Isabel Paterson Quote

“Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.”

~ Isabel Paterson

The God of the Machine (1943), by Isabel Paterson, pg 235

Ratings and Comments

jim k, austin

Hitler and Stalin would be good examples of this, but you'd have to remove the word "good" from the quote.

jim k, austin

In justifying his murders, Stalin was quoted as saying "to make an omelet you have to break some eggs."

Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

Such are the cards we are dealt. JFK said, "On earth Gods work must be done by men.", We often have to make moral judgements and take what we think are moral actions. I have heard some describe the Nuremberg trials as an example of a do gooder philosophy gone bad. I disagree. This quote could be used to argue against punishing behaviour in children, probably not what was intended by the writer. We should make our moral judgements and actions with much circumspection and second thoughts. I think judgemet and mercy it is called.

A.WOODS, Gloucester

Human history supports this idea. Waffler, could you have meant introspection?

E Archer, NYC

All too often, self-appointed 'saviors' push their 'good intentions' down other people's throats. And if people don't want their help, then they try and make laws that will force the issue. Persecutions and prohibitions have caused more problems than they have ever solved. Self-righteousness is a form of narcissism fueled by the sycophantic adulations of its co-dependents.

  • Reply
RBESRQ    11/21/08

Wow! I couldn't have said it better. Great quote and one for the books. Good is good regardless of God. If there was no religion in the world there would still be those who are good and those who are not. And those who are not would probably start a religion.

Ken, Allyn, WA

People with good intentions are not necessarily good. People who want to control others' behavior (that does not legitimately cause harm to their neighbors) through force are not good. Persuasion is the only moral method to change an adult's individual behavior. Those who would use the force of government to control individual benign behavior are the least moral because they abuse the authority that we gave them.

Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

Mr. Woods without looking up definitions my opinion is that circumspect means to be aware of your surrondings and the effect of your actions and carefully considering the total ramifications of what action you are about to take. It is concerned with others and the world outside of the self. Introspection concerns the inner self, one might feel quilty for his actions. Thanks for your observation however, maybe I should have said both "circumspect and introspect". An introspective perspective may lead us to do away with the death penalty because Lord knows we are all evil to some extent. A circumspective perspective might approve the death penalty because of the need to effect the world around us for what we consider to be good.

Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

RBSRQ you are right about Good and God. For many the words mean the same thing. Thus Kennedy could have said, "On earth Good Works must be done by man."

warren, olathe

A. Hitler thought he was doing the right thing for the world. So do a few of the "Global Warming fools".

SCSURFR, La Mirada

I can’t agree with RBSRQ or Waffler since without God, there is no universal definition of good. On another note, I really do not like when quotes make assumptions that we are supposed to accept as fact. "Most of the harm in the world is done by good people…” Most. Really? To me, that opening statement discredited the rest of the quote.

cal, lewisville, tx

The do-gooders are the most despised folks around when they want to force their thoughts on others.

Patrick Henry, Red Hill

In the absence of an Objective standard of Goodness, of what is it that "goodness" is constituted?

Historically, there has been no dearth of those who, as Isaiah expresses it, " evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter..."

It remains so that the road to perdition is paved with "good" intentions...

E Archer, NYC

Does anyone here include themselves 'good people'? Paterson's point is that as 'good people' we have furthered evil ends in the name of goodness. The quote is not a condemnation of good people -- it is a wake up call! There would be no foreign wars if young men didn't join the military to fight in foreign lands -- are the reasons they joined the same reasons they fight? The liberal press believes they are doing good by 'opinion-making.' Churches believe they are doing good by gaining more members who share the same ideals -- Sharia Law is not only good, but 'law.' Oh, the Catholics did the same thing centuries before.

The quote could very well say,

"Most of the harm I have caused has not been by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of MY deliberate actions, long persevered in, which I hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends."

Perhaps -- but I take responsibility for that! ;-)

Robert, Somewhere in the USA

Silly quote.....


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