Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Michael Harrington, fully Edward Michael "Mike" Harrington

American Democratic Socialist, Writer, Social Critic and Professor of Political Science

"Poverty is expensive to maintain."

"There are tens of millions of Americans who are beyond the welfare state. Taken as a whole there is a culture of poverty... bad health, poor housing, low levels of aspiration and high levels of mental distress. Twenty per cent of a nation, some 32,000,000."

"Democracy, it must be emphasized, is a practical necessity and not just a philosophic value."

"Life is lived in common, but not in community."

"Our lives are meaningful to the degree that, as individuals or as participants in common action, we make this world the homeland of the human rather than its place of exile."

"We have one foot in genesis and the other in apocalypse, and annihilation is always one immediate option."

"Clothes make the poor invisible. America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever known."

"It takes a certain level of aspiration before one can take advantage of opportunities that are clearly offered."

"That the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about them. They are not simply neglected and forgotten as in the old rhetoric of reform; what is much worse, they are not seen."

"If there is technological advance without social advance, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery."

"Our affluent society contains those of talent and insight who are driven to prefer poverty, to choose it, rather than to submit to the desolation of an empty abundance. It is a strange part of the other America that one finds in the intellectual slums."

"Managers receiving hundreds of thousands a year—and setting their compensation for themselves—are not being paid wages, they are appropriating surplus value in the guise of wages."

"America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever known."

"Capitalism is moving toward its end massively, imperceptibly, like a glacier. Its decadence is cold, not hot."

"Capitalist man was accomplishing moral and political virtue as well as observing economic reason when he vigorously pursued his personal gain."

"Every President of the United States since Harry Truman has proclaimed that it is the duty of the citizen to consume."

"Because the slums are no longer centers of powerful political organizations, the politicians need not really care about their inhabitants."

"Beauty and myths are perennial masks of poverty."

"For more than fifty years, the Western world has haunted itself with rumors of its own death."

"For the middle class, the police protect property, give directions, and help old ladies. For the urban poor, the police are those who arrest you."

"How can one defend the sober virtues of Protestant individualism by disaffiliating from the world?"

"In the Protestant version of the capitalist morality, riches were the reward of the righteously ascetic."

"Once man understands that he is caught up in a blind energy, he transcends it. There is light in the darkness."

"One cannot raise the bottom of a society without benefiting everyone above."

"People who are much too sensitive to demand of cripples that they run races ask of the poor that they get up and act just like everyone else in the society"

"Even when the money finally trickles down, even when a school is built in a poor neighborhood, for instance, the poor are still deprived."

"The American poor are pessimistic and defeated, and they are victimized by mental suffering to a degree unknown in Suburbia."

"The growing chasm between private and social cost, the corporate control of a technology which is essentially public, called into question a most basic assumption of Western thought: that man frees himself through reason."

"The millions who are poor in the United States tend to become increasingly invisible."

"The miraculousness of technology is a popular article of Western faith."

"The private decision of real-estate developers to ring a city with carefully zoned, relatively expensive suburbs exacerbates racial tensions, segregates education on the basis of color and class, modifies the urban tax base and consequently the political order, and embitters the experience of old age for those who are left behind."

"The profound revolution manifest in Megalopolis came into existence without the intervention of the masses in the streets."

"The teenager, an afterthought of social history, became a more genuine example of the "new man" than any of the calculated personalities which the Communists held up for emulation."

"The various aspects of decadence cannot be turned into functions of the economy and neither can they be grasped without relating them to this dynamic part of contemporary life."

"The very development of the American city has removed poverty from the living, emotional experience of millions upon millions of middle-class Americans."

"There is a familiar America. It is celebrated in speeches and advertised on television and in the magazines. It has the highest mass standard of living the world has ever known."

"There is only one institution in the society capable of acting to abolish poverty. That is the Federal Government."

"There is the fundamental paradox of the welfare state: that it is not built for the desperate, but for those who are already capable of helping themselves."

"There was a succession of technological floods, and each new generation looked back to its youth like Father Noah."

"Throughout the nineteenth century, there was a conservative existentialism which protested against the rationalization of life in a machine society."

"To be a Negro is to participate in a culture of poverty and fear that goes far deeper than any law for or against discrimination."

"To talk of capitalism as an economic system is the first step away from fatalism."

"Today is always partly tomorrow and can only be understood in movement, futuristically, speculatively."

"With man more and more ubiquitous, with nature transformed from a mysterious given into a product of the human will, divinity is in crisis."

"With the appearance of the modern working class, driven to economic and political organization by the necessities of daily life, a social force had come into being that would be impelled toward the theory and practice of justice."