Robert A. Heinlein Quotations

Action

“Take sides! Always take sides! You will sometimes be wrong — but the man who refuses to take sides must always be wrong.”
Double Star (1956)

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Age

“Age is not an accomplishment, and youth is not a sin.”
Methuselah’s Children (1958)

Altruism

“If tempted by something that feels ‘altruistic,’ examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it!”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Change

“People don’t really want change, any change at all — and xenophobia is very deep-rooted. But we progress, as we must — if we are to go out to the stars.”
Double Star (1956)

Death

“‘Die trying’ is the proudest human thing.”
Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958)

“Heaven help me, I could not see the far end! The smoke had billowed up and my eyes would barely open and would not focus. So I pushed on, while trying to remember the formula by which one made a deathbed confession and then slid into Heaven on a technicality.
“Maybe there wasn’t any such formula.”
Job: A Comedy of Justice (1984)

Democracy

“Democracy’s greatest fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents—a depressingly low level, but what else can you expect? So take a look at Douglas and ponder that, in his ignorance, stupidity, and self-seeking, he much resembles his fellow Americans, including you and me . . . and that in fact he is a notch or two above the average. Then take a look at the man who will replace him if his government topples.”
“There’s precious little choice.”
“There’s always a choice! This one is a choice between ‘bad’ and ‘worse’—which is a difference much more poignant than that between ‘good’ and ‘better.'”
[Dialogue between Jubal Harshaw and Ben Caxton, [The Original Uncut] Stranger in a Strange Land (1991)

“Does history record any case in which the majority was right?”
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978).

“If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for, but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Duty

“Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
“But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants ‘just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.’
“Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!
“So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary.
“Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
“(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is ‘expected’ of you.)”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Excellence versus Mediocrity

“Some people insist that ‘mediocre’ is better than ‘best.’ They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can’t fly. They despise brains because they have none.”
Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958)

Excess

“Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Experts

“Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Freedom

“Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.”
If This Goes On (1940)

“Free will is a golden thread running through the frozen matrix of fixed events.”
The Rolling Stones (1952)

“I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. ”
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)

Government

“I would say that my position is not too far from that of Ayn Rand’s; that I would like to see government reduced to no more than internal police and courts, external armed forces — with the other matters handled otherwise. I’m sick of the way the government sticks its nose into everything, now.”
(Interview, date unknown)

Human Beings (Humanity)

“If men were the automatons that behaviorists claim they are, the behaviorist psychologists could not have invented the amazing nonsense called ‘behaviorist psychology.'”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Laws

“Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.”
Red Planet (1949)

“My old man claimed that the more complicated the law the more opportunity for scoundrels.”
The Door Into Summer (1957)

“Nobody ever wins a lawsuit but the lawyers.”
The Door Into Summer (1957)

Learning

“Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn’t often, on their own, the hard way.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Life

“Life is short, but the years are long.”
Methuselah’s Children (1958)

Love

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)

Meaning

“No philosophy that he had ever heard or read gave any reasonable purpose for man’s existence, nor any rational clue to his proper conduct. Basking in the sunshine might be as good a thing to do with one’s life as any other — but it was not for him and he knew it, even if he could not define how he knew it.”
Methuselah’s Children (1958)

“A zygote is a gamete’s way of producing more gametes. This may be the purpose of the universe.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Patriotism

“Patriotism is not sentimental nonsense. Nor something dreamed up by demagogues. Patriotism is as necessary a part of man’s evolutionary equipment as are his eyes, as useful to the race as eyes are to the individual.”
Speech to the U.S. Naval Academy (1973)

Reason, Logic, and Thought

“When a fact came along, he junked theories that failed to match.”
Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958)

“Logic is a feeble reed, friend. ‘Logic’ proved that airplanes can’t fly and that H-bombs won’t work and that stones don’t fall out of the sky. Logic is a way of saying that anything which didn’t happen yesterday won’t happen tomorrow.”
Glory Road (1963)

“Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”
Assignment in Eternity (1953)

“One can judge from experiment, or one can blindly accept authority. To the scientific mind, experimental proof is all important and theory is merely a convenience in description, to be junked when it no longer fits. To the academic mind, authority is everything and facts are junked when they do not fit theory laid down by authority.”
Life-Line (1939)

“The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.”
Revolt in 2100 (1953)

Science

“If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

Strong Drink

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors — and miss.”
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978).

Trust

“I don’t trust a man who talks about ethics when he is picking my pocket. But if he is acting in his own self-interest and says so, I have usually been able to work out some way to do business with him.”
Time Enough for Love (1973)

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1 Comment

  1. As an SF fanzine publisher in the 1970s, I wrote to Heinlein to request an interview. He replied by mail, “I must decline your request for an interview. Thank you, however, for the consideration of enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope—a rare courtesy these days. Please do not write to me again. Sincerely, RAH.”

    I showed the letter to a friend, and he thought I should be insulted. I just thought it was funny, and typical Heinlein.

    Reply

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