The rise of right-wing (fascist) parties, in too many parts of Europe, is as concerning as it is disturbing. Totalitarianism, with its seductive promise of simplistic solutions, always seems to have its adherents. This, despite bitter lessons from the 20th century, on what these "simplistic solutions" actually involve. The term "totalitarianism" is relatively new, in historical time, a century or so; but, the primary motivation—the creation of "order"—has probably been around for as long as politics.

When confronted with the temptations both Benjamin Franklin & Thomas Jefferson have been credited with the same chilling observation; irrespective of the progenitor it can be summarised as: "If you give up a little more freedom, for a little more law-and-order, you deserve neither and you'll lose both."

(Thanks to C Monsour who has pointed out that the original progenitor was, in fact, Benjamin Franklin. There are sources which credit Thomas Jefferson. He, TJ, said much about democracy; and, its potential perversion.)

A possible translation could be:

"Si libertatem paulatim cedetis, salutem paulatim ad pariundum, neque merebitis et utrasque perdetis."

Is this correct?

  • Also, you might want to edit Jefferson out of your question. Franklin is the originator of this saying; mentioning Jefferson is a bit like false news. Also, the original saying references "safety" or "security", which is not quite the same thing as "law and order". For example, safety from invasion has precious little to do with law and order, whilst trains running on time has a lot to do with law and order but nothing to do with safety.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 13:59
  • C Monsour: Yes, found "lawfareblog.com/what-ben-franklin-really-said". Also, it's clear that BF was not talking about dictatorship; but, perhaps, Jefferson was? This quote has been re-worked, over time; therefore, was careful to say: "...it can be summarised as...". Proponents of these regimes usually offer "order"; a sort of crime-free society, to be delivered, how--down the barrel of a gun? However comforting this might be to victims of crime; and, those who live in fear of it, the killing does not end with the criminals. This quote, as given above, so apposite, in so few words, is a superb
    – tony
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 10:48
  • C Monsour: Continuing: piece of English. Just had to put it into Latin!
    – tony
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


Si libertatem paulatim cedetis, salutem paulatim ad pariundum, neque merebitis et utrasque perdetis.

Not quite right, but mostly understandable.

On vocabulary:

  • If you want to say "each", you should say utramque. This means "both in turn", whereas ambas would be more "both together". I can only imagine rare situations where a plural of uterque would be needed, and I can't remember seeing it in use. A separate question exploring the plural of uterque would be in order.

    I recommend utramque. Somehow it makes the tone a little more chilling to my ear than ambas. A bit like "you will lose each and every one of your privileges".

  • Paulatim or paullatim means "little by little" or "in small increments". It refers to gradual change, not a single small change. The adverbs ending in -tim tend to describe a repeated action. For another example, consider viritim, "one man at a time".

    I think the intention here is that you give a little bit of freedom one single time. For "a little bit of freedom" you could use paullulum libertatis. If you want to keep the comparative of the original, maybe paulo plus libertatis.

    The same issue with paulatim appears twice.

    The statement makes sense with "little by little" and then paulatim is the way to go. I always read it as "a little bit right now" instead. I'm happy as long as you're aware of your choice.

  • Cedere is a verb of many meanings, and the meaning "to give up" would not come first to my mind when encountering it. I recommend something with a stronger message of giving away. I'd go with dedere, referring to giving away, surrendering, and similar. You can tone the message with choosing something like abicere.

  • Parere works for gaining (law and order). Consider also parare.

  • Salus is good for "health" or "welfare", but does not quite convey "law and order". I can't think of a great translation here. Some ideas come to mind, and maybe you can build something corresponding to "law and order" out of these: fas, lex, securitas, ius, mos, civitas, iustitia.

    Remember to update the gender of the pronouns in the end.

  • Neque is "and not". The English "neither" has two uses:

    1. "Neither do I."
      Here it means "and not".

    2. "Neither of them can fly."
      Here it means "not a single one from a set of two".

    These two meanings are expressed with different words in many languages, including Latin. Translation word for word can easily run to just this kind of issues. The word neque is for the first meaning, but here you need the second one. The word neuter is great for the second meaning and contrasts well with uterque.

On grammar:

  • Is the "you" in the original singular or plural? English doesn't make the distinction, but we have to make the decision when translating. If the address is to the nation as a whole, the plural as you chose is a good way to go. If it is directed to an individual (even if every single individual at the same time), then you need plural. If you want to make it a matter of personal choice, switch to singular.

    You could also read the "you" as impersonal (not an address to anyone) and translate the whole thing in passive or something similar.

    There is no single right choice here, but I just want you to look into the option and make the choice consciously.

  • You used future tense, and that works. You could also make it so that the condition is present and the conclusion is future. The future depending on your current choices is very much in the right spirit.

  • The et between the two conclusions is indeed good to have. You can't add -que to uterque without confusion or sounding weird. The particle -que shouldn't be used with uter and quis and similar words that have a wholly different meaning with -que added.

  • In my experience the deponent (or passive or even middle) form mereri is somewhat more common. I am not aware of a difference in meaning, but my instinct seems to favor passive here. There's nothing wrong with the active, though.

  • Ad pariundum is not a clause and I would not separate it with a comma, but I guess this is a matter of style. An option to consider is to use a final ut clause.

    Yet another approach would be to start from something like "exchange liberty for safety". That would need some restructuring, but I think that would be faithful to the original message.

Here's a possible rewrite based on these thoughts:

Si paululum libertatis dedis, ut paululum iustitiae securitatisque pares, neutrum mereberis et utrumque perdes.

  • Joonas llmavirta: Thank you for another excellent presentation! (How does yourself find time for your mathematics studies?) Yes, "paulatim" = "gradually"; "bit-by-bit": democratic freedoms are gradually surrendered; almost imperceptibly. Police forces demand special powers to fight "terrorism"/ "drug-crime"; governments surround us with CCTV-cameras, on similar pretexts--no-one complains. Not sure how "parare" fits with "to give up"? Dropped all efforts on "law-and-order"--same difficulty yourself ran into; the alternatives to "salus" all look good. A struggle with "neither"; sources all
    – tony
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 11:43
  • Joonas llmavirta: Continuing: drive the student into "neither....nor" constructions; but, dictionaries give "neque" = "neither". Found only one example: "neque fas est illud sacrum ad alios fines detorqueri." = "neither can this sacred rite be utilised for other gods". Thought of a swap/ exchange thing but the feel and the punchiness were lost. After "Chariot Racing" decided against a result/ concessive "ut" clause; and dropped purpose/ final for a gerundive. Have found some examples on plurals of "uterque"; so, may submit another Q. Plural "you"-- a wider audience is involved. Thanks again.
    – tony
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 11:57
  • @tony Well, a surprisingly small fraction of my time as a senior researcher of mathematics (as my title currently stands) goes into actual mathematical research. Anyway, on your comments: (1) I thought the original intention was not "little by little" but "by a little bit right now". But either makes a sensible statement, and you can translate as you wish. My goal was to make sure you're aware of the difference. (2) Parare and parere are for gaining, not losing. It's unrelated to the preceding point. (3) Neque means "neither" as in "me neither", not as in "you get neither". I'll edit.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 12:01
  • @tony See if the edits clarify the matter.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 12:07
  • 1
    @tony (1) I took the utrumque and neutrum to refer to paululum [alicuius rei]. The two items to be lost or gained are no longer feminine singulars, so I went with neuter. With paulatim the feminine makes more sense, but then bear in mind that iustitia securitasque is two things. (2) I used the deponent mereri, not the passive. The verb is commonly deponent, but not always.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 12:41

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