Fundamental Laws of Politics

Below are gathered some useful “fundamental laws of politics”.

Adams’s Law: A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

Conquest’s Three Laws:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.
  3. The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.

Goldstein’s Law: “Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered.”

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. [This is almost certainly a corruption of Robert A. Heinlein’s phrase: “You have attributed to villainy conditions which merely result from stupidity” (Logic of Empire, 1941). See also the link for similar aphorisms.]  See however Clark’s Law: “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is functionally indistinguishable from malice.”

Samuel Johnson’s Law: “[W]hen a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” NCT’s corollary: the best check on preening narcissistic moralizing is exposing a man to the consequences of his own prepositions when implemented.

Lincoln’s Law [apocryphal]: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

McArdle’s Law [unsourced]: “The party in power is insufferable. The party out of power is insane.”

Michels’ Law: All forms of organization, regardless of how democratic or autocratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies.

Muggeridge’s Law: Satire can never compete with real life for its sheer absurdity.

Pournelle’s Iron Law: “[I]n any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative[s] who work to protect any teacher, including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.”

Reagan’s Observation: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” (Remarks at a business conference in Los Angeles, March 2, 1977)

Sowell’s Law: In human problems, there are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Sumner’s Law: The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C’s interests, are entirely overlooked. […A and B] ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. […T]he State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man [C] who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man. [The title of Amity Shlaes’ book about the Great Depression and the New Deal pays homage to Sumner.]

Thatcher’s Law: The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Three Laws of Sociodynamics [an anonymous cynical physicist’s parody on the Three Laws of Thermodynamics]:

  1. Law of conservation of misery
  2. Every spontaneous bureaucratic process strives for the maximum degree of idiocy
  3. The absolute moral nadir cannot be reached in a finite number of steps (i.e., no matter how low people have gotten, they can always get lower).


Antonov’s Observation on Santayana’s Law: “There is a mistaken proverb which tells us that those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it. In fact, they’re lucky if they’re allowed to repeat it. More probably, they’re condemned to something even worse than the past. This is doubly true of those who believe that their ignorance somehow makes them morally superior to those who don’t share it.” (Spoken by the fictional admiral Ivan Antonov in David Weber and Steve White, “In death ground“.)

Heinlein’s Dichotomy: “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into
those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” (From “The notebooks of Lazarus Long”.)

Niven’s Law: No cause is so noble that it won’t attract fuggheads. (From “Fallen Angels”)

11 thoughts on “Fundamental Laws of Politics

  1. […] come away thinking anything else. But at a certain point, I think people tire of the obfuscation. Conquest Rule #1: Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. I might flip that around to say something like: […]

  2. Source for McArdle’s Law, it’s Megan McAardle writing as Jane Galt

    Megan McArdle (writing as “Jane Galt”) wrote this on the blog Asymmetrical Information on May 21, 2003: “Jane’s Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.”


    which links to

  3. A very useful list!

    A corollary to Niven’s Law is a statement by Isaac Asimov: every cause, no matter how idiotic, will have its cadre of devotees willing to die for it.

    You might want to add also the Laws of Stupidity:
    1. Everyone who matters is stupid now and then.
    2. If you’re being stupid, that’s your problem.
    3. If you being stupid makes me stupid, that’s my problem.
    4. If you think you’re the only one who is never stupid, then oh BOY are you stupid!

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