If you think "hypocrite" is too strong a word for the people on this list, keep in mind that we're all hypocrites, in a way. Even the most fierce animal rights activist may really love the leather shoes some poor cow made possible. We're all human, and that's also true for the famous thinkers and activists below.
So we're not saying these people are all liars or that their books should be tossed in the garbage. It's just interesting to see how the human mind works.
If you know George Orwell for anything, it's probably Animal Farm and 1984, two novels that ripped the Soviet Union for their large and intrusive government, propaganda programs, surveillance, and lack of freedom of thought. His biting satire gave us terms like "Big Brother," "Cold War," and "thought police" and showed us a horrifying world in which you have to believe what the state tells you to, and if you dare to object, you might get dobbed by your best friend.
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"Just admit that Picard is better."
"Go to hell."
Orwell should have added an addendum to his philosophy: You're free to believe in whatever you want, as long as it's not communism. That's not hypocritical per se, but as the Cold War raged on, Orwell's fear of the red menace grew to the extent that he put on his own thought policeman's cap and started reporting suspected commie sympathizers to the British government.
In 1948, Britain decided to form a secret government organization called the Information Research Department (IRD), whose goal was to spread anti-communist propaganda. Orwell not only supported this organization, but agreed to work as an informer for them. A year before he died, Orwell provided the IRD with a list of the names of dozens of writers and researchers whom he thought might be "crypto-communist," basing his judgment on everything from opinions they might have held to whether they were homosexual or Jewish.
He barely managed to dodge the lightning bolt that came out of the sky after typing "insincere person."
In other words, the man who coined the term "Big Brother" was an instrumental part of Britain's own McCarthy-style communist hunt. Although the system that Orwell helped put together wasn't exactly Orwellian (it didn't lead to any arrests or, as far as we know, extended visits to a room without windows), it's nevertheless doubleplus ironic that his anti-propaganda novels were later used as propaganda by the IRD that funded and distributed them across different countries.
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John Lennon will always be remembered, along with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as one of those people who called for an end to violence and wound up having their own point made for them by the people who shot them to death.
Perhaps the greatest monument to the hippie peace movement, Lennon wrote countless songs about an idealistic world without war and violence, and he once staged a protest with his wife Yoko Ono in which they refused to get out of bed until world peace had been achieved (for some reason, it didn't work).
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Partially because the visual of them in bed was considered mental warfare.
Lennon did have one exception to his whole "no war" rule, however, and that was his partiality to the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist group that likes to settle their issues by blowing random people to bits with nail bombs.
Don't get us wrong -- in the conflict between the IRA and Britain, the British don't exactly have clean hands. In 1972, the British Army was being harshly chastised for shooting 12 unarmed people at a protest, an event that became known as Bloody Sunday. No one outside of Ireland was quite as outraged as Lennon, though, who not only wrote about it in the songs "Luck of the Irish" and the non-U2 version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," but also was quoted as saying, "If it's a choice between the British Army and the IRA, I'm with the IRA."
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"I am the phallus, doo doo d'douche."
Of course, Lennon never wrote any songs called "Ouch I Lost My Legs in a Belfast Restaurant," which may reveal that he had some bias in his no-violence rule. A few years ago, a former IRA member told the Guardian that he'd met with Lennon in New York to discuss the possibility of Lennon performing a show in Ireland to raise money for the IRA. The spanner in the works was that at the time the Nixon administration was trying real hard to throw his ass out of the United States due to Lennon's lack of a hard-on for the Vietnam War. Lennon was afraid that if he left, he might not get back in again, so he stayed put and never said anything about the IRA again.
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Ronald Reagan is the closest thing the right wing has to a superhero. To hear them talk, after being elected to the highest office in the land, Reagan rolled up both his conservative sleeves, destroyed the Soviet Union with one fist, and punched the U.S. economy back to life with the other. Reagan was a less-hippie version of Jesus who came to chew bubblegum and revitalize the conservative movement, and he was all out of bubblegum.
The Alzheimer's forgetfulness signs always start out small.
Nothing better illustrates Reagan's no-bullshit conservatism than his stance on labor unions. When a bunch of punk-ass air traffic controllers went on strike for higher wages and shorter workweeks, Reagan warned those commie bastards that he would fire every single one of them who didn't put their ass directly in their seat and get back to work. And despite the possibility of causing an airline industry disaster, he followed through with his threat.
You probably know that Reagan is the only U.S. president to have started his career as a Hollywood actor, at least until Schwarzenegger gets sworn in. So how did he rise through the ranks to the presidency? Well, before he was president of the USA, he was president of the Screen Actors Guild, otherwise known as the American actors' union.
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"I'm sorry, but 'guild' and 'union' are two totally different words. Spelling and everything."
Back in 1937, Reagan arrived in Hollywood as just another amateur actor in search of a buck. He joined SAG in order to pick up some acting roles, but being that he was Ronald freakin' Reagan, he didn't do things by half measures -- 10 years later, he was elected president of the whole union. This position enabled him to pull off one of the greatest revolutions in union history. For background, it's common policy today for actors to receive residual payments, or a kind of royalties, when their movies are shown on television. Back in 1960, Hollywood was way more tight-fisted, so when SAG came around to ask for that money, they got an enthusiastic "Fuck off." Reagan decided to play hardball.
On March 7, 1960, Reagan and SAG caused the first industrywide strike in Hollywood history. Thousands of union men walked away from their gigs for the entire day, and the producers had to admit defeat. More than 50 years later, Hollywood's given out more than $7 billion in residuals to actors, all thanks to the Gipper. Later, Reagan would kick off his U.S. presidential campaign with a heartfelt endorsement of labor unions, a position that he seemed to hold right up until the moment they started asking him for shit.
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"You want some bullshit? I can give you loads of that."
Which brings us to ...
Charles and David Koch are the most influential libertarians in contemporary politics. David Koch, for example, ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. His campaign called for the abolishment of Social Security, along with welfare and public schools, just to prove he was legit. Likewise, Charles Koch co-founded the Charles Koch Foundation, which is known today as the Cato Institute -- a think tank noteworthy for calling for either the privatization or the outright end of Social Security.
Together the Koch brothers have put millions of dollars into think tanks and lobbying to attack Social Security. The reasoning is that Social Security is a bankrupt Ponzi scheme that is creating a black hole of debt that will eventually bleed us all dry.
"And us vampires need your blood to live."
In 1973, when Charles Koch invited the legendary libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek to work for him as a senior scholar to the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), Hayek politely declined, citing health problems. He had previously undergone surgery for his gallbladder in Austria and couldn't afford to get sick outside of his progressive free-health-care-covering home country.
Rather than chalk Hayek's plight up to collateral damage in the fight against welfare, Charles Koch figured that some people's quality of life was worth taxing the public to maintain, so he sent Hayek a reply letter detailing how he could apply for Social Security in the states and sign up for some of those sweet, sweet government benefits.
He wrote a step-by-step guide on how to take candy from a baby on the back of the letter.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that Koch isn't just some armchair libertarian who was forced to admit under his breath that Social Security is sometimes necessary. He's a billionaire. He could have not only paid for Hayek's medical insurance, but bought him a whole new gallbladder made from adamantium. Of course that probably would've meant that Koch would have to make do with one less diamond-encrusted back scratcher.
Henry David Thoreau is best known as the author of Walden, a 100,000-word memoir about how he lived in a cottage near a pond for a couple of years, which is a fairly hard sell for middle school English students. The book gave Thoreau a reputation as the father of environmentalism, and it contains his various philosophies on respecting nature and living self-sufficiently off the land, making him an icon for survivalists and people on various government watch lists.
Despite criticizing society for disrespecting nature, Thoreau once started a fire in the Concord woods after incompetently maintaining a campfire and burned half of the forest down. Before Walden launched his career as the father of environmentalism, the locals referred to him by another nickname: "woods burner."
Samuel Worcester Rouse
"That was also due in part to me causing a terrible outbreak of gonorrhea."
But OK, this was before his journey of self-discovery, so maybe murdering a significant amount of America's natural wilderness was the event that turned his life around. Except that Thoreau admitted in his journal to feeling no remorse and bragged about the "glorious spectacle." Oh, and he worked in a pencil factory, which of course required wood logging, so there's that.
As for his self-reliance philosophy, Thoreau didn't really earn top marks for that, either.
For starters, the land that he lived on was owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. While writing about the importance of solitude at Walden Pond, Thoreau would run into town and have people cook dinner for him, and before heading back into the woods, he would dump his laundry at his mother's house.
Benjamin D. Maxham
"Yes, I had a neckbeard at the time. Why do you ask?"
We get that Thoreau's schtick was never about total gun-toting, off-the-grid survivalism, but you'd think the author of Walden would at least have folded his own underwear.
The Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau made an impressive number of contributions to modern political thought, but his favorite work, and the one he considered his most important, was the 1762 book Emile, or On Education, a treatise on the education of children.
Opposing the strict, authoritarian education style of his day, Rousseau maintained that children should be free to discover the world on their own, play, and explore, with an ever-approachable father always present to answer their questions about the nature of the world. The book was shunned in its day, but eventually caught on and continues to influence our ideas about education now.
Pictured: "education," pre-book.
Given this type of pro-kid attitude, how great must it have been to be Rousseau's own child? It's hard to say, because when he was finally blessed with spawn, he dumped them in an orphanage just as fast as they arrived, like hot potatoes right out of the oven.
His lover Therese gave birth to at least five kids, and in his autobiography, Rousseau admits that he persuaded her to give up each of their children to an orphanage (or a "foundling hospital," as it was known) pretty much as soon as the bastards entered the world. And remember, this was an 18th century orphanage. We doubt it was staffed by rainbow-farting unicorns.
What was his explanation? His autobiography states, "I trembled at the thought of entrusting them to a family ill brought up, to be still worse educated. The risk of the education of the foundling hospital was much less." In short, Rousseau didn't think he'd be a good enough teacher for his kids, which kind of puts a damper on his education revolution.
Maurice Quentin de La Tour
"Those who teach, can't."
Rousseau's nemesis at the time, the philosopher Voltaire, publicly called him out on his hypocrisy by announcing in an open letter that Rousseau had left all his kids at the door of an orphanage. Rousseau steadfastly denied having done so, insisting that he had taken them inside, which shows that he was kind of an expert at missing the point.
And on the subject of Voltaire ...
If you're at all familiar with the ideas of 18th century jokester and pioneer of one-word names Voltaire, then it's probably this quote: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Well, he never actually said that; it came from his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, but it's an accurate description of his whole philosophy anyway. Voltaire is considered instrumental in the development of the idea of freedom of speech, which you might recognize as the very first thing the U.S. Bill of Rights says.
Howard Chandler Christy
"Brothers: Speech, like big butts, cannot be denied."
It's because of Voltaire that we're outraged about book-burning and troubled by Chinese Internet censorship. According to him, absolute freedom from censorship was essential for the intellectual growth of society.
Unless you're Rousseau.
As we just mentioned, Voltaire and Rousseau didn't see eye to eye. Although they were once on friendly terms, their friendship broke down into an epic philosopher showdown that had both academics flinging scathing one-liners at each other for most of their careers, which all the other French intellectuals of the time probably considered better entertainment than pro wrestling.
Moments before he tore off his man-blouse Hulk Hogan style.
Rousseau snidely sent his rival copies of his books to read, which sent Voltaire into frothing fits of rage, and Voltaire would often send back reviews laced with enough sarcasm to make Roger Ebert blush. When Rousseau wrote his book Letters Written from the Mountain, Voltaire was so outraged by its content that he decided censorship might be justifiable after all and, posing as a devout and concerned Christian, lobbied the government to have the book burned and Rousseau punished to the full extent of the law for having written it.
Did we mention that Voltaire was also an entrenched anti-Christian? Yeah, all things considered, he was the Joker to Rousseau's Batman, if Batman had abandoned five illegitimate kids.
OK, maybe Rousseau's got the upper hand here.
Walt Whitman was a classic poet with works that emphasized the free spirit of youth, humanism, and transcendence of the infinite colloquialisms of life (or whatever ... we're just throwing out random words at this point). A more crude way to put it is that his poems were about boning. Lots and lots of boning. His best known collection, Leaves of Grass, wound up getting him sacked from his cushy gig with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior because of its overt sexuality, which basically makes him a precursor to the 1960s "free love" movement by about 100 years.
For all his "live free and bang hard" philosophy, Whitman was not that much fun to hang out with in his youth. This was because a big milestone in his early writing career was about the importance of not getting drunk, which isn't something you want on your resume when you're trying to be the architect of libertine self-expression. In 1842, Whitman published his only novel, Franklin Evans, a shining example of why he's remembered for being a poet. The story follows the title character, an upstanding young citizen with a promising future in the big city of Long Island, at least until some jerkoff named Colby gives him some booze.
"He said it was iced tea."
From there, Franklin takes a huge dive into alcoholism that's so over-the-top, it would be hilarious if there wasn't a body count attached. His addiction kills two wives and a mistress and ruins his life several times over before he finally finds a way to sober up.
This wasn't just poetic license for Whitman, since he was a huge fan of temperance then. Of course, once he became older and cooler, Whitman talked all kinds of crap about the book, claiming he wrote it ironically while trashed on booze and referring to it as "damned rot." Historians also speculate that he might have written it for a quick buck, since temperance was the shit at the time, and considering that he ended up writing more pro-temperance pieces, they're probably right.
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American culture tends to mythologize people who die young, especially when there's a political agenda involved. So maybe it's no surprise that John F. Kennedy's legacy has changed wildly in the 50 years since he was gunned down. For example, popular culture remembers him as the peaceful president who was trying to end the Vietnam War (to the point that conspiracy theorists think that's why he was assassinated), but we've pointed out before that this was hardly the case.
Likewise, you'd think that if he were brought back to life by a necromancer, he'd be making speeches about bringing peace to America's urban war zones by getting rid of the guns (and not just because he'd still have vivid memories of getting shot by one). After all, today it's the Democrats -- Kennedy's own party -- who push for gun control, and the opposing Republicans are almost universally against it. And the latter is supported by the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby group that screams if anyone suggests restrictions on assault weapons and insists that background checks and waiting periods are a slippery slope toward liberal government tyranny.
"Three days for this!?! Can you believe this pinko crap?"
The NRA probably cried harder than anybody else on the day Kennedy was shot. In the history of the NRA, they've counted eight presidents as lifetime members, and Kennedy was one of them. But you could argue that the contradiction was on the NRA's part, not Kennedy's.
It might sound unbelievable now, but prior to Kennedy, guns were no big deal. Liberal politicians, like most people at the time, liked blasting shit with the biggest shootin' irons they could get, and flogging their gun love publicly was a common political tool. Meanwhile, the NRA spent way less time longing for a world of universal assault weapon ownership and much more time worried about the rights of hunters and sportsmen. In fact, when the massive Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed (which, among other things, banned gun sales through the mail), the NRA signed off on it, with a few minor complaints.
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"Sure, you can pry these out of our hands. It's not that big a deal."
You could argue, in fact, that the whole controversy over guns and the polarization of opinion started right there. It was soon after that the NRA became a much more political group (they got serious about lobbying in the mid-1970s). And why did that law get proposed in the first place? Because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy (although it wouldn't get passed until his brother Robert was also shot). As to whether JFK would still be an NRA member now, well, we'll let you guys argue that on your own.
For more philosophizzle, check out 18 Unexpected (and Real) Quotes by Famous Figures and The 45 Most Badass Lines Ever Uttered in Real Life.
Related Reading: Famous people always get away with being hypocrites, just ask Jimmy Kimmel. Morpheus from The Matrix is a hypocrite too; he fought slavery with an army of child soldiers. And while we're on the subject of hypocrites, read about these copyright crusaders.