The quote hails from Twain's collection of tales, "The Man Who
Corrupted Hadleyburg, and Other Stories", which you can find in
searchable text at the wonderful Project Gutenberg site:
The particular story in which the quote appears is "MY FIRST LIE, AND
HOW I GOT OUT OF IT".
If you search the text (by pressing Ctrl-F on a Windows system) for [
whole races ], you'll be taken right to the appropriate portion of the
text. The complete paragraph is:
What I am arriving at is this: When whole races and peoples conspire to
propagate gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams, why
should we care anything about the trifling lies told by individuals? Why
should we try to make it appear that abstention from lying is a virtue?
Why should we want to beguile ourselves in that way? Why should we
without shame help the nation lie, and then be ashamed to do a little
lying on our own account? Why shouldn't we be honest and honourable, and
lie every time we get a chance? That is to say, why shouldn't we be
consistent, and either lie all the time or not at all? Why should we
help the nation lie the whole day long and then object to telling one
little individual private lie in our own interest to go to bed on? Just
for the refreshment of it, I mean, and to take the rancid taste out of
Let me know if there's anything else you need.
search strategy -- Google search on [ gutenberg "whole races and peoples" ]
Clarification of Answer by
29 Jul 2006 05:11 PDT
No, I don't think Twain means this as a valid excuse for lying. He
was, in his writing, both a very virtuous and very cynical fellow, and
rather sour, at times, about the state of human affairs (probably most
baldly expressed in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", one
of the great diatribes of all times. Bing Crosby he's not!).
In the paragraph in question, he's decrying the hypocrisy that frowns
upon lies told by individuals, while at the same time, accepts lies
told by whole nations. He uses this -- tongue in cheek, as you
suggest -- as an attempted excuse at tolerating, even justifying, lies
told by individuals.
But clearly, he would much prefer that we learned to be less tolerant
of lies told by whole races and peoples.
Why do I say "clearly"? Because this can be taken as a central theme
throughout Twain's writing...he abhors the big lies created by nations
that, in Twain's mind, keep people in supression and slavery.
Hope that helps.