Vladimir Lenin? Winston Churchill? George Riddell? H. L. Mencken? Fictional?
Dear Quote Investigator: I was thumbing through The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations to try and find a good saying about freedom of the press and I was stunned to see this hostile sentence [OPQ]:
As to freedom of the press, why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?
These words were attributed to Winston Churchill based on a 1984 biography by Piers Brendon [WPB]. But these same words were attributed to Vladimir Lenin in another collection of quotations I read recently and that is why I was astounded. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the book. Now I am starting to doubt my memory. Could you research this quote?
Quote Investigator: Thanks for a fascinating puzzle. Indeed, most of this sentence does appear as part of a longer passage that is attributed to Vladimir Lenin in a famous compilation published in 1942 called “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken”. The name Nikolai Lenin is used instead of Vladimir Lenin in Mencken’s reference work [NQL]:
Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinions calculated to embarrass the government?
NIKOLAI LENIN: Speech in Moscow, 1920
QI has traced this expression back to a diary entry that was written in 1920 by George Riddell who was a powerful newspaperman and close friend of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George. Riddell later became the 1st Baron Riddell. The text in Mencken’s reference is very similar to the text in Riddell’s diary, but it is not identical.
The words attributed to Churchill also appear in the passage in Riddell’s diary. But QI believes that Riddell was describing a speech by Lenin and not the words of Churchill. Hence, QI thinks that the ascription to Churchill is almost certainly incorrect.