f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

June 21, 2005

did Churchill coin that over-30 maxim?

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 1:15 pm

Conservatives love to cite Winston Churchill for the saying [via Prof. Bainbridge]:

quoteMarksLS Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and
any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brainsquoteMarksRS
It seems fairly clear, however, that the attribution is as erroneous as the sentiment. Churchill may have said something similar to the above quote, but he was borrowing or paraphrasing from other politicians and pundits when he did.

ChurchillMug At his Unquote webpage, Mark T. Shirey tracks down sayings that seem to be orphans — or, to have too many fathers.  In Unquote #1, he looks at the “Over/Under 30” quotation, that Shirey himself had attributed to Churchill for many years.   His first attempts proved fruitless:
I failed to find the quote under “socialist”, “conservative”, “heart”, “man”, or “Churchill”, in books of quotations like Bartlett’s, Encarta’s, Oxford Dictionary of, Home Book of, or NY Public Library’s.

The saying was attributed to Churchill in the online QuoteDB, but with no source cited.   Shirey kept looking until he claims that a “A definitive answer arose in the wonderful book “Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations” by Ralph Keyes, 1992.”
Keyes writes: “An orphan quote [unattributed quote in search of a home] sometimes attributed to Georges Clemenceau is: “Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age 40 has no head.

The most likely reason is that Bennet Cerf once reported Clemenceau’s response to a visitor’s alarm about his son being a communist:
If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.
George Seldes later quoted Lloyd George as having said:
A young man who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn’t got a head.
The earliest known version of this observation is attributed to mid-nineteenth century historian and statesman Fran篩s Guizot:
Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.

Shirey has found links to several other versions of this maxim.  Between his list and Keyes’, you’ll find variations on the theme attributed to Disraeli, Shaw, Otto Von Bismarck, Woodrow Wilson, Wendell L. Willkie, Bertrand Russell, and even former CIA Director, William Casey.   To be honest , I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be the father of the “Churchill” quote, or any of its mutations.
update (June 22, 2005):  See political maturation after age 30 for Your Editor’s 21st Century version of the old saw — arguing that, after 50, those with functioning heart, brain, and eyes become more liberal (“thoughtful liberals”).

a chestnut hit
an old man…
so the legend says
leisure class–
“Mosquitoes have come!”
they say
ISSA, translated by David G. Lanoue


  1. I have heard this quote being attributed to Churchill but also to Lloyd George and (in French) to Georges Clemenceau before him…

    Comment by Dario — August 19, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  2. Surprising that unbiased scholars at Harvard Law seem to have misplaced where and why Churhill may have said this…. Convenient?

    Comment by JB — October 22, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  3. JB, If you have some useful information, please share it with us. Otherwise, I’d prefer you keeping snide and meaningless comments to yourself.

    By the way, I am the only person responsible for the content of this site, not the entire Harvard Law community. I do not claim to have done any research on this topic beyond finding the sources cited above.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 22, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

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