Walter Lippmann

Walter
Lippmann
1889
1974

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

Author Quotes

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.

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.

The first principle of a civilized state is that the power is legitimate only when it is under contract.

The principle of majority rule is the mildest form in which the force of numbers can be exercised. It is a pacific substitute for civil war in which the opposing armies are counted and the victory is awarded to the larger before any blood is shed. Except in the sacred tests of democracy and in the incantations of the orators, we hardly take the trouble to pretend that the rule of the majority is not at bottom a rule of force.

The systems of stereotypes may be the core of our personal tradition, the defenses of our position in society. They are an ordered more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world, people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We are members.

These various remedies, eugenic, educational, ethical, populist and socialist, all assume that either the voters are inherently competent to direct the course of affairs or that they are making progress towards such an ideal. I think [democracy] is a false ideal.

We forge gradually our greatest instrument for understanding the world - introspection. We discover that humanity may resemble us very considerably - that the best way of knowing the inwardness of our neighbors is to know ourselves.

Where there is no danger of overt action there is rarely any interference with freedom. That is why there has so often been amazing freedom of opinion within an aristocratic class which at the same time sanctioned the ruthless suppression of heterodox opinion among the common people. When the Inquisition was operating most effectively against the bourgeois who had lapsed into heresy, the princes of the Church and the nobles enjoyed the freedom of the Renaissance.

The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.

The principles of the good society call for a concern with an order of being -- which cannot be proved existentially to the sense organs -- where it matters supremely that the human person is inviolable, that reason shall regulate the will, that truth shall prevail over error.

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.

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.

We must assume that the members of a public will not anticipate a problem much before its crisis has become obvious, nor stay with the problem long after its crisis has past. They will not know the antecedent events, will not have seen the issue as it developed, will not have thought out or willed a program, and will not be able to predict the consequences of acting on that program. We must assume as a theoretically fixed premise of popular government that normally men as members of a public will not be well informed, continuously interested, nonpartisan, creative, or executive. We must assume that a public is inexpert in its curiosity, intermittent, and that it discerns only gross distinctions, is slow to be aroused, and quickly diverted; that, since it acts by aligning itself, it personalizes whatever it considers, and is interested only when events have been melodramatized as a conflict.

Whereas each man claims his freedom as a matter of right, the freedom he accords to other men is a matter of toleration.

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 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 theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.

This is the way of greatness, In the supreme moments of history, terms like duty, truth, justice, and mercy - which in our torpid hours are tried words - become a measure of decision. . . .

We must protect the right of our opponents to speak because we must hear what they have to say.

Whether we wish it or not we are involved in the world's problems, and all the winds of heaven blow through our land.

The great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.

Author Picture
First Name
Walter
Last Name
Lippmann
Birth Date
1889
Death Date
1974
Bio

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