View Full Version : Goethe quote

07-07-2016, 04:02 AM
I haven't read much of Goethe but I recently came upon a quote that doesn't seem like Goethe at all: "Why look for conspiracy when stupidity can explain so much?"

There are plenty of web references attributing it to Goethe but I suppose they can all be traced back to an original poster that quotes it with the words "if I'm not mistaken". There is just one more reference attributing the quote to Lonnie Beckham, which seems much more reasonable to me.

Is there anybody who could confirm that it's not a quote that can be attributed to Goethe?

Danik 2016
07-07-2016, 08:45 AM
It probably isn´t his.
I looked it up in German and didn´t found it neither anything similar.

Pompey Bum
07-07-2016, 09:01 AM
Probably a bad translation/paraphrase of this:


Danik 2016
07-07-2016, 10:14 AM
PB is right!
Here is the original text: "Und ich habe […] gefunden, dass Missverständnisse und Trägheit vielleicht mehr Irrungen in der Welt machen als List und Bosheit. Wenigstens sind die beiden letzteren gewiß seltener." - Die Leiden des jungen Werther - Am 4. Mai 1 ()771" (The Sorrows of Young Werther, May 4, 1771)
Misunderstandings and laziness (Missverständnisse und Trägheit)= conspiracy
mehr Irrungen in der Welt machen (were responsible for more errors in the world)=can explain so much
Cunning and malice (List und Bosheit)=stupidity
The above is not an attempt at translation. It´s only to show how far the quotation has outdistanced itself from is original meaning.

07-14-2016, 05:51 AM
Thanks so much for your replies. "Conspiracy" was what bothered me in the first place. The mistranslation or, probably, adaptation theory sounds plausible but I'd rather people stuck to faithful translations of the original especially when quoting phrases out of context.

Pompey Bum
07-14-2016, 06:04 AM
You are welcome. It's ironic that those skeptical of conspiracies should be so uncritical about the attribution of a quotation, but I fear these are credulous times. Thanks for asking, though. I had fun figuring it out.

Danik 2016
07-14-2016, 09:15 AM
You had the right feeling about the quote, emay. I think Goethe, who was so exigent with his own writing, would have turned in his grave
at this interpration.
Laurels to PB for locating the disfigured quotation!