Sleep Soundly, Rough Men
People sleep soundly in their beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do them harm.
I finally got tired of seeing this quoted (without irony). I decided to track it down. Here’s the skinny: It’s often attributed to George Orwell, a political observer and novelist, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, two novels about totalitarian regimes. That’s why I was suspicious. Orwell said that? I was thinking one of those two novels might be the source, meaning its context would be deeply ironic. As it turns out, Orwell didn’t say it. The other candidate, Winston Churchill, likely didn’t say it either.
- “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
- Alternative: “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”
- In his 1945 “Notes on Nationalism”, Orwell claimed that the statement, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf” was a “grossly obvious” fact. “Notes on Nationalism”
- Notes: allegedly said by George Orwell although there is no evidence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these versions of this idea. They do bear some similarity to comments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rudyard Kipling, when quoting from one of his poems. Orwell did write, in his essay on Kipling, that the latter’s “grasp of function, of who protects whom, is very sound. He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.” (1942)
- “Yes, making mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep” – Rudyard Kipling (Tommy)
- “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it.” – Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men)
- Alternative: “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” – Winston Churchill (miscellaneous quotation, no date)