Walter Lippmann


American Intellectual, Reporter, Teacher, Editor, Journalist and Political Commentator

Author Quotes

But in truth Miss Earhart needs no such justification. The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They help to offset the much larger numbers who are ready to sacrifice the ease and the security and the very lives of others in order to do what they want done.

I cannot quite remember whether Miss Earhart undertook her flight with some practical purpose in mind, say, to demonstrate something or other about aviation which will make it a little easier for commercial passengers to move more quickly around the world. There are those who seem to think that an enterprise like hers must have some such justification, that without it there was no good reason for taking such grave risks.

It is somehow reassuring to think that there are also men and women who take the risks themselves, who pit themselves not against their fellow beings but against the immensity and the violence of the natural world, who are brave without cruelty to others and impassioned with an idea that dignifies all who contemplate it.

No preconceived theory fits them. No material purpose actuates them. They do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky.

Such energy cannot be planned and managed and made purposeful, or weighted by the standards of utility or judged by its social consequences. It is wild and it is free. But all the heroes, the saints, the seers, the explorers and the creators partake of it. They do not know what they discover. They do not know where their impulse is taking them. They can give no account in advance of where they are going or explain completely where they have been. They have been possessed for a time with an extraordinary passion which is unintelligible in ordinary terms.

The best things of mankind are as useless as Amelia Earhart?s adventure. They are the things that are undertaken not for some definite, measurable result, but because someone, not counting the costs or calculating the consequences, is moved by curiosity, the love of excellence, a point of honor, the compulsion to invent or to make or to understand. In such persons mankind overcomes the inertia which would keep it earthbound forever in its habitual ways. They have in them the free and useless energy with which alone men surpass themselves.

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

The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.

The unions are the first feeble effort to conquer the industrial jungle for democratic life. They may not succeed, but if they don't their failure will be a tragedy for civilization, a loss of cooperative effort, a baulking of energy, and the fixing in American life of a class-structure.

Thought is not made in a vacuum, nor created out of likeness. It requires travel and shipping and the coming and going of strangers to impregnate a civilization. That is why thought has flourished in cities which lie along the paths of communication. Nineveh, Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Venice, the Hansa towns, London, Paris -- they have made ideas out of the movement and contact of many people. Men are jostled into thought. Left alone they spin the same thread from the same dream. A community which is self-contained and homogeneous and secluded is intellectually deaf, dumb, and blind. It can cultivate robust virtue and simple dogmatism, but it will not invent or throw out a profusion of ideas.

What a myth never contains is the critical power to separate its truths from its errors.

Winston Churchill's eloquence is the man himself, and the secret of his fascination is his magnanimity.

The greater of all perplexities in theology has been to reconcile the infinite goodness of God with His omnipotence.

The Puritans tried to choke the craving for pleasure in early New England. They had no theaters, no dance, no festivals. They burned witches instead.

The war for liberty never ends. One day liberty has to be defended against the power of wealth, on another day against the intrigues of politicians, on another against the dead hand of bureaucrats, on another against the patriot and the militarist, on another against the profiteer, and then against the hysteria and the passions of the mobs, against obscurantism and stupidity, against the criminal and against the over-righteous. In this campaign every civilized man is enlisted till he dies, and he only has known the full joy of living who somewhere and at some time has struck a decisive blow for the freedom of the human spirit.

To American's convictions that he must be able to look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell is the very essence of the free man's way of life.

What a shame to waste those great shots on the practice tee.

Within limits that we have not measured, human nature is malleable.

The lesson of the tremendous days through which we are passing is that men cannot live upon the achievements of their forefathers, but must themselves renew them - We cannot escape the elementary facts of life - that for a people there is nothing for

The radical novelty of modern science lies in rejection precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart.

The world is inherent in the United Nations as an oak tree is in an acorn.

To keep a faith pure, man had better retire to a monastery.

What the public does is not to express its opinions but to align itself for or against a proposal. If that theory is accepted, we must abandon the notion that democratic government can be the direct expression of the will of the people. We must abandon the notion that the people govern. Instead we must adopt the theory that, by their occasional mobilizations as a majority, people support or oppose the individuals who actually govern. We must say that the popular will does not direct continuously but that it intervenes occasionally.

Without offering any data on all that occurs between conception and the age of kindergarten, they announce on the basis of what they have got out of a few thousand questionnaires that they are measuring the hereditary mental endowment of human beings. Obviously, this is not a conclusion obtained by research. It is a conclusion planted by the will to believe. It is, I think, for the most part unconsciously planted.... If the impression takes root that these tests really measure intelligence, that they constitute a sort of last judgment on the child's capacity, that they reveal 'scientifically' his predestined ability, then it would be a thousand times better if all the intelligence testers and all their questionnaires were sunk in the Sargasso Sea. [In the course of a debate with Lewis Terman]

The life of a savage is beset by glowering terrors: from birth to death he lives in an animated world; where the sun and the stars, sticks, stones, and rivers are obsessed with his fate. He is busy all the time in a ritual designed to propitiate the abounding jealousies of nature. For his world is magical and capricious, the simplest thing is occult.

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American Intellectual, Reporter, Teacher, Editor, Journalist and Political Commentator