Paul Eldridge? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The willingness to become a martyr in the service of a noble cause is often celebrated, but the U.S. novelist Paul Eldridge voiced a sardonic viewpoint. He suggested that an individual is willing to die for an elevated idea primarily because the idea is unclear. Would you please help me to find a citation.
Quote Investigator: Paul Eldridge published three slightly different versions of this adage:
- 1925: Man is willing to die for any idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him.
- 1943: Man is ready to die for an idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him.
- 1965: Man is ready to die for an idea, provided the idea is not clear to him.
As the statement evolved over time the phrase “any idea” was changed to “an idea”. Also, the phrase “willing to” was changed to “ready to”. Further, the word “quite” was deleted.
The first instance appeared in a piece titled “Cornucopiae” in the journal “This Quarter” in 1925. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Man is willing to die for any idea, provided that idea is not quite clear to him.
If we condemn and torture ourselves, rest assured that torture and condemnation please us, at least, for the time being. We are incapable of really hurting ourselves.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1925, This Quarter, Volume 1, Issue 1, Editor: Edward W. Titus et al, Published in Milan, Italy; moved to Paris, France, Article: Cornucopiae by Paul Eldridge, Start Page 176, Quote Page 180, Volume 1 originally published in Milan, Italy, Reprinted: 1967, Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans at HathiTrust) ↩