Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is caught misquoting and therefore changing meaning in speech full of oft repeated slogans

That intellectual poseur Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is caught misquoting and therefore changing meaning in his Address To The World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, on 23 January 2014:

In Lincoln’s words, government should do for people what they can’t do for themselves – and no more.

What Abraham Lincoln actually said on the basic role of government:

Fragment on Government [1]

[April 1, 1854?]
Government is a combination of the people of a country to effect certain objects by joint effort. The best framed and best administered governments are necessarily expensive; while by errors in frame and maladministration most of them are more onerous than they need be, and some of them very oppressive. Why, then, should we have government? Why not each individual take to himself the whole fruit of his labor, without having any of it taxed away, in services, corn, or money? Why not take just so much land as he can cultivate with his own hands, without buying it of any one?
The legitimate object of government is ''to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.'' There are many such things---some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances.
But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of men. If one people will make war upon another, it is a necessity with that other to unite and cooperate for defense. Hence the military department. If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncompliance with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it. Hence the criminal and civil departments.

[1]   NH, II, 182-83. This fragment is obviously related to the companion piece supra. No trace of the original document or a copy remains in the Lincoln papers.
[Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865,Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Volume 2]

A second version exists from the same source:

Fragment on Government [1]

[July 1, 1854?]
The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves---in their separate, and individual capacities.
In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere....


[1]   AD, DLC-RTL. The date assigned to this fragment by Nicolay and Hay has been retained for want of satisfactory evidence to the contrary. It seems, however, to be an entirely arbitrary date, without supporting evidence. Together with the companion version (infra), which seems to be a revision, this fragment may have been used in, or at least intended for, a lecture, but if Lincoln delivered such a lecture no reference to it has been found. 


In the Abbott Government's Terms of Reference for the latest National Commission of Audit, this Lincoln misquote has been further rendered into economic terms as; government should do for people what they cannot do, or cannot do efficiently, for themselves, but no more.

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