"A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel” is usually credited to American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Frost used the quote in January 1961 (discussing John F. Kennedy, who Frost thought was not this type of liberal) and Frost used it again in January 1962. A popular form of the quotation is: “A liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in a fight.”
William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) wrote this in his book What Man Can Make of Man (1942): “He lends himself to the gibe that he is ‘so very liberal, that he cannot bring himself to take his own side in a quarrel.’” It is not known where Hocking got the phrase, or if Frost (who was an avid reader) was borrowing from another source.
Wikipedia: William Ernest Hocking
William Ernest Hocking (1873 – June 12, 1966 Madison, N.H.) was an American idealist philosopher at Harvard University. He continued the work of his philosophical teacher Josiah Royce in revising idealism to integrate and fit in empiricism, naturalism and pragmatism. Metaphysics has to make inductions from experience: “that which does not work is not true”.
In political philosophy he claimed that liberalism must be superseded by a new form of individualism in which the principle is: “every man shall be a whole man” and we have only one natural right: “an individual should develop the powers that are in him”. The most important freedom is “the freedom to perfect one’s freedom”. He considered christianity to be a great agent in the making of world civilization.
He attended lectures by many German philosophers of his time; Dilthey, Paul Natorp, Husserl, Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert. A staunch defender of idealism in America, Hocking took his understanding of idealism to be very critical in terms of what that entitled in meaning anything definite about “religion,” “history” or the “superpersonal.”
In many regards he agreed with Wilhelm Luetgert, a German critic of idealism, however without abandoning its position. Hocking believed nothing that could be was ultimately irrational, while declaring equally that there was no unknowable in what was.
Wikipedia: Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.
A Liberal Is A Man Too Broadminded To Take His Own Side In A Quarrel
T-Shirt (Robert Frost is credited—ed.)
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What Man Can Make of Man
By William Ernest Hocking
New York, NY: Harper
He lends himself to the gibe that he is “so very liberal, that he cannot bring himself to take his own side in a quarrel.”
The Crozer Quarterly
His is a philosophy of commitment, not for the liberal who is “so very liberal that he cannot bring himself to take his own side in a quarrel.”
(William Ernest Hocking’s language, from a review of the book cited above—ed.)
15 January 1961, New York (NY) Times, “Story of the Poem” by Walter Shapiro, pg. SM86:
“I suppose I am a liberal, myself, in a way. But not very much of a one, am I? A liberal is a person who can t take his own side in a quarrel, and I am not like that.”
23 March 1961, San Mateo (CA) Times, “Lyons’ Den” by Leonard Lyons, pg. 30, col. 6:
He (Robert Frost—ed.) liked Mr. Kennedy, he said, because he knew Kennedy was no liberal. “A liberal is someone who can’t take his own side in an argument. Liberals are agnostic, and no Catholic can be an agnostic. Atheist, sometimes, but not agnostic. I hate stalemates, and I’d rather die than cower. I want someone to cut Gordian knots.” That’s why he liked JFK, and wrote “This is the Augustan age of power and poetry.”
Google News Archive
24 January 1962, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Poet’s Observation,” pg. 10A, col. 4:
PULITZER Prize-winning poet Robert Frost made these observations during his 17th annual appearance at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Monday night: “An extreme liberal is a man who can’t take his own side in a quarrel.”
30 November 1966, Chicago (IL) Tribune, ‘In the Wake of the News” by David Condon, sec. 3, pg. E1:
A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarreL
9 November 1968. Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette Telegraph, “Bradley Broadly” by Wes Bradley, pg. 23C, col. 2:
A Liberal is a man who is too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument.
12 November 1978, New York (NY) Times, “Humphrey’s Heirs Lose” by Douglas E. Kneeland, pg. E5:
Someone once said that a liberal is a person who can’t take his own side in an argument.
9 September 1988, Chicago (IL) Daily Herald, “A question of patriotism” by Joseph Sobran, sec. 1, pg. 10, col. 5:
Robert Frost defined a liberal as a guy who won’t take his own side in a fight. That’s Michael Dukakis, our would-be commander in chief.
Rich Lowry on National Review Online
April 12, 2005, 8:15 a.m.
John Bolton, Multilateralist
This attitude is the international version of the old definition of a liberal as someone who won’t take his own side in a fight.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • Sunday, December 06, 2009 • Permalink