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The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.

1.Does the first sentence mean that the error exists because people are apathetic about it? "disinterested" here means impartial or not interested?

2.How to paraphrase the sentence? The noble are most likely to incur the reproach, what is it mean?

  • It is the noble people who are most likely to incur the reproach. (They keep on supporting the Government despite the fact that the Government's measures and character are flawed) – CowperKettle Apr 1 '17 at 2:48
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The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur.

Can be simplified by shuffling the word order. I've added (parentheses) to help you separate parts of the sentence.

(The noble) are most likely to incur (the slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable).

For a moment, let us change "the slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable" with something simpler: "insults".

(The noble) are most likely to incur (insults).

Meaning: Noble people are more likely to receive insults, compared to people who are not noble.
Or, in slightly different words: noble people fall victim to insults more than people who are not noble.


Now let's discuss "the slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable". To improve our understanding, let's rephrase it as an independent phrase:

(the virtue of patriotism) is commonly liable to (slight reproaches)

Translation: If you are patriotic, you are likely to receive slight reproach(es).

"slight reproach" here can be considered as "a little bit of negative feedback".

Now, if I were to talk about these reproaches, I would call them:

(a) The slight reproach which you often receive when you are patriotic.

(b) the slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable

My version (a) is simpler than (b), but their meaning is pretty much the same.


Let's combine it all again:

(The noble) are most likely to incur (the slight reproach which you often receive when you are patriotic).

And that's the basic structure of the phrase. I hope this was clear enough.

  • Much clear, could you please explain the first question? – Leon Zero May 9 '17 at 13:20
  • I'm not suite sure (not a native English speaker, and it's archaic and heavy language). I see two possibilities. (a) "The most disinterested virtue" = the virtue of being disinterested or apathetic. (b) "The most disinterested virtue" = not the virtue of apathy, but rather the virtue which we are most apathetic about. I can't be sure without more context. – Flater May 9 '17 at 13:30

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