortune and his sacred honor’ on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else.”
– Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

“I used to think I was serving humanity…and I pleasured in the thought. Then I discovered that humanity does not want to be served; on the contrary it resents any attempt to serve it. So now I do what pleases Jubal Harshaw.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“He did not expect reasonable conduct from human beings; he considered most people fit candidates for protective restraint and wet packs. He simply wished heartily that they would leave him alone!”
– Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

“I’ve never been able to understand ‘faith’ myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones — by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Harshaw held that certain feet were made for stepping on, in order to improve the breed, promote the general welfare, and minimize the ancient insolence of office.”
– Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

“A desire not to butt into other people’s business is at least eighty percent of all human wisdom…and the other twenty percent isn’t very important.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Who said I was wise? I’m a professional bad example. You can learn a lot by watching me. Or listening to me. Either one.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in it is favor is that it is about eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried. Democracy’s worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“The capacity of a human mind to believe devoutly in what seems to me to be the highly improbable — from table tapping to the superiority of their own children — has never been plumbed.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“English is the largest of the human tongues, with several times the vocabulary of the second largest language — this alone made it inevitable that English would eventually become, as it did, the lingua franca of this planet, for it is thereby the richest and the most flexible — despite its barbaric accretions…or should I say, because of its barbaric accretions. English swallows up anything that comes its way, makes English out of it.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“ ‘Grok’ means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the process being observed — to experience.”
– Dr. Mahmoud (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Daughters can use up ten percent more than a man can make in any normal occupation, regardless of the amount.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“The human mind’s ability to rationalize its own shortcomings into virtues is unlimited, and I am no exception.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“I learned years ago never to argue with a specialist; you can’t win. But I also learned that the history of progress is a long, long list of specialists who were dead wrong when they were most sorry.”
– Captain Willem van Tromp (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“The Bible Belt faith in which I was brought up encouraged me to think that I was better than the rest of the world; I was ‘saved’ and they were ‘damned’ — we were in a state of grace and the rest of the world were ‘heathens’…and by ‘heathen’ they meant such people as our brother Mahmoud. It meant an ignorant, stupid lout who seldom bathed and planted his corn by the phase of the Moon could claim to know the final answers of the Universe. That entitled him to look down his nose at everybody else. Our hymn book was loaded with such arrogance — mindless, conceited, self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty and what a high opinion he had of us and us alone, and what hell everybody else was going to catch come Judgement Day.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“My folks tried to make a preacher of me and missed by a narrow margin… I would have made a good one if I hadn’t fallen into the fatal folly of reading anything I could lay hands on. With just a touch more self confidence and a liberal helping of ignorance I could have been a famous evangelist.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“A confidence man knows he’s lying; that limits his scope. But a successful shaman ropes himself first; he believes what he says — and such belief is contagious; there is no limit to his scope.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“There is no safety this side of the grave.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“I despise crowds, and I do not propose to let my social and mental inferiors tell me where I have to go on Sundays — and I wouldn’t enjoy Heaven if that crowd is going to be there.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Jubal ignored him and spoke quietly to the replica of La Belle Heaulmière. ‘Do not listen to him, ma petit chère — he is a barbarian and knows no better.’ He put his hand to her beautiful ravaged cheek, then gently touched one empty, shrunken dug. ‘I know just how you feel…but it can’t be very much longer. Patience, my lovely.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look as a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist — a master — and that is what Auguste Rodin was — can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Abstract art is all right — for wall paper or linoleum. But art is the process of evoking pity and terror, which is not abstract at all but very human.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“One does have to learn to look at art, just as you must know French to read a story printed in French.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Obscurity is usually the refuge incompetence.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Solipsism and Pantheism. Teamed together they can explain anything. Cancel out any inconvenient fact, reconcile all theories, and include any facts or delusions you care to name. Trouble is, it’s just cotton candy, all taste and no substance.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“You go into a man’s house, you accept his household rules — that’s a universal law of civilized behavior.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“A purse is a person who thinks his own rules or propriety are natural laws.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Age does not bring wisdom, but it does give perspective…and the saddest perspective of all is to see far, far behind you, the temptations you’ve passed up.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Geniuses are justifiably contemptuous of the opinions of their inferiors.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“The slickest way in the world to lie is to tell the right amount of truth at the right time — and then shut up.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“ ‘Sin’ is hardly ever concerned with real wrongness…but sin is what the sinner groks as sin.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“Goodness alone is _never_ enough. A hard, cold wisdom is required, too, for goodness to accomplish good. Goodness without wisdom invariably accomplishes evil.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

“The actual joining and blending of two physical bodies with simultaneous merging of souls in shared ecstasy of love, giving and receiving and delighting in each other [is] the source…of all that makes this planet so rich and wonderful. That’s what it should be. Instead it was indifference and acts mechanically performed and rape and seduction as a game no better than roulette but with poorer odds and prostitution and celibacy by choice and by n choice and fear and guilt and hatred and violence and children brought up to think  that sex was ‘bad’ and ‘shameful’ and ‘animal’ and something to be hidden and always distrusted. This lovely perfect thing, male-femaleness, turned upside down and inside out and made horrible.”
– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

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2 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I see you drew from the expanded, “uncut” edition published in 1990. I spotted a lot of the edits between that and the first edition! Heinlein himself once said he thought the trimmed-down edition was better. I pretty much agree, with a few exceptions. More here: Polyamory, Robert Heinlein, and his definitive new biography.

    • Posted February 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Alan, have you discussed your post on the Heinlein Nexus? Might be worth discussing there.

      And have you read the second edition of the biography yet?

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