Those who stand for nothing… don’t fall very far

cynicalnaiveAlexander Hamilton wrote: “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

Hamilton wrote it as an insult to colonialists who wouldn’t pick a side: with the revolutionaries or the British loyalists. They were either pacifists – usually for religious reasons – or apathetic but didn’t want to side with the British.

As a general rule, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything” is untrue. It is true of things such as war, although not entirely true there either. Would those who “stand for nothing” in the revolutionary war have fallen for anything? No, they would have simply accepted the end results of that war, whether the revolutionaries or the British won. It could be argued that they knew one side would win but nothing would change. They were wrong, true, but they didn’t have any reason to believe otherwise. All they knew is that whomever won would maintain the power structure, just with different heads. Since the people generally weren’t very well connected with the rest of society, living out in the boonies or having little to lose except for their lives, it didn’t matter who taxed them as long as they were left alone – and that’s what they wanted. They weren’t going to “fall for anything,” they were going to continue living under British rule – the status quo. Nothing would change for them, except perhaps new British laws to make sure the revolutionaries would be executed and any further insurgency got put down.

Not picking a side isn’t always not picking a side, either. Pacifism can be destructive. There were “pacifists” in World War II which were actually propagandists trying to dispel the fear the British and French had about the Germans. They were telling people to choose pacifism instead of starting up the war machine to defend their countries. It wasn’t really pacifism they were arguing for, they were propagandists trying to convince the British and French to lay down their weapons in the name of peace so the Germans could take over easily. Even there, those who “stand for nothing” weren’t going to “fall for anything,” they were choosing to give in to those they were loyal to: the Germans.

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