THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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History's greatest tweet?

At first I only used it to publish links to posts here. As the blogosphere faded and Twitter became the online forum of choice, I made the foolish error of being drawn in. Sadly (and more sadly not because of my participation) it has now become so influential that decisions on who may not use it are believed to influence elections in the great democracies of the West. Our legislators seem to care more what is said of them in this disorderly online bar-room than in the homes of their constituents. If MPs are not careful to the point of paranoia what they say there, they are in danger of being metaphorically hauled from their carriages by the cyber-mob.

Perhaps I am just nostalgic for more leisured discussions during the brief heyday of blogging? An unkind comment I once made back then about the "tabloid" style of fellow-bloggers seems naive now. Snappy as their writing was, they were Dickens compared to the ranters of Twitter. They were also delightfully tolerant of difference compared to the cyber-Stasi now howling for the suppression of all contrary thought.

I told a friend yesterday that I was a failure because no-one had even called for my Twitter account to be cancelled. This, despite my "inappropriate" views and my ethnic "original sin" ("white privilege" as its high priests call it). I just don't have enough readers for Emperor Jack's praetorian guard to fear me. My "wrong think" is too ponderous and polite for any single tweet to go viral from a base of a thousand followers.

A tweet is just the right length for a put-down or a sneer. At best it has room for a slogan. Few have the skill (I certainly don't) to attempt advocacy, diplomacy or that forgotten key skill of public discourse – persuasion – under its constraints. Even those geniuses of verbal economy who wrote the American Declaration of Independence or my blogging muse Thomas Paine (historically unrivalled in the political influence of his carefully-weighed words) could not have refined their best poetry into its nasty little haikus.

I have been trying to think what great Enlightenment wisdom could be expressed in a tweet. None of my choices are as powerful as the most successful (and destructive) "tweet" of all time;

"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."

How many lives have those few words destroyed? How much human progress has been prevented by its meretricious appeal to the untutored mind? At the age of 16 it had me in its whoreish clutches and I was lucky to escape. Young Jeremy Corbyn never did, poor soul. 

Screenshot 2021-02-01 at 12.13.05
Old Tom, original and best, could have tweeted;

"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."

He would never have wanted to pass on his thoughts in bite-sized form though. He would have hated not having the opportunity to place them in historical context, to develop his arguments and, vitally, to consider how they might be wrong. His friend Jefferson, a Welshman with our love of words, but blessed with more literary skill than morality, could have tweeted that; 

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. it is its natural manure."

However the best historical "tweet" I can come up with is from Montesquieu;

"If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law."

Gentle readers, what would you suggest as history's greatest "tweet?"


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You are too kind, it was indeed a very pleasant interlude. I am well, as I hope you are, and belatedly I should congratulate you on your epic weight loss.

Who would have thought then, that meeting for lunch with friends and travelling freely would ever be deemed illegal by our pathetic politicians? And that most of the public would so willingly accede to their despotism.


I would cheerfully die for Enlightenment values. As my personal life is usually a delight, perhaps it’s as well the gods seem not to be offering that reward for such a sacrifice.


That’s a good one! I hope you’re well. I remember our lunch together very fondly.


As someone who wonders at martyrdom, I like

"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong" (Bertrand Russell)

(It seems to me that the worst figures in history have never doubted the righteousness of their beliefs and behaviour.)


This is certainly not history's greatest tweet, and not attributable to any historic figure. A favourite within the project management community whose clients were mainly government.

When all is said and done, more will be said than done.

As time progresses those words seem to apply more than ever.

David Bishop

And in a nice coincidence, Diderot also penned "Scepticism is the first step towards the truth". Perhaps Huxley was standing on Diderot's shoulders, as it were.


It occurs to me that the greatest Tweeter of the Age of Reason might have been Diderot. His "Mankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest" was very much in the violent, hateful style favoured by many Twitter users.


If we embraced Socrates' wisdom (and I certainly cringe at the memory of my youthful arrogance when I knew almost literally nothing) there would be no call for Twitter at all. The Huxley one is a good 'un and almost entirely contrary to the spirit of Twitter, which typically has all the scepticism of the baying crowd at a witch trial.


One of Cameron's few recorded instances of wit. I remember correctly he was much condemned for it and retreated into safe verbal beigeness. I love your optimism that someone interested in financial prudence might one day be attracted into politics.


Good suggestion. If anyone had the skills to make Twitter work positively it was Marcus Aurelius.


Two excellent suggestions, but the first is just history's most famous boast, isn't it? Not really persuasive (but then if you were leading the world's first professional army against naked savages, you didn't much need advocacy skills). Personally if we're going for boasts in Latin, I think a less famous one is even more elegant; "Peccavi", Sir Charles Napier's one-word telegram home to announce that he had captured the city of Sindh.


Good one, especially as the Lady was often right but rarely pithy.

David Bishop

I am not and have never been a Twitterer, for all the reasons you outline. It is one of the most retrograde 'advances' in human communication ever devised. Jack Dorsey should hang his head in shame, if he had the slightest inkling of the meaning of the word.

However, a couple of offerings:

"Scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the unpardonable sin." Thomas Huxley

And the same theme in even fewer words:
"All I know is that I know nothing." Socrates

Stretching your criteria a tad to include actual tweets, I've become a considerable admirer of Bob Moran ('Bob', the Telegraph cartoonist). He's definitely a goodun. This from him in the context of the police-state lockdowns:

"Never surrender your right to be with the people you love."
The cartoon that is the caption to is here:

Baron Jackfield

Re "twitter".. One of the few sensible things that David Cameron said was "Too many tweets make a twat". Could be a decent tweet in itself.

However, if it will fit into whatever twitter's character limit is - I have never had anything to do with it as the concept struck me as utterly moronic - how about Mr Dickens's advice on budgeting (which should be compulsory study for any type of politician):

"Income one pound, expenditure nineteen shillings and sixpence, result happiness. Income one pound, expenditure one pound ought and sixpence, result misery".

or, to "twitterise" it and make it comprehensible to anyone under about 60:

"Income £1, expenditure 97p, result happiness. Income £1, expenditure £1.03, result misery".

Phil Jones

times, modern times! Damn fat fingers.

Phil Jones

I think Marcus Aurelius had it about right for modern tomes. What a prescient man he was.
'The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to avoid falling into the ranks of the insane'.


Instantly recognisable: Veni Vidi Vici

Really good advice: Do unto no man that which you would not want done unto you. That is the whole of the Law. The rest is merely commentary.

Honourable mention: Honi soit qui mal y pense


I'd have to go for "It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake."

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