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Paul-Charles Chocarne-Moreau, The Cunning Thief, 1931
Theft is only punished because it violates the right of property; but this right is itself nothing in origin but theft. ~ Donatien Alphonse François de Sade
Suppose to-day Negroes do steal; who was it that for centuries made stealing a virtue by stealing their labor? ~ Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois
The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal." ~ Thomas Müntzer
Property is theft!
~ Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
The great thieves are leading away the little thief. ~ Diogenes of Sinope

Theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud. In some jurisdictions, theft is considered to be synonymous with larceny; in others, theft has replaced larceny. Someone who carries out an act of or makes a career of theft is known as a thief. The act of theft is known by terms such as stealing, thieving, and filching.




  • The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
  • “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
“who store up in their fortresses
what they have plundered and looted.”
  • To live
    On means not yours—be brave in silks and laces,
    Gallant in steeds; splendid in banquets; all
    Not yours. Given, uninherited, unpaid for;
    This is to be a trickster; and to filch
    Men's art and labour, which to them is wealth,
    Life, daily bread;—quitting all scores with "friend,
    You're troublesome!"
    Why this, forgive me,
    Is what, when done with a less dainty grace,
    Plain folks call "Theft."
  • No Indian prince has to his palace
    More followers than a thief to the gallows.
  • Kill a man's family, and he may brook it,
    But keep your hands out of his breeches' pocket.
  • When the ideal of Society is material gain or possession, as it is largely today, the object of its special condemnation is the thief – not the rich thief, for he is already in possession and therefore respectable, but the poor thief.
  • The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one's neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property.
  • Thieves respect property; they merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
  • Stolen sweets are best.
  • There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast.
    • Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, (1838), Chapter 10; referring to chasing pickpockets on the streets of London.
  • Diogenes ... saw the officials of a temple leading away someone who had stolen a bowl belonging to the treasurers, and said, "The great thieves are leading away the little thief."
  • If your claim to fame is that you’ve taken money from other people and haven’t delivered what you promised, that doesn’t make you a genius businessman, that makes you a thief.
  • All stealing is comparative. If you come to absolutes, pray who does not steal?
  • All over Tibet I had seen men who had been deprived of an arm or a leg for theft (...) Penal amputations were done without antiseptics or sterile dressings.
    • Robert W. Ford Wind Between the Worlds: Captured in Tibet by (1957), p. 37.


  • This command forbids us to rob ourselves of what we have by sinful spending, or of the use and comfort of it by sinful sparing, and to rob others by removing the ancient landmarks, invading our neighbour’s rights, taking his goods from his person, or house, or field, forcibly or clandestinely, over-reaching in bargains, nor restoring what is borrowed or found, withholding just debts, rents, or wages, and (which is worst of all) to rob the public in the coin or revenue, or that which is dedicated to the service of religion.
  • The Friar preached against stealing, and had a goose in his sleeve.
  • Opulence is always the result of theft, if not committed by the actual possessor, then by his predecessor.
  • I am amazed that (as far as I know) no one has ever treated the idea of a "master-thief," an idea that certainly would lend itself very well to dramatic treatment. We cannot help noting that almost every country has had the idea of such a thief, that an ideal of a thief has hovered before all of them.... We must, of course, imagine him [the master-thief] well-equipped with a very good sense of humor, which can very well be reconciled with his discontent, which is precisely what will make him satirical and — even though he must not be thought of as always being discontented — can still be readily reconciled with his lowly origin at the grassroot level of the nation. ... I would prefer to think of such a master-thief as someone who had lost his father early in life and now has only an old mother whom he loves dearly and she him.
  • If something is stolen from you, don't go to the police. They're not interested. Don't go to a psychologist either, because he's interested in only one thing: that it was really you who did the stealing.
    • Karl Kraus (1874-1936), Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths (1990). Translated by Harry Zohn.
  • I have a steed, to leave behind
    The wild bird, and the wilder wind :
    I have a sword, which does not know
    How to waste a second blow :
    I have a matchlock, whose red breath
    Bears the lightning’s sudden death ;
    I have a foot of fiery flight,
    I have an eye that cleaves the night.
    I win my portion in the land
    By my high heart and strong right hand.
  • Furthermore, in the market and in common trade likewise, this practice is in full swing and force to the greatest extent, where one openly defrauds another with bad merchandise, false measures, weights, coins, and by nimbleness and queer finances or dexterous tricks takes advantage of him; likewise, when one overcharges a person in a trade and wantonly drives a hard bargain, skins and distresses him. And who can recount or think of all these things? To sum up, this is the commonest craft and the largest guild on earth, and if we regard the world throughout all conditions of life, it is nothing else than a vast, wide stall, full of great thieves. Therefore they are also called swivel-chair robbers, land- and highway-robbers, not pick-locks and sneak-thieves who snatch away the ready cash, but who sit on the chair [at home] and are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.
  • 467. Not to steal money stealthily (Leviticus 19:11)
    468. The court must implement punitive measures against the thief (Exodus 21:37)
    469. Each individual must ensure that his scales and weights are accurate (Leviticus 19:36)
    470. Not to commit injustice with scales and weights (Leviticus 19:35)
    471. Not to possess inaccurate scales and weights even if they are not for use (Deuteronomy 25:13)
    472. Not to move a boundary marker to steal someone's property (Deuteronomy 19:14)
    473. Not to kidnap (Exodus 20:13) 474. Not to rob openly (Leviticus 19:13)
    474. Not to withhold wages or fail to repay a debt (Leviticus 19:13)
    475. Not to covet and scheme to acquire another's possession (Exodus 20:14)
    476. Not to desire another's possession (Deuteronomy 5:18)
    477. Return the robbed object or its value (Leviticus 5:23)
    478. Not to ignore a lost object (Deuteronomy 22:3)
    479. Return the lost object (Deuteronomy 22:1)
    480. The court must implement laws against the one who assaults another or damages another's property (Exodus 21:8)
  • Desire leads to coveting, and coveting leads to stealing. For if the owner (of the coveted object) does not wish to sell, even though he is offered a good price and is entreated to accept, the person (who covets the object) will come to steal it, as it is written (Mikha 2:2) [Micah 2:2], 'They covet fields and (then) steal them.' And if the owner approaches him with a view to reclaiming his money or preventing the theft, then he will come to murder. Go and learn from the example of Achav [Ahab] and Navot [Naboth].
  • Theft in America is justified because the whole country is stolen land?
  • In a petty theft you steal money and gold, but in electoral theft you steal the future of the country. The second crime can be committed by the meanest persons.
  • Should the unemployed ... do in a small way, what the rich do daily with impunity on a grand scale, should he, in fact, steal, in order to live - the bourgeoisie will heap burning coals of "moral indignation" upon his head, and, with austere visage, hand him over relentlessly in charge of the State, that in its prisons he may be fleeced the more effectively, i.e., cheaper.
  • Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Let there be the curse of Allah upon the thief who steals an egg and his hand is cut off, and steals a rope and his hand is cut off.
  • The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal."
    • Thomas Müntzer, Letter to the Princes, as cited in Transforming Faith Communities: A Comparative Study of Radical Christianity, p. 173


  • The male thief, and the female thief, you shall mark, cut, or cut-off their hands/means as a recompense for what they earned, and to serve as a deterrent from God. God is Noble, Wise. Whoever repents after his wrongdoing and makes amends, then God will relent on him. Truly, God is Forgiving, Merciful.
    • Quran, Surah Al-Ma'idah, 5:38-39
  • What has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the fact that the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority of those who are hungry don’t steal and why the majority of those who are exploited don’t strike.
  • When as the sheriff of Nottingham
    Was come, with mickle grief,
    He talkd no good of Robin Hood,
    That strong and sturdy thief.
  • Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow [1]
  • A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
    That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
    And put it in his pocket!
  • The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief:
    He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
  • He that is robb'd, not wanting what is stol'n,
    Let him not know't, and he's not robb'd at all.
  • The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
    Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief,
    And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:
    The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
    The moon into salt tears: the earth's a thief,
    That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
    From general excrement: each thing's a thief;
    The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
    Have uncheck'd theft.
  • Stealing of course is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances.
  • It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay any tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected.

    But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact.  The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life.  And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

    The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets.  But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

    The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act.  He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit.  He does not pretend to be anything but a robber.  He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector," and that he takes men's money against their will, merely to enable him to "protect" those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection.  He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these.  Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do.  He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign," on account of the "protection" he affords you.  He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands.  He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these.  In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

    The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves "the government," are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.

  • Suppose to-day Negroes do steal; who was it that for centuries made stealing a virtue by stealing their labor?
  • Of course clergymen and other paid teachers and moralists admonished us to be upright and unselfish, and for people with good incomes it was easy to condemn those living on the edge of poverty as inferior, impractical, shiftless, and lacking respect for the social code. It was easy to shout thief at the other fellow when you had no temptation to steal-I mean steal in a petty way. But stealing in a big way was often accepted as good business judgment.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 786-87.
  • Who steals a bugle-horn, a ring, a steed,
    Or such like worthless thing, has some discretion;
    'Tis petty larceny: not such his deed
    Who robs us of our fame, our best possession.
  • To keep my hands from picking and stealing.
    • Book of Common Prayer, Catechism.
  • 'Tis bad enough in man or woman
    To steal a goose from off a common;
    But surely he's without excuse
    Who steals a common from the goose.
    • Epigram in Carey's Commonplace Book of Epigrams (1872). Different versions of the same were prompted by the Enclosure Acts. One version given in Sabrinæ Corolla was written when Charles Pratt, first Earl of Camden, took a common strip of land in front of Camden House. Oct. 7, 1764.
  • In vain we call old notions fudge
    And bend our conscience to our dealing.
    The Ten Commandments will not budge
    And stealing will continue stealing.
    • Motto of American Copyright League (written Nov. 20, 1885).
  • Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
    • Proverbs, IX. 17.
  • Stolen sweets are always sweeter:
    Stolen kisses much completer;
    Stolen looks are nice in chapels:
    Stolen, stolen be your apples.
  • Well, well, be it so, thou strongest thief of all,
    For thou hast stolen my will, and made it thine.

See also

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