Alleged quote by Churchill: on being a socialist or conservative

Someone recently quoted Winston Churchill as saying “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.” So decided to check the ‘trusty’ internet for the provenance of this quote, and as so often, someone else has already done the work. Mark Shirey’s search for the same quote is detailed at:

Unquote by Mark T. Shirey

Unquote 1
My version of gardening is to maintain a web page of quotations. I had fun trying to ascertain who actually said what I quoted in the June ’00 Penn Central newsletter as:

If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain. – Winston Churchill

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.

Mark goes on to provide many similar sayings from a variety of sources. And he sums up the matter thus:

A definitive answer arose in the wonderful book “Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations” by Ralph Keyes, 1992. He 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 François 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.

Variations on this theme were later attributed to Disraeli, Shaw, Churchill, and Bertrand Russell. (I misquoted Churchill to this effect for years.)”

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4 comments

  1. FoolKiller says:

    Did you ever consider that Churchill might have heard it, modified it, used it, and “made it his own”? Given an obvious truism, who wouldn’t want credit for it?

  2. E Donald Elliott says:

    That is because this quote is from Otto Von Bismarck. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Otto_von_Bismarck

    It is a common mistake to wrongly attribute pithy quotes to Churchill because he was the author of so many of them.