My Favourite Insults (Part 1: Disraeli, Schopenhauer, Hitchens)

Posted on 2011/07/17


Feature Image - Favourite Insults

Disraeli on Gladstone

In 1852, Benjamin Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Parliament of Lord Derby.  Very shortly the budget failed, and the government fell.

William Gladstone‘s criticism of the budget, his subsequent dismissal from the Conservative Party, and his succession as Chancellor in the Liberal opposition’s new government, began of a life long political and personal feud between these two men.  Both became Prime Minister, and while enjoying their turn in Opposition, had much to say about the other.

“A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself.”

Disraeli, Benjamin (July 27, 1878) Speech, Knightsbridge, London. [Quoted in Times (London, July 29, 1878)]

“Posterity will do justice to that unprincipled maniac Gladstone – extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition; and with one commanding characteristic – whether Prime Minister, or Leader of Opposition, whether preaching, praying, speechifying or scribbling – never a gentleman!”

Disraeli, Benjamin (1878) Letter to Lord Derby.

“What you say about Gladstone is most just.  What restlessness!  What vanity!  And what unhappiness must be his!  Easy to say he is mad.  It looks like it.  My theory about him is unchanged: a ceaseless Tartuffe from the beginning.  That sort of man does not get mat at 70.”

Disraeli, Benjamin (October 3rd, 1879) Letter to Lady Bradford.

“…when you have to deal with an earnest man, severely religious and enthusiastic, every attempted arrangement ends in unintelligible correspondence and violated confidence.”

Disraeli, Benjamin (January 29th, 1881) Letter to Montague Corry (on being in Opposition)

“The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity”

Disraeli, Benjamin (unsourced)

“He has not a single redeeming defect.”

Disraeli, Benjamin [in Adam, A K (1969) The Home Book of Humorous Quotations.]

Schopenhauer on Hegel

Arthur Schopenhaeur always saw Georg Hegel as a charlatan who bewitched the people of his time, even criticizing Hegel while a student.  When he attained a University position in Berlin with Hegel, he scheduled his lectures to occur at the same time.  In this deliberate attempt to polarize the students, only a handful chose to hear him, while Hegel’s lectures continued to sell out.

Schopenhauer did not convince in his age, however his writings have remained a paragon for like-minded future critics of the Hegelian Dialectic.

“Now if for this purpose I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.

If I were to say that this pseudo-philosophy has as  its central idea an absurd notion grasped from thin air, that it dispenses with reasons and consequents, in other words, is demonstrated by nothing, and itself does not prove or explain anything, that it lacks originality and is a mere parody of scholastic realism and at the same time of Spinozism, and that the monster is also supposed to represent Christianity turned inside out, hence, ‘The face of a lion, the belly of a goat, the hindquarters of a dragon,’ again I should be right.

Further, if I were to say that this [Great Philosopher] of the Danish Academy scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.”

Schopenhauer, Arthur. (1839) “On the Basis of Morality” 1995 Translation, E.F.J. Payne ; introduction, David E. Cartwright

“Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.  This nonsense has been noisily proclaimed as immortal wisdom by mercenary followers and readily accepted as such by all fools, who thus joined into as perfect a chorus of admiration as had ever been heard before.  The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of an whole generation.”

Schopenhauer, Arthur. (1888) “Works” vol. V, p 103 [quoted in: Popper, K. R. “The Open Society and Its Enemies” Vol. 2, pp. 32-33]

Hitchens on Rev. Fawell

Although often called a contrarian, Christopher Hitchens is better described as a card-caller.  He not only calls a ‘spade a spade’, but will happily point out other false readings, no matter how unpopular.  Mother Teresa, rather than a Queen of Hearts, was, on closer inspection, the Angel of Hell.  And others such high ranked individuals as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Princess Diana have been shown to be jokers, or worse, on his analysis.

But, it is when discussing religious leaders that we get to hear the entirety of Hitchens’ erudition.  And it was Reverend Jerry Fawell who provided, by means of his death, such an opportunity.

“The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing.  That you can get away with extraordinary offenses to morality and truth in this country if you just get yourself called reverend.  Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were a result of our sinfulness and were God’s punishment if they hadn’t got some kind of clerical qualification?  People like that should be out on the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.  The whole consideration of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth, and morality, if you think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men.  We [will not be told] that people like Fawell will be snatched up into Heaven (where I am glad to see he skipped the rapture and was found on the floor of his office) while the rest of us go to hell.  How dare they talk to children like this.  How dare they raise money from credulous people on their huxter-like, Elmer Gantry radio stations, and fly around in private jets, as he did, giggling and sniggering all the time at what he was getting away with.  Do you get an idea now of what I mean to say?”

Hitchens, Christopher.  (2007)  Televised interview CNN speaking on the death of Jerry Fawell.

“If you gave Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox.”

Hitchens, Christopher.  (2007)  Televised interview in Fox speaking on the death of Jerry Fawell.