P. J. O'Rourke

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There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.

Patrick Jake O'Rourke (14 November 194714 February 2022) was an American political satirist, most often known as P. J. O'Rourke.


  • Iran and Iraq have been at war for five years now. The traditional present for a fifth anniversary is wood. Here's a gift suggestion: a big stick to beat some goddamned sense into their heads.
    • "Year in Review" in Rolling Stone (19 December 1985)
  • Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Stepanakert, capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, rioted over much needed spelling reform in the Soviet Union.
    • "Year in Review" in Rolling Stone (15 December 1988)
  • Marijuana is […] self-punishing. It makes you acutely sensitive and in this world, what worse punishment could there be?
  • One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license.
    • Rolling Stone (30 November 1989) [1]
  • Marxism has tremendous appeal in the Third World for exactly the same reason it had tremendous appeal to me in college. It gives you something to believe in when what surrounds you seems unbelievable. It gives you someone to blame besides yourself. It's theoretically tidy. And, best of all, it's fully imaginary so it can never be disproved.
    • "The Awful Power of Make-Believe". Second Thoughts: Former Radicals Look Back At The Sixties. Collier, Peter; Horowitz, David, eds. (1989). Lanham, MD: Madison Books. ISBN 978-0819171474.
  • No government proposal more complicated than "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private" ever works.
    • Roast of Robert Novak at the Conservative Political Action Committee (11 February 1994)
  • Why can't everybody just get along? No reasonably detached person goes to Israel without being reduced in philosophical discourse to the level of Rodney King—or, for that matter, to the level of George Santayana. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Santayana said, in one of those moments of fatuousness that come to even the most detached of philosophers. It goes double for those who can't remember anything else. And they do get along, after their fashion. Muslims and Christians and Jews have lived together in the Holy Land for centuries—hating one another's guts, cutting one another's throats, and touching off wars of various magnitudes. The whole melodrama of the Middle East would be improved if amnesia were as common here as it is in melodramatic plots.
    • "Zion's Vital Signs" in The Atlantic (November 2001) [2]
  • Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.
    • As quoted in Busted : Stone Cowboys, Narco-lords, and Washington's War on Drugs (2002) edited by Mike Gray
  • I am a little to the right of ... Why is the Attila comparison used? Fifth-century Hunnish depredations on the Roman Empire were the work of an overpowerful executive pursuing a policy of economic redistribution in an atmosphere of permissive social mores. I am a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh. I'm so conservative that I approve of San Francisco City Hall marriages, adoption by same-sex couples, and New Hampshire's recently ordained Episcopal bishop. Gays want to get married, have children, and go to church. Next they'll be advocating school vouchers, boycotting HBO, and voting Republican.
    • "I Agree With Me" (July/August 2004)
  • Moore's new book, Dude, Where's My Country?, contains ten chapters of fulminations convincing the convinced. However, Moore does include one chapter on how to argue with a conservative. As if. Approached by someone like Michael Moore, a conservative would drop a quarter in Moore's Starbucks cup and hurriedly walk away.
    • "I Agree With Me" (July/August 2004)
  • There are two organizations pushing for change in November — al Qaeda and the Democratic party. And they both have the same message: 'We're going to fix you, America.' On the whole, the terrorists have a more straightforward plan for fixing things. They're going to blow themselves up. Although, come to think of it, Howard Dean did that.
    • "Putting Words in the President's Mouth" (12 October 2004)
  • No, it turns out Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction. And how crazy does that make Saddam? All he had to do was tell Hans Blix, 'Look anywhere you want. Look under the bed. Look beneath the couch. Look behind the toilet tank in the third presidential palace on the left, but keep your mitts off my copies of Maxim.' And Saddam could have gone on dictatoring away until Donald Rumsfeld gets elected head of the World Council of Churches. But no . . .
    • "Putting Words in the President's Mouth" (12 October 2004)
  • Saddam Hussein was reduced to the Unabomber — Ted Kaczynski — a nutcase hiding in the sticks. Sure, the terrorism by his supporters is frightening. Hence, its name, 'terrorism.' Killing innocent people by surprise is not called 'a thousand points of light.' But, as frightening as terrorism is, it's the weapon of losers. The minute somebody sets off a suicide bomb, you can be sure that person doesn't have 'career prospects.' And no matter how horrendous a terrorist attack is, it's still conducted by losers. Winners don't need to hijack airplanes. Winners have an Air Force.
    • "Putting Words in the President's Mouth" (12 October 2004)
  • And then there is the Tenth Commandment. 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.' The Ten Commandments are God's basic rules about how we should live — a brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts.
    The first nine Commandments concern theological principles and social law. But then, right at the end, is 'Don't envy your buddy's cow.' How did that make the top ten? What's it doing there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose as one of those things jealousy about the starter mansion with in-ground pool next door?
    Yet think how important the Tenth Commandment is to a community, to a nation, indeed to a presidential election. If you want a mule, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don't be a jerk and whine about what the people across the street have — go get your own.
    The Tenth Commandment sends a message to all the jerks who want redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, more government programs, more government regulation, more government, less free enterprise, and less freedom. And the message is clear and concise: Go to hell.
    • "An Alternative Inaugural Speech" (18 January 2005)
  • Watching Republicans in Washington is like watching lemmings, if lemmings jumped into cesspools instead of off cliffs. Splash! There goes Mark Foley!
    • "What's That Smell?" (23 October 2006)
  • The difference between American parties is actually simple. Democrats are in favor of higher taxes to pay for greater spending, while Republicans are in favor of greater spending, for which the taxpayers will pay. In foreign policy, Republicans intend to pursue the war in Iraq but to do so with a minimal number of troops on the ground. This is not to be confused with the disastrous Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld policy of using a minimal number of troops on the ground to pursue the war in Iraq. Democrats intend to end the war, but they don't know when. Democrats are making the 'high school sex promise': I'll pull out in time, honest!
    • "Letter to Our European Friends" (4 February 2008)
  • The number of American presidential candidates varies with the sunspot cycle and the phases of the moon. Being a Republican, I'm backing Hillary Clinton. Because she could lose. The reason is not that she's a woman. The reason is that she's the particular woman who taught the 4th grade class that every man in America wished he were dead in. Hillary Clinton is Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Hillary Clinton is 'America's ex-wife.'
    • "Letter to Our European Friends" (4 February 2008)
  • Incidentally, there's a balanced position that all of America's presidential candidates could take on the controversial abortion issue. If they want votes they shouldn't campaign to make abortion illegal or legal. They should campaign to make it retroactive. If a kid reaches 25 and he or she is still jobless, feckless, and sitting around Starbucks acting like a — no offense — European, then whack.
    • "Letter to Our European Friends" (4 February 2008)

Modern Manners (1983)

Modern Manners : An Etiquette Book for Rude People
  • A charity ball is like a dance except it's tax deductible.
  • A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.
  • Weird clothing is de rigeur for teenagers, but today's generation of teens is finding it difficult to be sufficiently weird. This is because the previous generation of teens, who went through adolescence in the sixties and seventies, used up practically all the available weirdness.
  • A woman should dress to attract attention. To attract the most attention, a woman should either be nude or wearing something as expensive as getting her nude is going to be.
  • Nothing makes an awful secret like a secret Negro... Up North, confess your bloodline freely. There's nothing a Northerner likes better than a black person who is completely white. Do not, however, try this trick with real blacks. They could give a shit... (If you travel in very sophisticated circles, you may want to turn Marcus Aurelius into Moses Schmeckle. Racism is very lower-class. Upper-class people are never racists; they're anti-Semites.)
  • Foreigners may pretend otherwise, but if English is spoken loudly enough, anyone can understand it, the British included. Actually, there’s no such thing as a foreign language. The world is just filled with people who grunt and squeak instead of speaking sensibly. French may be an exception. But since it’s impossible to figure out what French people are saying, we’ll never know for sure.

The Bachelor Home Companion (1986)

Full title: The Bachelor Home Companion. A practical guide to keeping house like a pig.
  • A good bachelor drinks his dessert (and sometimes the rest of his meals). A sweet tooth is a danger signal that you're getting too much exercise and not enough cocktails.
  • A steady job is at least as deleterious to the spirit of bachelorhood as a steady date. Some jobs are worse than actual wives.
  • Bachelors know all about parties. In fact, a good bachelor is a living, breathing party all by himself. At least that is what my girlfriend said when she found the gin bottles under the couch. I believe her exact words were, "You're a disgusting, drunken mess." And that's a good description of a party, if it's done right.
  • Cleaning, like seduction, should be done from the top down — starting with the ceiling, which is ridiculous. Gravity takes care of that.
  • Despite the fact that meat is made from dead animals, it shouldn't smell that way. Try this test for meat freshness: close your eyes and see if you can tell the pork chops from a gym locker.
  • Even newlyweds don't spend much time together, now that few marriages outlast the appliance warranties.
  • For some mysterious Darwinian reason, women feel compelled to straighten up bedrooms before and after sex. Try to make love in every other room of the house.
  • Keeping house is as unpleasant and filthy as coal mining, and the pay's a lot worse.
  • Never serve oysters during a month that has no paycheck in it.
  • Remember, your body needs 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily. Straight up or on the rocks.
  • The only really good vegetable is Tabasco sauce. Put Tabasco sauce in everything. Tabasco sauce is to bachelor cooking what forgiveness is to sin.
  • The real truth about children is they don't speak the language very well. They're physically uncoordinated. And they are ignorant of our elaborate ideas about right and wrong.
  • There's only one secret to bachelor cooking — not caring how it tastes.
  • You can keep the dining room clean by eating in the kitchen.

Republican Party Reptile (1987)

  • Pain is the body's way of showing us we're bone-heads. A child growing up in an excessively safe environment may never learn that he is one — not until he gets married and has a wife to tell him so.
  • Every generation finds the drug it needs.
  • Fishing ... is a sport invented by insects and you are the bait.
  • Freddie Aguilar, who's billed as "the Bob Dylan of the Philippines." This is unfair, since he's good-looking, plays the guitar well, can carry a tune, and writes songs that make sense.
  • I mean, so what if some fifty-eight-year-old butt-head gets a load on and starts playing Death Race 2000 in the rush-hour traffic jam? What kind of chance is he taking? He's just waiting around to see what kind of cancer he gets anyway. But if young, talented you, with all of life's possibilities at your fingertips, you and the future Cheryl Tiegs there, so fresh, so beautiful — if the two of you stake your handsome heads on a single roll of the dice in life's game of stop-the-semi — now that's taking chances! Which is why old people rarely risk their lives. It's not because they're chicken — they just have too much dignity to play for small stakes.
  • Some people say a front-engine car handles best. Some people say a rear-engine car handles best. I say a rented car handles best.
  • I'm a registered Republican and consider socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn't stick your nose in other people's business except to make a buck.
  • In fact, safety has no place anywhere. Everything that's fun in life is dangerous. Horse races, for instance, are very dangerous. But attempt to design a safe horse and the result is a cow (an appalling animal to watch at the trotters.) And everything that isn't fun is dangerous too. It is impossible to be alive and safe.
  • Man developed in Africa. He has not continued to do so there.
  • Jewishness cropped up and has never successfully been put down since.
  • Industrialization came to England but has since left.
  • Neither conservatives nor humorists believe man is good. But left-wingers do.
  • Something is happening to America, not something dangerous but something all too safe. I see it in my lifelong friends. I am a child of the "baby boom," a generation not known for its sane or cautious approach to things. Yet suddenly my peers are giving up drinking, giving up smoking, cutting down on coffee, sugar, and salt. They will not eat red meat and go now to restaurants whose menus have caused me to stand on a chair yelling, "Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, dinner is served!" This from the generation of LSD, Weather Underground, and Altamont Rock Festival! And all in the name of safety! Our nation has withstood many divisions—North and South, black and white, labor and management—but I do not know if the country can survive division into smoking and non-smoking sections.
  • The forces of safety are afoot in the land. I, for one, believe it is a conspiracy— a conspiracy of Safety Nazis shouting "Sieg Health" and seeking to trammel freedom, liberty, and large noisy parties. The Safety Nazis advocate gun control, vigorous exercise, and health foods. The result can only be a disarmed, exhausted, and half-starved population ready to acquiesce to dictatorship of some kind.
  • The Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies is supposed to have subscribed to the Village Voice for six years in an attempt to find out about life in America's rural areas.
  • The real slums are another matter. The bad parts of Tondo are as bad as any place I've seen, ancient, filthy houses swarmed with the poor and stinking of sewage and trash. But there are worse parts— squatter areas where people live under cardboard, in shipping crates, behind tacked-up newspapers. Dad would march you straight to the basement with a hairbrush in his hand if he caught you keeping your hamster cage like this.
  • The Soviet constitution guarantees everyone a job. A pretty scary idea, I'd say.
  • These were people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.
  • To really enjoy drugs you've got to want to get out of where you are. But there are some wheres that are harder to get out of than others. This is the drug-taking problem for adults. Teenage weltschmerz is easy to escape. But what drug will get a grown-up out of, for instance, debt?

Holidays in Hell (1989)

  • Civilization is an enormous improvement on the lack thereof.
  • Cockfighting has always been my idea of a great sport— two armed entrées battling to see who'll be dinner.
  • Earnestness is just stupidity sent to college.
  • Everything on a boat has a different name than it would have if it weren't on a boat. Either this is ancient seafaring tradition or it's how people who mess around with boats try to impress the rest of us who actually finished college.
  • Harvard has been almost as important to the American Jewish community as the pork-sausage industry.
  • I am no stranger to loud noise. I've been to a Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels concert. I once dated a woman with two kids.
  • I can understand why mankind hasn't given up war. During a war you get to drive tanks through the sides of buildings and shoot foreigners— two things that are usually frowned on during peacetime.
  • I like to do my principal research in bars, where people are more likely to tell the truth or, at least, lie less convincingly than they do in briefings and books.
  • I've always figured that if God wanted us to go to church a lot He'd have given us bigger behinds to sit on and smaller heads to think with.
  • If Christ came back tomorrow, He'd have to change planes in Frankfurt. Modern air travel means less time spent in transit. That time is now spent in transit lounges.
  • In Western Australia they don't even know how to make that vital piece of sailing-boat equipment, the gin and tonic.
  • Only one way to cover a story like this, and make that a double, bartender, please.
  • It had never occurred to us that the Kremlin's new anti-booze campaign would apply to journalists. Now, that's a human-rights violation.
  • Italy is not technically part of the Third World, but no one has told the Italians.
  • Moscow has changed. I was here in 1982, during the Brezhnev twilight, and things are better now. For instance, they've got litter. In 1982 there was nothing to litter with.
  • One nice thing about the Third World, you don't have to fasten your seat belt. (Or stop smoking. Or cut down on saturated fats.) It takes a lot off your mind when average life expectancy is forty-five minutes.
  • Some people are worried about the difference between right and wrong. I'm worried about the difference between wrong and fun.
  • The America's Cup is like driving your Lamborghini to the Grand Prix track to watch the charter buses race.
  • The Australian language is easier to learn than boat talk. It has a vocabulary of about six words.
  • The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don't know.
  • The interesting thing about staring down a gun barrel is how small the hole is where the bullet comes out, yet what a big difference it would make in your social schedule.
  • The Italians have had two thousand years to fix up the Forum and just look at the place.
  • The larger the German body, the smaller the German bathing suit and the louder the German voice issuing German demands and German orders to everybody who doesn't speak German. For this, and several other reasons, Germany is known as 'the land where Israelis learned their manners'.
  • The most extraordinary change in Moscow was Arbat Street, the USSR's first pedestrian mall. Of course, there's something a little sad about a pedestrian mall in a nation where few people own cars— the whole damn country's a pedestrian mall.
  • There are a lot of mysterious things about boats, such as why anyone would get on one voluntarily.
  • There are probably more fact-finding tours of Nicaragua right now than there are facts— the country has shortages of practically everything.
  • They don't like anyone who isn't Korean, and they don't like each other all that much, either. They're hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little bastards, "the Irish of Asia".
  • To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything is designed by the post office, even the sleaze.
  • War will exist as long as there's a food chain.
  • What would be a road hazard anywhere else, in the Third World is probably the road.
  • There are twenty-seven specific complaints against the British Crown set forth in the Declaration of Independence. To modern ears they still sound reasonable, in large part, because so many of them can be leveled against the federal government of the United States.
  • The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop.
    • p. 14
  • The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.
  • Marilyn Quayle was there, too, looking – it was indeed a strange week in Washington – great. She had her hair done up in something my wife said was a chignon, and whatever it was, it made Marilyn look considerably less like a Cape buffalo than usual. Though actually I admired the Cape buffalo look. I have an idea that – like a Cape buffalo – if Marilyn Quayle gets furious and charges, you've got only one shot at the skull. You wouldn't want to just wound her.
  • Many reporters, when they go to work in the nation’s capital, begin thinking of themselves as participants in the political process instead of glorified stenographers.
  • The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it.
  • Daniel Patrick Moynihan is the archetypal extremely smart person who went into politics anyway instead of doing something worthwhile for his country. So maybe he owes all of us an apology...
  • The American political system is like a gigantic Mexican Christmas fiesta. Each political party is a huge piñata — a papier-mâché donkey, for example. The donkey is filled with full employment, low interest rates, affordable housing, comprehensive medical benefits, a balanced budget and other goodies. The American voter is blindfolded and given a stick. The voter then swings the stick wildly in every direction, trying to hit a political candidate on the head and knock some sense into the silly bastard.
  • Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
    • pp. xviii-xix.
  • Imagine if all of life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza. Every pair of pants, even those in a Brooks Brothers suit, would be stone-washed denim. Celebrity diet and exercise books would be the only thing on the shelves at the library. And — since women are a majority of the population — we'd all be married to Mel Gibson.
  • Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadows about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.
  • There’s a whiff of the lynch mob or the lemming migration about any overlarge concentration of like-thinking individuals, no matter how virtuous their cause.
    • p. 194
  • The collegiate idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.
    • p. 198

Give War a Chance (1992)

  • The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors— psychology, sociology, women's studies— to prove that nothing is anybody's fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view.
  • At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child — miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.
  • I have often been called a Nazi, and, although it is unfair, I don't let it bother me. I don't let it bother me for one simple reason. No one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.
  • The principal feature of American liberalism is sanctimoniousness. By loudly denouncing all bad things — war and hunger and date rape — liberals testify to their own terrific goodness. More important, they promote themselves to membership in a self-selecting elite of those who care deeply about such things.... It's a kind of natural aristocracy, and the wonderful thing about this aristocracy is that you don't have to be brave, smart, strong or even lucky to join it, you just have to be liberal.
  • You can't get good Chinese takeout in China and Cuban cigars are rationed in Cuba. That's all you need to know about communism.
  • You can't shame or humiliate modern celebrities. What used to be called shame and humiliation is now called publicity. And forget traditional character assassination; if you say a modern celebrity is an adulterer, a pervert and a drug addict, all it means is that you've read his autobiography.
  • The Third World attitude toward the United States is also easy to understand if you think of it in terms of adolescence. The citizens of the Third World are in a teenage muddle about us--full of envy, imitation, anger and blind puppy love. I have been held at gunpoint by a Shi'ite youth in West Beirut who told me in one breath that America was "pig Satan devil" and that he planned to go to dental school in Dearborn as soon as he got his green card. In Ulundi, in Zululand, I talked to a young man who, as usual, blamed apartheid on the United States. However, he had just visited the U.S. with a church group and also told me, "Everything is so wonderful there. The race relations are so good. And everyone is rich." Just what part of America had he visited, I asked. "The South Side of Chicago," he said.

The Liberty Manifesto (1993)

Speech delivered May 6, 1993 for the opening of the Cato Institute's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
  • Freedom is not empowerment. Empowerment is what the Serbs have in Bosnia. Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It's not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the "right" to education, the "right" to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.
  • There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
  • There are just two rules of governance in a free society: Mind your own business. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your hands to yourself, Bill. Hillary, mind your own business.
  • Health care is too expensive, so the Clinton administration is putting Hillary in charge of making it cheaper. (This is what I always do when I want to spend less money — hire a lawyer from Yale.) If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
  • And the Clinton administration launched an attack on people in Texas because those people were religious nuts with guns. Hell, this country was founded by religious nuts with guns. Who does Bill Clinton think stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock? Peace Corps volunteers? Or maybe the people in Texas were attacked because of child abuse. But, if child abuse was the issue, why didn't Janet Reno tear-gas Woody Allen?
  • You know, if government were a product, selling it would be illegal.
  • Government is a health hazard. Governments have killed many more people than cigarettes or unbuckled seat belts ever have.
  • Term limits aren't enough. We need jail.

All the Trouble in the World (1994)

All the Trouble in the World. The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague and Poverty.
  • Things are better now than things have been since men began keeping track of things. Things are better than they were only a few years ago. Things are better, in fact, than they were at 9:30 this morning, thanks to Tylenol and two Bloody Marys. But that's personal and history is general. It's always possible to come down with the mumps on V-J Day or to have, right in the middle of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a piece of it fall on your foot. In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: 'dentistry.'
  • A careful reading of 50 Simple Things leaves you wondering whether you're going to die from environmental disaster or intellectual annoyance. Failing either, you can worry yourself to death.
  • A pleasant natural environment is a good— a luxury good, philosophical good, a moral goody-good, a good time for all. Whatever, we want it. If we want something, we should pay for it, with our labor or our cash. We shouldn't beg it, steal it, sit around wishing for it, or euchre the government into taking it by force.
  • A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty — their power and privilege — to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by ... politicians
  • Advocating the expansion of the powers of the state is treason to mankind, goddamnit!
  • Any person who has spent time outdoors actually doing something, such as hunting and fishing as opposed to standing there with a doobie in his mouth, knows nature is not intrinsically healthy.
  • Any random group of thirty Vietnamese women will contain a dozen who make Julia Roberts look like Lyle Lovett.
  • Anyone who thinks he has a better idea of what's good for people than people do is a swine.
  • Are we disheartened by the breakup of the family? Nobody who ever met my family is.
  • Asia is the continent rhythm forgot. At best Asian music is off-brand American pop, like Sonny Bono in a karaoke bar. At worst Asian music sounds as if a truck full of wind chimes collided with a stack of empty oil drums during a birdcall contest.
  • Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Anybody can say "I've got cancer" and get a rise out of a crowd. But how many of us can do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?
  • Biotechnology is a worry. What if they take genetic material from wet noodles and blowfish and splice it into politician chromosomes and create a Clinton administration?
  • Bureaucrats want bigger bureaus. Special interests are interested in whatever's special to them. These two groups bring great pressure to bear upon politicians who have another agenda yet: to cater to the temporary whims and fads of the public and the press.
  • Crowded as the country is, is overcrowding even its main problem? Hong Kong and Singapore both have greater population densities (14.315 and 12.347 per square mile, respectively) than Bangladesh, and they're called success stories. The same goes for Monaco. In fact, the whole Riviera is packed in August, and neither Malthus nor Ehrlich have complained about the topless beaches of St. Tropez.
  • Ecology is the science of everything. Nobody knows everything. Nobody even knows everything about any one thing. And most of us don't know much. Say it's ten-thirty on a Saturday night. Where are your teenage children? I didn't ask where they said they were going. Where are they really? What are they doing? Who are they with? Have you met the other kids' families? And what is tonight's pot smoking, wine-cooler drinking, and sex in the backseats of cars going to mean in a hundred years? Now extend these questions to the entire solar system.
  • Even the bad things are better than they used to be. Bad music, for instance, has gotten much briefer. Wagner's Ring Cycle takes four days to perform while "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies lasts little more than three minutes.
  • Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.
  • Fretting about overpopulation, is a perfect guilt-free— indeed, sanctimonious— way for "progressives" to be racists.
  • Government subsidies can be critically analyzed according to a simple principle: You are smarter than the government, so when the government pays you to do something you wouldn't do on your own, it is almost always paying you to do something stupid.
  • Haitians weren't screwed-up, but everything political, intellectual, and material around them is.
  • Human problems are complex. If something isn't complex it doesn't qualify as problematic. Very simple bad things are not worth troubling ourselves about.
  • I guess the argument of contextuality is that anything is okay as long as it's done by people who are sufficiently unlike you.
  • I suspect the Haitian Ministry of Health's principal contribution to health in Haiti is providing nice, healthy jobs to those Haitians with the connection to get them.
  • I'd like to end the book a lot of ways. Except I don't have any answers. Use your common sense. Be nice. This is the best I can do. All the trouble in the world is human trouble. Well, that's not true. But when cancer cells run amok and burst out of the prostate and take over the liver and lymph glands and end up killing everything in the body including themselves, they certainly are acting like some humans we know.
  • Idealism is based on big ideas. And, as anybody who has ever been asked "What's the big idea?" knows, most big ideas are bad ones.
  • If the politics of disease are to be understood, particularly in the dreadful countries where this understanding is most needed, then the politics of total collapse have to be understood first.
  • If we're going to improve the environment, the first thing we should do is duck the government. The second thing we should do is quit being moral. Screw the rights of nature. Nature will have rights as soon as it get duties. The minute we see birds, trees, bugs, and squirrels picking up litter, giving money to charity, and keeping an eye on our kids at the park, we'll let them vote.
  • Imagine a weight-loss program at the end of which, instead of better health, good looks, and hot romantic prospects, you die. Somalia had become just this kind of spa.
  • In a society where commonweal does not exist, there are no duties, only exactations to be avoided, and no freedoms, only privileges to be grabbed. There can be no such thing as "public services" because nothing in the country is truly public. Everything is somebody's fief. And every fief must be exploited if the exploiter cares to survive.
  • In Japan people drive on the left. In China people drive on the right. In Vietnam it doesn't matter.
  • It takes a lot of weapons to do good works (as Richard the Lionhearted could have told us). And this is not just a Somali problem. We have poverty and deprivation in our own country. Try standing unarmed on a street corner in Compton handing out twenty-dollar bills and see how long you last.
  • It's hard to come back from the Balkans and not sound like a Pete Seeger song.
  • "Malthus,", says Vice President Al Gore in Earth in the Balance, "was right in predicting that the population would grow geometrically." Al, as the father of four children, should know.
  • Man has been breeding livestock for ten thousand years and has yet to come up with a monstrous sheep that can trample buildings and graze a whole golf course for breakfast.
  • Mankind is supposed to have evolved in the treetops. But I have examined my sense of balance, the prehensility of my various appendages, and my attitude toward standing on anything higher than, say, political principles, and I have concluded that, personally, I evolved in the backseat of a car.
  • Most of the research about species extinction has been conducted on islands because islands are controlled environments and scientists can get drinks with little umbrellas in them there... Island logic also tells us that an increase in habitat size means an increase in number of species. But it doesn't necessarily. You can build your bed as large as you like and still get very few people to sleep with you.
  • Of course, the humans in Haiti have hope. They hope to leave.
  • On Friday, June 12, 1992, 110 heads of state gathered at Riocentro. They were indistinguishable in dress and deportment. Where was biodiversity when we needed it?
  • One thing that's certain about going outdoors: When you come back inside, you'll be scratching.
  • People who are wise, good, smart, skillful, or hardworking don't need politics, they have jobs.
  • People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important.
  • Personally, I believe a rocking hammock, a good cigar, and a tall gin-and-tonic is the way to save the planet.
  • Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty— their power and privilege— to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by ... politicians.
  • Remember, FDA employees are serious about fear. We pay these people to panic about an iota of rodent hair in our chili, even when the recipe calls for it. FDA employees are first-class agonizers, world champions at losing sleep. When Meryl Streep got hysterical about Alar, they actually checked the apples instead of Meryl's head.
  • Saigon is like all the other great modern cities of the world. It's the mess left from people getting rich.
  • Sloths move at the speed of congressional debate but with greater deliberation and less noise.
  • Somalia is so bad that making a mess improves the place.
  • The morning meal was served in traditional socialist fashion— very slowly, with the courses out of order so that the jelly arrived half an hour after the toast and the coffee didn't come until we'd called for the check. However, it was hard to be angry at a place that had ice cream, beer, and cigarettes on its breakfast menu.
  • The observers had a logbook recording the assaults, bombings, and artillery attacks on the area. Each page was ruled in vertical columns: DATE, TIME, LOCATION, DAMAGE, CASUALTIES. The columns headed ACTION TAKEN BY THE UN were completely empty.
  • The people who believe that, as a result of industrial development, life is about to become a hell, or may be one already, are guilty, at least, of sloppy pronouncements. On page 8 of Earth in the Balance, Al Gore claims that his study of the arms race gave him "a deeper appreciation for the most horrifying fact in all our lives: civilization is now capable of destroying itself." In the first place, the most horrifying fact in many of our lives is that our ex-spouse has gotten ahold of our ATM card. And civilization has always been able to destroy itself. The Greeks of ancient Athens, who had a civilization remarkable for lack of technological progress during its period of greatest knowledge and power, managed to destroy them fine.
  • The typical old-fashioned diet was so bad it almost resembled modern dieting.
  • There is a fine line in the Third World between half a dozen customs officials waiting for you to offer them a bribe and half a dozen customs officials waiting for you to offer them a bribe so they can throw you in jail.
  • Traffic was like a bad dog. It wasn't important to look both ways when crossing the street; it was important to not show fear.
  • Two key rules of Third World travel: 1. Never run out of whiskey. 2. Never run out of whiskey.
  • Violence is interesting. This is a great obstacle to world peace and also to more thoughtful television programming.
  • War is a great asshole magnet.
  • We tried to find the mayor. His secretary said he was at home. His wife said he was at the office. In Italy or France this would mean His Honor was having an affair. In Chabarovice it probably meant he'd run off to be a busboy in Stuttgart.
  • When a private entity does not produce the desired results, it is (certain body parts excepted) done away with. But a public entity gets bigger.
  • When a thing defies physical law, there's usually politics involved.
  • When government does, occasionally, work, it works in an elitist fashion. That is, government is most easily manipulated by people who have money and power already. This is why government benefits usually go to people who don't need benefits from government. Government may make some environmental improvements, but these will be improvements for rich bird-watchers. And no one in government will remember that when poor people go bird-watching they do it at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Worshiping the earth is more fun than going to church. It's also closer. We can just step off the sidewalk. And sometimes we can get impressionable members of the opposite sex to perform sacramental rites with us. "Every drop of water wasted is a drop less of a wild and scenic river, Jennifer. We'd better double up in the shower."

Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1996)

O'Rourke, P. J. (1996). Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (1st edition ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 368 pp.. ISBN 978-0-87113-653-4. 
  • Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby.
  • We’re told cars are dangerous. It’s safer to drive through South Central Los Angeles than to walk there. We’re told cars are wasteful. Wasteful of what? Oil did a lot of good sitting in the ground for millions of years. We’re told cars should be replaced with mass transportation. But it’s hard to reach the drive-through window at McDonald’s from a speeding train. And we’re told cars cause pollution. A hundred years ago city streets were ankle deep in horse excrement. What kind of pollution do you want? Would you rather die of cancer at eighty or typhoid fever at nine?

Why I Am a Conservative (1996)

O'Rourke, P. J. (1996). Why I Am a Conservative (1st edition ed.). Second Thoughts Books. pp. 24 pp.. 978-1886442085. 
  • There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as caring and sensitive because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he is willing to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he will do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head.
    • How to Explain Conservatism to Your Squishy Liberal Friends: Individualism 'R' Us

A Message to Redistributionists (1997)

Speech delivered May 1, 1997 for the twentieth anniversary of the Cato Institute.
  • I wonder how many of the people who profess to believe in the leveling ideas of collectivism and egalitarianism really just believe that they themselves are good for nothing. I mean, how many leftists are animated by a quite reasonable self-loathing? In their hearts they know that they are not going to become scholars or inventors or industrialists or even ordinary good kind people. So they need a way to achieve that smugness for which the left is so justifiably famous. They need a way to achieve self-esteem without merit. Well, there is politics. In an egalitarian world everything will be controlled by politics, and politics requires no merit.
O'Rourke, P. J. (1999). Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics (1st edition ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 272 pp.. 978-0-87113-760-9. 
  • Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of most bad economic thinking.
  • When a government controls both the economic power of individuals and the coercive power of the state ... This violates a fundamental rule of happy living: Never let the people with all the money and the people with all the guns be the same people.

Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism (2004)

O'Rourke, P. J. (2004). Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism (1st edition ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 256 pp.. ISBN 978-0-8021-4031-9. 
  • The idea of a news broadcast once was to find someone with information and broadcast it. The idea now is to find someone with ignorance and spread it around.
  • Wherever there's injustice, oppression, and suffering, America will show up six months late and bomb the country next to where it's happening.

Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (2005)

  • There is parody, when you make fun of people who are smarter than you; satire, when you make fun of people who are richer than you; and burlesque, when you make fun of both while taking your clothes off.

On The Wealth of Nations (2007)

O'Rourke, P. J. (2007). On "The Wealth of Nations": Books That Changed the World (1st edition ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 242 pp.. ISBN 0-87113-949-9. 
  • When Adam Smith was being incomprehensible, he didn't have the luxury of brief, snappy technical terms as a shorthand for incoherence.
    • Chapter 2: "Why Is The Wealth of Nations So Damn Long?", p. 22

How The Hell Did This Happen? (2017)

How The Hell Did This Happen? : The Election of 2016 (2017)
  • Author's Note
    • I knew that the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election would be interesting times. I had no idea they would rise to the level of an ancient Chinese curse.
    • I was prepared for some surprises during the 2016 campaign, which leaves me with no excuse for how surprised I was by what the surprises were... Most of the chapters of this book were written while the events described were taking place. Reading the manuscript, I notice there's a lack of continuity between the chapters. One thing doesn't lead to another. This is because, in the 2016 presidential campaign, as far as I can tell, one thing didn't lead to another.... if my book lacks a coherent narrative it's because I couldn't find one.
  • Preamble
    • We the people of the United States, in order to dissolve what unity we have, establish injustice, insure domestic idiocy, provide for the common offence, promote the general despair, and secure enmity toward ourselves by our posterity, do ordain and establish this obnoxious political spectacle, the election of 2016.
  • Chapter One: The Campaign Begins: Ready, Set, Go to Hell
    • Show me one candidate who, like Millard Fillmore in 1856, has the honest decency to come right out and admit being a "Know-Nothing." At least the members of the Know-Nothing Party knew they knew nothing.
    • The opinion was universally held, by the sort of people who universally hold opinions, that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would be the inevitable winners of their parties' nominations. And I trembled for my country.
  • Chapter Two: The Abominable Showman: June 16, 2015
    • But then — from the bottom of the campaign barrel with the lees, dross, and dregs — came Donald Trump.
    • Trump claims to be worth billions, seven of them as of 2012. In 2004 Forbes Magazine estimated Trump's net worth to be $2.6 billion. New York Times reporter Timothy O'Brien looked into the numbers and came up with a net worth figure between $150 million and $250 million. Trump sued O'Brien. Trump lost.
    • [Adam] Davidson notes that Trump is no longer even a minor player in the luxury resort and gambling business. He owns no casinos. Nor is he the principal owner of his own reality TV production company. Trump's Manhattan real-estate operation does not even rate as a mention in industry's "major rankings of developers, owners or property managers." "When you try to weigh Trump's record as a businessman" Davidson says, "you quickly find there is nothing of substance... His true calling seems to be acting like a successful businessman."
    • Trump restructured $3.5 billion in business debt and $900 million in personal debt between 1991 and 1994. "Restructured" being the Trump way of saying he didn’t pay it. We Americans know a leader when we see one. We can assume that Trump will further America's economic growth the same way he's furthered his own — with bad debt, bad debt, bad debt, and more debt.
  • Chapter Three: The Horror! The Horror!
    • The best case that can be made for Donald Trump is that American politics has turned into an unmapped and pestilent watershed in the heart of darkness, so let's send Mr. Kurtz upriver. To understand how the heretofore more or less respectable Republican Party wound up with such a repellent nominee it's useful to look at the other prospective nominees. And be repelled.
  • Chapter Four: A Huck So Unlike Finn: July 26, 2015
    • It would be completely unfair — and thus entirely in the spirit of this campaign — to single out one Republican candidate as an example of Republican candidates being so intellectually soiled that they lost the nomination to crap itself. As an example Mike Huckabee will do.
  • Chapter 27: I Endorse Hillary Clinton
    • America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?
      • Variant: The 2016 presidential campaign is the most severe case of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. (paraphrase stated in various write-ups of the book)
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