The quotation is often attributed, but never sourced; often invoked, and occasionally even understood. Somebody probably not Benjamin Disraeli or Georges Clemenceau or Winston Churchill said this:
"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 far as I can remember, I wasn't particularly socialist in 1973, which is probably at least partially due to the fact that I was a soldier in 1973, and military discipline has a way of making you focus on things other than capitalism's inhumanity to man, or whatever they were calling it back then. I had misgivings about the war in Vietnam, but they were informed largely by impatience: it seemed to me that things were taking just as long as they possibly could, and if someone, civilian or military, would just get off the damn dime, we could either get this thing done or get the hell out. Assigned to MI, I was surrounded by spooks, so I didn't discuss the matter much with anyone, and not even the usual brace of Schaefers would loose my tongue. (Discipline. Fine stuff when properly used.) On balance, I considered myself just left of center; I had voted for George McGovern the year before, but this was more a signal of irritation with the Nixon administration than a sign of affinity for the Democrats' aspirations.
So, was I conservative in 1993? Maybe, in some respects anyway. I was midway through my term as moderator of FidoNet's Controversial conference (area tag: CONTROV). Users from both ends of the political spectrum denounced me as the second coming of Dr. Dolittle, and not because I could talk to the animals either. This paragraph from version 3.13 of the conference rules, the last version written by me, may explain why:
When you post something in CONTROV, do so with the expectation that someone will take exception to it. Some subjects provoke almost violent reactions at times, and you should not be surprised to receive an occasional fierce and intemperate reply. Such things are inevitable in a forum like this.
Today this might be considered a fairly conservative stance; present-day leftists are shocked and appalled by fierce and intemperate replies, unless supplied by one of their own. Not wishing to reopen old woes, I'm mentioning no names, but a person departing the conference left me this posy:
...the problem here ain [sic] the bigots or the racists or the Aryan Nation or the repugnant squealing and threats, its YOU patting them on their pointy little heads that has made this the most extreme rightwing bigot debate echo in existance.
By "patting them on their...heads," I presume he meant "not banning them."
And I found this in a folder full of old text files, dated 19 September 1992. It's a political piece I posted to a local BBS.
My own political inclinations are generally small-l libertarian; I think the government should stick to providing for the common defense, insuring what measure of domestic tranquility is possible, and establish some any level of justice beyond the dismal conditions that prevail today. Stuff like that there. I support a flat tax above a low floor, with no exemptions for anybody for anything; I think the government has nothing whatever to say about whom I hire, with whom I sleep, or what I post. I think self-described majorities (Nixon's silent version, Falwell's moral one, or almost anything that equates to 50.1 percent or more) are a genuine pain in the ass, and I firmly oppose anything that creates "group rights", something that doesn't exist in the Constitution, in preference to the rights of an individual so long as he isn't a credible and verifiable threat to everyone else. I think the Democrats are about three-quarters full of crap most of the time; further, I think the Republicans are privately envious and are working overtime to reach 80 percent or more. Dan Quayle is an affable buffoon who shouldn't be allowed in the White House; his boss is a smug little mole who shouldn't be allowed in the sunlight. Bill Clinton and Al Gore combined couldn't come up with one original thought or one good suit. Ross Perot is basically Mussolini with money, and the Big-L Libertarians, whose ticket is led by Andre Marrou, will be lucky to persuade one percent of the electorate to look their way.
Okay, perhaps I wouldn't have come up with something like that in the Seventies. At twenty, I was more interested in not making waves; it was later that I figured out the truth of Edmund Burke's assertion that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
And it was later still that I found out that he didn't actually say it.