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Quotes of the day: Walter Lippmann
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Published Monday, September 23, 2013 @ 6:42 AM EDT
Sep 23 2013

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 - December 14, 1974) was an American public intellectual, writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War; he coined the term stereotype in the modern psychological meaning as well. Lippmann was twice awarded (1958 and 1962) a Pulitzer Prize for his syndicated newspaper column, 'Today and Tomorrow'. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)

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A country survives its legislation. That truth should not comfort the conservative nor depress the radical. For it means that public policy can enlarge its scope and increase its audacity, can try big experiments without trembling too much over the result. This nation could enter upon the most radical experiments and could afford to fail in them.

A large plural society cannot be governed without recognizing that, transcending its plural interests, there is a rational order with a superior common law.

Ages when custom is unsettled are necessarily ages of prophecy. The moralist cannot teach what is revealed; he must reveal what ca n be taught. He has to seek insight rather than to preach.

Almost always tradition is nothing but a record and a machine-made imitation of the habits that our ancestors created. The average conservative is a slave to the most incidental and trivial part of his forefathers' glory- to the archaic formula which happened to express their genius or the eighteenth-century contrivance by which for a time it was served.

An alliance is like a chain. It is not made stronger by adding weak links to it. A great power like the United States gains no advantage and it loses prestige by offering, indeed peddling, its alliances to all and sundry. An alliance should be hard diplomatic currency, valuable and hard to get, and not inflationary paper from the mimeograph machine in the State Department.

Between ourselves and our real natures we interpose that wax figure of idealizations and selections which we call our character.

Football strategy does not originate in a scrimmage: it is useless to expect solutions in a political compaign.

Great men, even during their lifetime, are usually known to the public only through a fictitious personality.

He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.

If all power is in the people, if there is no higher law than their will, and if by counting their votes, their will may be ascertained- then the people may entrust all their power to anyone, and the power of the pretender and the usurper is then legitimate. It is not to be challenged since it came originally from the sovereign people.

In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men. It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs.

In government offices which are sensitive to the vehemence and passion of mass sentiment public men have no sure tenure. They are in effect perpetual office seekers, always on trial for their political lives, always required to court their restless constituents.

In making the great experiment of governing people by consent rather than by coercion, it is not sufficient that the party in power should have a majority. It is just as necessary that the party in power should never outrage the minority.

In really hard times the rules of the game are altered. The inchoate mass begins to stir. It becomes potent, and when it strikes... it strikes with incredible emphasis. Those are the rare occasions when a national will emerges from the scattered, specialized, or indifferent blocs of voters who ordinarily elect the politicians. Those are for good or evil the great occasions in a nation's history.

It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.

Let a human being throw the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct of workmanship will take care of his honesty.

No amount of charters, direct primaries, or short ballots will make a democracy out of an illiterate people.

Our conscience is not the vessel of eternal verities. It grows with our social life, and a new social condition means a radical change in conscience

Ours is a problem in which deception has become organized and strong; where truth is poisoned at its source; one in which the skill of the shrewdest brains is devoted to misleading a bewildered people.

Social movements are at once the symptoms and the instruments of progress. Ignore them and statesmanship is irrelevant; fail to use them and it is weak.

Statesmanship... consists in giving the people not what they want but what they will learn to want.

Success makes men rigid and they tend to exalt stability over all the other virtues; tired of the effort of willing they become fanatics about conservatism.

The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master's ear. It is the court fool, not the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose.

The Bill of Rights does not come from the people and is not subject to change by majorities. It comes from the nature of things. It declares the inalienable rights of man not only against all government but also against the people collectively.

The disesteem into which moralists have fallen is due at bottom to their failure to see that in an age like this one the function of the moralist is not to exhort men to be good but to elucidate what the good is. The problem of sanctions is secondary.

The effort to calculate exactly what the voters want at each particular moment leaves out of account the fact that when they are troubled the thing the voters most want is to be told what to want

The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully.

The great social adventure of America is no longer the conquest of the wilderness but the absorption of fifty different peoples.

The history of the notion of privacy would be an entertaining tale.

The newspaper is in all its literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct.

The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event. That is why until we know what others think they know, we cannot truly understand their acts.

The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent supporters. For his supporters will push him to disaster unless his opponents show him where the dangers are. So if he is wise he will often pray to be delivered from his friends, because they will ruin him. But though it hurts, he ought also to pray never to be left without opponents; for they keep him on the path of reason and good sense.

The ordinary politician has a very low estimate of human nature. In his daily life he comes into contact chiefly with persons who want to get something or to avoid something. Beyond this circle of seekers after privileges, individuals and organized minorities, he is aware of a large unorganized, indifferent mass of citizens who ask nothing in particular and rarely complain. The politician comes after a while to think that the art of politics is to satisfy the seekers after favors and to mollify the inchoate mass with noble sentiments and patriotic phrases.

The press is no substitute for institutions. It is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision. Men cannot do the work of the world by this light alone. They cannot govern society by episodes, incidents, and eruptions. It is only when they work by a steady light of their own, that the press, when it is turned upon them, reveals a situation intelligible enough for a popular decision.

The private citizen, beset by partisan appeals for the loan of his Public Opinion, will soon see, perhaps, that these appeals are not a compliment to his intelligence, but an imposition on his good nature and an insult to his sense of evidence.

The simple opposition between the people and big business has disappeared because the people themselves have become so deeply involved in big business.

The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out or stumble upon a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it the representative of a whole class.

There is no arguing with the pretenders to a divine knowledge and to a divine mission. They are possessed with the sin of pride, they have yielded to the perennial temptation.

There is nothing so bad but it can masquerade as moral.

This is one of the paradoxes of the democratic movement- that it loves a crowd and fears the individuals who compose it- that the religion of humanity should have no faith in human beings.

Unless democracy is to commit suicide by consenting to its own destruction, it will have to find some formidable answer to those who come to it saying: 'I demand from you in the name of your principles the rights which I shall deny to you later in the name of my principles.'

Unless the reformer can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, he will fail.

We are quite rich enough to defend ourselves, whatever the cost. We must now learn that we are quite rich enough to educate ourselves as we need to be educated.

What we call a democratic society might be defined for certain purposes as one in which the majority is always prepared to put down a revolutionary minority.

When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into an absolute.

When men can no longer be theists, they must, if they are civilized, become humanists.

When philosophers try to be politicians they generally cease to be philosophers.

Where mass opinion dominates the government, there is a morbid derangement of the true functions of power. The derangement brings about the enfeeblement, verging on paralysis, of the capacity to govern. This breakdown in the constitutional order is the cause of the precipitate and catastrophic decline of Western society.

With exceptions so rare they are regarded as miracles of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men.

Without some form of censorship, propaganda in the strict sense of the word is impossible.


Categories: Quotes of the day, Walter Lippmann


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