Samuel Johnson? James Boswell? Samuel Maunder? Henry F. Mason? Bernard J. Sheil? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A politician whose popularity is dropping may attempt to recapture acceptance by disingenuously embracing jingoistic patriotism. Here are three versions of a germane saying:
- Pretended patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.
- Patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel.
- Patriotism is the scoundrel’s last refuge.
Would you please help me to identify an accurate version of this saying together with the identity of its creator?
Quote Investigator: Lexicographer Samuel Johnson was a celebrated eighteenth-century man of letters. Close friend and diarist James Boswell recorded Johnson’s life with exhaustive precision in a multi-volume biography. An entry dated April 7, 1775 mentioned a discussion on the topic (spelled “topick”) of patriotism during which Johnson articulated the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson,) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired.
JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.