Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Murray Kempton, fully James Murray Kempton

American Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist

"A man can look upon his life and accept it as good or evil; it is far, far harder for him to confess that it has been unimportant in the sum of things."

"A revolution requires of its leaders a record of unbroken infallibility; if they do not possess it, they are expected to invent it."

"A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded."

"To say that an idea is fashionable is to say, I think, that it has been adulterated to a point where it is hardly an idea at all."

"No great scoundrel is ever uninteresting."

"It is function of government to invent philosophies to explain the demands of its own convenience."

"A political convention is not a place where you can come away with any trace of faith in human nature."

"America... an economic system prouder of the distribution of its products than of the products themselves."

"As an organized political group, the Communists have done nothing to damage our society a fraction as much as what their enemies have done in the name of defending us against subversion."

"A neighborhood is where, when you go out of it, you get beat up."

"Any experience deeply felt makes some men better and some men worse. When it has ended, they share nothing but the recollection of a commitment in which each was tested and to some degree found wanting... The consequences of the journey change the voyager so much more than the embarking or the arrival."

"If you talk to gangsters long enough, you'll find out that they're just as bad as respectable people."

"It has been said somewhere that the one essential sentence in Holy Scripture is "Thy Will Be Done" and that all else is commentary. Our trade remains for me the story you cover, the bumps you take, the people you meet and the struggle to make sense of it all in the only way we can ever hope to make sense, which is by seeing, touching and smelling. All else is commentary."

"It is a measure of the Negro's circumstance that, in America, the smallest things usually take him so very long, and that, by the time he wins them, they are no longer little things: they are miracles."

"It is not the least of a martyr's scourges to be canonized by the persons who burned him."

"By adherence to a special set of rules, the child of the shabby-genteel can sometimes leap across the time which has passed by his family and function in the real world without doing violence to the hopes his mother held out for him. But those who cannot live within this pattern are the freaks and poets, and they travel a different road to peace."

"Each of us lives with a sword over his head."

"It may or may not be parochial of me to say that I am by no means certain that we reporters ought to worry all that much about the dangers of lying to the public. The public is, after all, an abstraction. We would far more serviceably take care not to lie to or about the people we are covering. For after all, if they can trust us, if not to be fair by their lights at least not to lie to them, we may not be correct about them--who can be assured of being correct about anyone else?--but we will not be false to them. When we go among humans, we are unable to deal with them as abstract presences; their very faces command us to be honorable, and once you learn not to lie to a face, you're pretty secure from the peril of lying to the generality of the faceless."

"The beauty of a strong, lasting commitment is often best understood by men incapable of it."

"The Communists offer one precious, fatal boon: they take away the sense of sin."

"The faces in New York remind me of people who played a game and lost."

"The fates have a way of demanding of a man that he suffer his greatest moments all by himself; being alone seems as often attendant upon reality as being in company is attendant upon flight from reality. (frm Part of Our Time, Some Monuments and Ruins of the Thirties, about American Communist movement.)"

"There are things a man must not do even to save a nation."

"There are those who can ignore its shadow and those who cannot. Those who cannot are not necessarily better than those who can. But they are the creators of the special myth of their time, because any myth is the creation of the very few who cannot bear reality."

"There is a raging tiger inside every man whom God put on this earth. Every man worthy of the respect of his children spends his life building inside himself a cage to pen that tiger in."

"To be a gentleman is to be oneself, all of a seam, on camera and off."

"We are a government of laws. Any laws some government hack can find to louse up a man who's down."

"We are all addicts in various stages of degradation where I live on the Upper West Side, some to heroin, some to small dogs, and some to the New York Times. The heroin is cut, the dogs are paranoid, and the Times cheats by skimping on the West Coast ball scores. No matter, each of us goes upon the street solely in pursuit of his own particular curse."

"When they began, they could not have thought that it would end like this, because their time seemed to them as simple as a flame. We know now that it was a very complicated time and that they were more complicated people than they knew."