Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Joseph Wood Krutch

American Critic, Essayist, Teacher and Naturalist

"The typical American believes that no necessity of the soul is free and that thee are precious few, if any, which cannot be bought."

"Who would have guessed that, thanks to all the ingenious tie-ins between advertising, entertainment, the popular arts, and the great corporations, the time would come when one of the most obvious aspects of the condition of the average American man is simply this: Most of the news he hears, most of the music he listens to, and most of the drama he witnesses - in fact almost all the intellectual or artistic experience he ever has - is provided by medicine shows."

"Civilizations die from philosophical calm, irony, and the sense of fair play quite as surely as they die of debauchery."

"Though many have tried, no one has ever yet explained away the decisive fact that science, which can do much, cannot decide what ought to do."

"Those for whom the belief in immortality is most vivid are the most likely to practice the virtues which have a survival value and the least likely to deviate into either those virtues or those vices which are exclusively human."

"It is disastrous to win more of anything than you can possess, and it is one of the most fundamental laws of human nature that our power actually to possess is limited."

"Few people have ever tried seriously to be exclusively rational. The good life which most desire is a life warmed by passions and touched with that ceremonial grace which is impossible without some affectionate loyalty to traditional forms and ceremonies."

"When a man wantonly destroys a work of man we call him a vandal; when a man destroys one of the works of God, we call him a sportsman."

"Science has always promised two things not necessarily related - an increase first in our powers, second in our happiness or wisdom, and we have come to realize that it is the first and less important of the two promises which it has kept most abundantly."

"The impulse to mar and to destroy is as ancient and almost as nearly universal as the impulse to create. The one is an easier way than the other of demonstrating power."

"What man knows is everywhere at war with what he wants."

"Security depends not so much upon how much you have, as upon how much you can do without."

"Nature takes no account of even the most reasonable of human excuses."

"Technology made larger populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable."

"Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude."

"Any euphemism ceases to be euphemistic after a time and the true meaning begins to show through. It's a losing game, but we keep on trying."

"If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers."

"The world of poetry, mythology, and religion represents the world as a man would like to have it, while science represents the world as he gradually comes to discover it."

"Only those within whose own consciousness the sun rise and set, the leaves burgeon and wither, can be said to be aware of what living is."

"It is not ignorance but knowledge which is the mother of wonder."

"As machines get to be more and more like men, men will come to be more like machines."

"It is not a sentimental, but a grimly literal fact that unless we share this terrestrial globe with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for long."

"We need some contact with the things we sprang from. We need nature at least as a part of the context of our lives. Without cities we cannot be civilized. Without nature, without wilderness even, we are compelled to renounce an important part of our heritage."

"The famous balance of nature is the most extraordinary of all cybernetic systems. Left to itself, it is always self-regulated. "

"We must be part not only of the human community, but of the whole community; we must acknowledge some sort of oneness not only with our neighbors, our countrymen and our civilization but also some respect for the natural as well as for the man-made community. Ours is not only 'one world' in the sense usually implied by that term. It is also 'one earth'. Without some acknowledgement of that fact, men can no more live successfully than they can if they refuse to admit the political and economic interdependency of the various sections of the civilized world. It is not a sentimental but a grimly literal fact that unless we share this terrestrial globe with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for long. "

"We have invented exercise, recreation, pleasure, amusement,and the rest. But recreation, pleasure, amusement, fun and all the rest are poor substitutes for joy; and joy, I am convinced, has its roots in something from which civilization tends to cut us off. Some awareness of the world outside of man must exist if one is to experience the happiness and solace which some of us find in an awareness of nature and in our love for her manifestations."

"What is commonly called conservation will not work in the long run because it is not really conservation at all but rather, disguised by its elaborate scheming, only a more knowledgeable variation of the old idea of a world for man's use only. That idea is unrealizable. But how can man be persuaded to cherish any other ideal unless he can learn to take some interest and some delight in the beauty and variety of the world for its own sake, unless he can see a value in a flower blooming or an animal at play, unless he can see some use in things not useful?"

"Man needs a context for his life larger than himself; he needs it so desperately that all modern despairs go back to the fact that he has rejected the only context which the loss of his traditional gods has left accessible. If there is any "somehow good," it must reside in nature herself."

"Civilized man has been more ruthlessly wasteful and grasping in his attitude toward the natural world than has served even his most material best interests. Possibly - as some hope - a mere enlightened selfishness will save it in time. Even if we should learn just in the nick of time not to destroy what is necessary for our own preservation, the mere determination to survive is not sufficient to save very much of the variety and beauty of the natural world. They can e preserved only if man feels the necessity of sharing the earth with at least some of his fellow creatures to be a privilege rather han an irritation. And he is not likely to feel that without something more than intellectual curiosity - that something more you may call love, fellow-feeling, or reverence for life. Without reverence or love the increasing awareness of what the science of ecology teaches us can come to be no more than a shrewder exploitation of what it would be better to admire, to enjoy, and to share in."

"If nature herself has exhibited a tendency, if she seems to 'want' anything,it is not merely to survive. She has tended to realize more and more completely the potentialities of protoplasm, and these include much that has no demonstrable 'survival value.' Evolution itself has spread before us the story of a striving toward 'the higher,' not merely toward that which enables an organism to survive."