Gadfly
Lv 6
Gadfly asked in Politics & GovernmentPolitics · 7 years ago

How do you interpret this Mark Twain quote?

"Laws control the lesser man... Right conduct controls the greater one."

Mark Twain

Do you think it's politically incorrect to point out that some people do not need to be lured by the carrot or compelled by the stick to act rationally and ethically?

Does Twain further transgress when he suggest that those who require the compulsion of law are "lesser"?

Update:

Interesting responses. In my view, Twain's "right conduct" in a social context stems from the ethic of reciprocity. The "Golden Rule" predates its biblical appearance and is the cornerstone of all ethics. It is a primary philosophical outlook which allows groups larger than a small tribe to effectively govern their own behavior. It is backed up by the rule of law for those who lack the empathy and self responsibility it requires or the capacity to understand that by denying someone else their rights, you have denied your own rights. By stealing someones property for instance, you have not only violated their property rights, but invalidated your own right to own property. Of course their are times when emotion can override rationality and at that point the rule of law provides the added (and hopefully greater) fear of reprisal.

Those who require the constant fear of reprisal from the law to conduct themselves in a civilized, rational and ethical manner are cer

Update 2:

@Ideogenetic What an appropriate Jefferson quote. I think it bears repeating:

"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question." - Thomas Jefferson

If man can not govern himself, how can he govern others? I suppose this lies at the root of the media casting Obama as the "Messiah" and likening his election to "The second Coming".

Update 3:

@Scales of Justice

Do you really think people are born "good" or "bad"? I tend to think that to a large degree they are a product of their family and of societal influences (education, media, etc..). That is not to say that they should not be held accountable for their conduct, but that anyone who honestly seeks to address sociapathic behavior must look to contributing influences and neither fatalistically assume their behavior is unavoidable and therefore the only remedy is to limit everyone's liberties, nor downplay the importance of the family unit and the damage flawed social programs can inflict.

Update 4:

@Top Source

re: "He means greater in the sense of the ethical person of means. That person could afford a Dream Team to get them acquitted of crimes, but that person wouldn't commit the crime bc of their good ethics, ie, right conduct."

You can't even leave class warfare out of a discussion of man's basic ethical state? Do you honestly believe that someones "means" determines their character one way or the other? Perhaps you refer to power that often comes along with means and its corrupting influence. If so you must believe that a limited government with less "means" taken from its citizens would be a "greater" one. If that is the case' perhaps we finally agree on something.

12 Answers

Relevance
  • Anonymous
    7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Character is something your born with, Integrity rides the same trail.

    You either got it. Or you don't. You can't buy it. And it don't come

    in no bottle or off a shelf. Just that damn Simple.

    I ain't to many Dems that have that trait. Have you.

  • 7 years ago

    I interpret this as true. I suppose you could say that laws are somewhat of a test to those who are righteous. They pass if they don't break them. Of course, this doesn't mean that all people who choose not to abide the law are bad, and that all people who choose to are good; the only real determining factor is the motive. Why does a person do what he or she does? Because it's the right thing to do, or because it's the law?

    Anyway, Mark Twain was a very wise man to say the least. He tackled multitudinous political and social issues in a counterintuitive fashion to successfully promote change. I usually find myself agreeing with him.

  • 7 years ago

    No incorrectness, no transgressions.

    Twain means lesser in the sense of having less economically, and therefore not having much political clout or the means to pay Dream Teams.

    He means greater in the sense of the ethical person of means. That person could afford a Dream Team to get them acquitted of crimes, but that person wouldnt committ the crime bc of their good ethics, ie, right conduct.

  • 7 years ago

    "Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." - Thomas Jefferson

    "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

    "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question." - Thomas Jefferson

  • How do you think about the answers? You can sign in to vote the answer.
  • Alice
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    I am usually quite PC. However, I do agree with Mr. Twain, and I have said the same myself in the past. I do not need a law hanging over my head to know how to behave. Many people do, for certain.

  • Anonymous
    7 years ago

    this is the United States of America in the 21st Century!..there is NO amount of "interpretation" that will make some people understand what he said!..when I told someone once that having his name embroidered directly on his field jacket was unauthorized and he argued with me, I got the relevant regulation out and SHOWED him where it SAID in black and white!..the name must be in block letters, gave the dimensions for the letters, and WILL be on a tape! the twit claimed "but it doesn't say it HAS to be!"..as if "WILL be" ISN'T the same as "has to be"!..people THAT stupid are unreachable!

  • 7 years ago

    Laws control the lesser man because the lesser men makes the most mistakes & doesn't have the money to afford a LAWYER & beat thier cases. Right conduct controls the greater one because they are always doing right that they can't do wrong and look down on the ones who may have made mistakes because they are unknown to making mistakes & having sympathy for those who do.

  • 7 years ago

    This is amusing, given the number of times Twain left town ahead of some man's "righteous" wrath over his writing.

  • 7 years ago

    Lesser as an less disciplined. It means these who must have the rules to follow are not as great as these who already have good behavior. That's what I think it means at least. :)

    -L

  • Anonymous
    7 years ago

    I interpret it as being way over the heads of the vast majority of the population.

    So you might as well just give up.

Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.