There is a satirical phrase, "Everything not forbidden is compulsory," which seems to have been a part of popular culture (in varied form) in the English-speaking world in the early 20th century. It was later used by Murray Gell-Mann as a tongue-in-cheek way of formulating a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. In the physics context, it's referred to as the "totalitarian principle." I ran across a comment on a WP talk page saying that Heinlein uses this phrase in the 1940 story "Coventry." Can anyone help me track down where in the story it occurs? It's a pretty long story. What I have handy is the 1967 Berkley mass-market paperback edition of The Past Through Tomorrow, but if anyone can point me to the general location within the story, I should be able to find it.

  • 2
    I believe the phrase originates with The Once and Future King by T H White. – Harry Johnston Jan 13 at 20:54
  • 2
    @HarryJohnston: Actually that turns out to be wrong. I've done some edits to the WP article, which used to claim that. For a careful historical discussion, see thepaper by Kragh referenced in the WP article. White didn't publish the phrase in print util 1958. – Ben Crowell Jan 13 at 21:12
  • 1
    Huh. I thought Once and Future King was much older than that. My mistake. – Harry Johnston Jan 13 at 23:08
  • @HarryJohnston: The story existed in a series of different versions. The phrase didn't appear until the 1958 version. The Kragh paper goes into all this. – Ben Crowell Jan 15 at 1:13

It’s about a quarter of the way through:

The state was thought of as a single organism with a single head, a single brain, and a single purpose. Anything not compulsory was forbidden.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    For anyone else trying to locate it, it's about two pages after the end of the courtroom scene, inserted as an authorial explanation during a dialog between David MacKinnon and Fader Magee. – Ben Crowell Jan 13 at 19:33
  • @BenCrowell It's pretty easy to find it here, just search for "compulsory": archive.org/details/Astounding_v25n05_1940-07_dtsg0318 – user14111 Jan 14 at 10:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.