Clear thinking, clear writing – and words relevant for today

Dean Acheson

For a long time we have gone along with some well-tested principles of conduct:

  • that it was better to tell the truth than falsehoods;
  • that a half-truth was no truth at all;
  • that duties were older than and as fundamental as rights;
  • that, as Justice Holmes put it, the mode by which the inevitable came to pass was effort;
  • that to perpetuate a harm was always wrong, no matter how many joined in it, but to perpetuate it on a weaker person was particularly detestable …

Our institutions are founded on the assumption that most people will follow these principles most of the time because they want to, and the institutions work pretty well when this assumption is true.

Dean Acheson, statesman and lawyer (1893-1971)

Acheson drew much criticism and praise for his view of the world and his actions as a diplomat, but his dedication to public service is unquestioned.

These words seem far more relevant for us today than they did 60 years ago when he wrote them.

Thanks to A Word A Day for finding this quotation.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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