Whoever contributes his stone to the edifice of ideas, whoever proclaims an abuse, whoever sets his mark upon an evil to be abolished, always passes for immoral. – Balzac
Civilised man is born and dies a slave. – Rousseau, Emile, p10
…both in Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Grecia, and Rome, the same times that are most renowned for arms, are likewise most admired for learning… – Bacon, Advancement of Learning, p13
RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
ROAD, n. A strip of land along which one may pass from where it is too tiresome to be to where it is futile to go. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
The word…which we children of God speak, the voice which most hits our collective thought, the newspaper with the largest circulation in England, nay…in the whole world, is the Daily Telegraph! – Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, 1869
…the present is an age of talkers, and not of doers; and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and doat on past achievements. – Hazlitt, Coleridge
I recall the remark of a witty physician who remembered the hardships of his own youth; he said, “It was a misfortune to have been born when children were nothing, and to live till men were nothing.” – Emerson, Notes of Life and Letters in New England
A high culture is a pyramid: it can stand only on a broad base, its very first prerequisite is a strongly and soundly consolidated mediocrity. The crafts, trade, agriculture, science, the great part of art, in a word the entire compass of professional activity, are in no way compatible with anything other than mediocrity in ability and desires… To be a public utility, a cog, a function, is a natural vocation…it is the kind of happiness of which the great majority are alone capable, which makes intelligent machines of them. For the mediocre it is happiness to be mediocre; mastery in one thing, specialization, is for them a natural instinct. It would be quite unworthy of a more profound mind to see an objection in mediocrity as such. It is even the prime requirement for the existence of exceptions; a high culture is conditional upon it. When an exceptional human being handles the mediocre more gently than he does himself or his equals, this is not mere politeness of the heart – it is simply his duty… – Nietzsche, Anti-Christ, 57
NOISE, n. A stench in the ear. Undomesticated music. The chief product and authenticating sign of civilization. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
After all the fire and storm of the historical process, the struggles between good and evil, progress and reaction, the long and difficult climb from barbarism and slavery up into the light of civilization and finally of free civil society, at last and at length we struggle up to the peak of the mountain to encounter the culmination of generations of human striving: Homer Simpson… The world turns into a big mall, and we all go shopping: forever… Were all the heroism of the past, all the suffering, all the passionate faith, the sacrifice, the religious and political contests simply to build a shopper’s paradise? Does liberal society really stand for nothing more that the accumulation of material possessions? – Walter Russell Mead
This is precisely the empty, meaningless society that many people around the world see when they look to the West, and it is a criticism that needs to be taken very seriously. Unfortunately, Mead’s response is predictable and unconvincing. “The best and I think decisive response to this critique…[is] that humanity has an instinct for growth and change.” This may well be true, but humanity has many other instincts as well. It is one thing to say that openness to change creates an ideal milieu for the development of capitalism. It is quite another to say that this capitalistic drive suffices as the spiritual meaning of life. But Mead believes he sees the true “grandeur of the human race” in the Anglo-American “quest to fulfill the human instinct for change, arising out of a deep and apparently built-in human belief that through change we encounter the transcendent and the divine.” This amounts to little more than saying that the Anglo-American way of life is good because the Anglo-American way of life is good. We would do well to seek a more convincing explanation. …
+++++Given the phenomenal success of their agenda, the Anglo-Americans have unsurprisingly concluded that God is on their side (or, for more secular temperaments, that all the forces of history and nature are on their side), and this obliges them to take the lead in bringing forth a utopian future – the completion of history. In line with this divine call, the Anglo-American world has seen an explosion of movements for social betterment. “Workers are protected and women emancipated. Capital punishment is abolished. European prisons of today provide better living conditions than medieval aristocrats enjoyed…” Movements to abolish war continue as well. And of course, to eliminate war we must eliminate the causes of war. Thus, poverty can no longer be accepted, so we need a prosperous global economy. Since free democratic states are less likely to fight wars (or so the Anglo-Americans firmly believe), democracy must be spread worldwide. “Those who try to thwart this progress are fighting God’s will or blocking human nature from its right to fulfill its aspirations and achieve its justly deserved freedom – and that is the essence of evil.” – why doesn’t the world understand us?, claremont institute website
In truth, there has never been, in any country, an extraordinary legislator who has not had recourse to God; for otherwise his laws would not have been accepted: there are, in fact, many useful truths of which a wise man may have knowledge without their having in themselves such clear reasons for their being so as to be able to convince others. – Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, V xi
I’m not at all contemptuous of comforts, but they have their place, and it is not first. – EF Schumacher
Things are in the saddle and ride mankind. – Emerson
Creation, not acquisition, is the measure of a nation’s rank; it is the only road to an enduring place in the admiring memory of mankind. – Dewey
Journalist: What do you think of Western civilisation?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
It is not enough in a situation of trust in the commonwealth, that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation falls miserably short of the mark of public duty. That duty demands and requires that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected, but defeated. When the public man omits to put himself in a situation of doing his duty with effect, it is an omission that frustrates the purposes of his trust almost as much as if he had formally betrayed it. It is surely no very rational account of a man’s life, that he has always acted right; but he has taken special care to act in such a manner that his endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequence. – Burke, Present Discontents, II 79
…human rights documents generally contain rights that are clustered around a range of core values even if these values are not expressly mentioned. These core values tend to be
+++++[1. human dignity including the right to life,
+++++2. procedural justice (or the rule of law),
+++++3. the ideal of democratic government.]
…some values in the [European Convention on Human Rights] and other bills of rights do not appear to be justifiable on these grounds. These include the right to marry, to found a family, and to privacy. A fourth core value may therefore be added, which is individual or negative liberty. …one might also wish to add equality as a supplementary value. – Gunnar Beck, The Mythology of Human Rights
Such obscenities as the forthcoming trial of the Tennessee evolutionist, if they serve no other purpose, at least call attention dramatically to the fact that enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed. It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone – that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized – though I should not like to be put to giving names – but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little of anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.
Such immortal vermin, true enough, get their share of the fruits of human progress, and so they may be said, in a way, to have their part in it. The most ignorant man, when he is ill, may enjoy whatever boons and usufructs modern medicine may offer – that is, provided he is too poor to choose his own doctor. He is free, if he wants to, to take a bath. The literature of the world is at his disposal in public libraries. He may look at worlds of art. He may hear good music. He has at hand a thousand devices for making life less wearisome and more tolerable: the telephone, railroads, bichloride tablets, newspapers, sewers, correspondence schools, delicatessen. But he had no more to do with bringing these things into the world than the horned cattle in the fields, and he does no more to increase them today than the birds in the air.
+++++On the contrary, he is generally against them, and sometimes with immense violence. Every step in human progress, from the first feeble stirrings in the abyss of time, has been oppressed by the great majority of men. Every valuable thing that has been added to the store of man’s possessions has been derided by them when it was new, and destroyed by them when they had the power. They have fought every new truth ever heard of, and they have killed every truth-seeker who got into their hands.
+++++The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters. They mirror very accurately his congenital hatred of knowledge, his bitter enmity to the man who knows more than he does, and so gets more out of life. Certainly it cannot have gone unnoticed that their membership is recruited, in the overwhelming main, from the lower orders – that no man of any education or other human dignity belongs to them. What they propose to do, at bottom and in brief, is to make the superior man infamous – by mere abuse if it is sufficient, and if it is not, then by law.
+++++Such organizations, of course, must have leaders; there must be men in them whose ignorance and imbecility are measurably less abject than the ignorance and imbecility of the average. These super-Chandala often attain to a considerable power, especially in the Democratic states. Their followers trust them and look up to them; sometimes, when the pack is on the loose, it is necessary to conciliate them. But their puissance cannot conceal their incurrable inferiority. They belong to the mob as surely as their dupes, and the thing that animates them is precisely the mob’s hatred of superiority. Whatever lies above the level of their comprehension is of the devil. A glass of wine delights civilized men; them themselves, drinking it, would get drunk. Ergo, wine must be prohibited. The hypothesis of evolution is credited by all men of education; they themselves can’t understand it. Ergo, its teaching must be put down.
+++++This simple fact explains such phenomena as the Tennessee buffoonery. Nothing else can. We must think of human progress, not as of something going on in the race in general, but as of something going on in a small minority, perpetually beleaguered in a few walled towns. Now and then the horde of barbarians outside breaks through, and we have an armed effort to halt the process. That is, we have a Reformation, a French Revolution, a war for democracy, a Great Awakening. The minority is decimated and driven to cover. But a few survive – and a few are enough to carry on.
+++++The inferior man’s reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex – because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meagre capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is for shortcuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious. So on what seem to be higher levels. No man who has not had a long and arduous education can understand even the most [sic] concepts of modern pathology. But even a hind at the plow can grasp the theory of chiropractic in two lessons. Hence the vast popularity of chiropractic among the submerged – and of osteopathy, Christian Science and other such quackeries with it. They are idiotic, but they are simple – and every man prefers what he can understand to what puzzles and dismays him.
+++++The popularity of Fundamentalism among the inferior orders of men is explicable in exactly the same way. The cosmogonies that educated men toy with are all inordinately complex. To comprehend their veriest outlines requires an immense stock of knowledge, and a habit of thought. It would be as vain to try to teach to peasants of the city proletariat as it would be to try to teach them to streptococci. But the cosmogony of Genesis is so simple that even a yokel can grasp it. It is set forth in a few phrases. It offers, to an ignorant man, the irresistible reasonableness of the nonsensical. So he accepts it with loud hosannas, and has one more excuse for hating his betters.
Politics and the fine arts repeat the story. The issues that the former throw up are often so complex that, in the present state of human knowledge, they must remain impenetrable, even to the most enlightened men. How much easier to follow a mountebank with a shibboleth – a Coolidge, a Wilson, or a Roosevelt! The arts, like the sciences, demand special training, often very difficult. But in jazz there are simple rhythms, comprehensible even to savages.
+++++What all this amounts to is that the human race is divided into two sharply differentiated and mutually antagonistic classes, almost two genera – a small minority that plays with ideas and is capable of taking them in, and the vast majority that finds them painful, and is thus arrayed against them, and against all who have traffic with them. The intellectual heritage of the race belongs to the minority, and to the minority only. The majority has no more to do with it than it has to do with ecclesiastic politics on Mars. In so far as that heritage is apprehended, it is viewed with enmity. But in the main it is not apprehended at all.
+++++That is why Beethoven survives. Of the 110,000,000 so-called human beings now who live in the United States, flogged and crazed by Coolidge, Rotary, the Ku Klux and the newspapers, it is probable that at least 108,000,000 have never heard of him at all. To these immortals, made in God’s image, one of the greatest artists the human race has ever produced is not even a name. So far as they are concerned he might as well have died at birth. The gorgeous and incomparable beauties that he created are nothing to them. They get no value out of the fact that he existed. They are completely unaware of what he did in the world, and would not be interested if they were told.
+++++The fact saves good Ludwig’s bacon. His music survives because it lies outside the plane of popular apprehension, like the colors beyond violet and the concept of honor. If it could be brought within range, it would at once arouse hostility. Its complexity would challenge; its lace of moral purpose would affright. Soon there would be a movement to put it down, and Baptist clergymen would rage the land denouncing it, and in the end some poor musician, taken in the un-American act of playing it, would be put on trial before a jury of Ku Kluxers, and railroaded to the calaboose. – Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, June 29, 1925
The boons of civilization are so noisily cried up by sentimentalists that we are all apt to overlook its disadvantages. Intrinsically, it is a mere device for regimenting men. Its perfect symbol is the goose-step. The most civilized man is simply that man who has been most successful in caging and harnessing his honest and natural instincts – that is, the man who has done most cruel violence to his own ego in the interest of the commonweal. – Mencken
Tempting as it may be to compare the ancient oracles and the modern computer, only a comparison by contrast is possible. The former deal exclusively with qualities; the latter, with quantities. The inscription over the Delphic temple was “Know Thyself”, while the inscription on an electronic computer is more likely to be “Know Me”, that is, “Study the Operating Instructions before Plugging in.” – EF Schumacher, small is beautiful, p187
MODERN WESTERN CIVILIZATION
OCCIDENT, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call “war” and “commerce.” These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
Every man of us to-day is three men. There is in every modern European three powers so distinct as to be almost personal, the trinity of our earthly destiny. The three may be rudely summarised thus. First and nearest to us is the Christian, the man of the historic church, of the creed that must have coIoured our minds incurably whether we regard it (as I do) as the crown and combination of the other two, or whether we regard it as an accidental superstition which has remained for two thousand years. …behind him comes the Roman, the citizen of that great cosmopolitan realm of reason and order in the level and equality of which Christianity arose. He is the stoic who is so much sterner than the anchorites. He is the republican who is so much prouder than kings. He it is that makes straight roads and clear laws, and for whom good sense is good enough. And the third man – he is harder to speak of. He has no name, and all true tales of him are blotted out; yet he walks behind us in every forest path and wakes within us when the wind wakes at night. He is the origins – he is the man in the forest. …the chief claim of Christianity is…that it revived the pre-Roman madness, yet brought into it the Roman order. The gods had really died long before Christ was horn. What had taken their place was simply the god of government – Divus Cæsar. The pagans of the real Roman Empire were nothing if not respectable. It is said that when Christ was born the cry went through the world that Pan was dead. The truth is that when Christ was born Pan for the first time began to stir in his grave. The pagan gods had become pure fables when Christianity gave them a new lease of life as devils. I venture to wager that if you found one man in such a society who seriously believed in the personal existence of Apollo, he was probably a Christian. Christianity called to a kind of clamorous resurrection all the old supernatural instincts of the forests and the hill. But it put upon this occult chaos the Roman idea of balance and sanity.
+++++Thus, marriage was a sacrament, but mere sex was not a sacrament as it was in many of the frenzies of the forest. Thus wine was a sacrament with Christ; but drunkenness was not a sacrament as with Dionysus. In short, Christianity (merely historically seen) can best be understood as an attempt to combine the reason of the market-place with the mysticism of the forest. It was an attempt to accept all the superstitions that are necessary to man and to be philosophic at the end of them. Pagan Rome has sought to bring order or reason among men. Christian Rome sought to bring order and reason among gods.
+++++Given these three principles, the epoch we discuss can be defined. The eighteenth century was primarily the return of reason – and of Rome. It was the coming to the top of the stoic and civic element in that triple mixture. It was full, like the Roman world, of a respect for law. Note that the priest still wears, in the main, the popular garb of the Middle Ages: but the lawyer still wears the head-dress of the eighteenth century.
+++++…we must remember that the three elements of Europe are not the strata of a rock, but the strands of a rope; since all three have existed not one of them has ever appeared entirely unmixed. You may call the Renascence pagan, but Michael Angelo cannot be imagined as anything but a Christian. You may call Thomas Aquinas Christian, but you cannot say exactly what he would have been without Aristotle the pagan. You may, even in calling Virgil the poet of Roman dignity and good sense, still ask whether he did not remember something older than Rome when he spoke of the good luck of him who knew the field gods and the old man of the forest. In the same way there was even in the eighteenth century an element of the purely Christian and an element of the purely primitive. – Chesterton, William Blake, p106-14
To be really mediæval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes. – Wilde, A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated, 1894
…the intensification of government is not only aggravating the disunion which it seeks to prevent; it is arresting that very advance in science which is the reason given for the magnified officialdom. In several great nations proclaiming themselves the advance guard of human progress, free inquiry, which is the condition of scientific discovery, has been abolished in order that government may be more effective. Thus the naive interpreters of the modern world who have justified the increase of authority in order to realize the promise of science find themselves facing the awkward fact that science is being crushed in order to increase the authority of the state. …
+++++The events we are witnessing should not allow us to remain blind any longer to the truth that our generation has misunderstood human experience. We have renounced the wisdom of the ages to embrace the errors the ages have discarded. The road whereby mankind has advanced in knowledge, in the mastery of nature, in unity, and in personal security has lain through a progressive emancipation from the bondage of authority, monopoly, and special privilege. It has been through the release of human energy that men have lifted themselves above the primeval struggle for the bare necessities of existence; it has been by the removal of constraints that they have been able to adapt themselves to the life of great societies; it has been by the disestablishment of privilege that men have risen from the status of slaves, serfs, and subjects to that of free men inviolate in the ways of the spirit.
+++++And how else, when we pause to ponder the matter, can the human race advance except by the emancipation of more and more individuals in ever-widening circles of activity? How can new ideas be conceived? How can new relationships, new habits, be formed? Only by increasing freedom to think, to argue, to debate, to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, to explore and occasionally to discover, to be adventurous and enterprising, can change be more than the routine of a recurrent pattern. If those who happen by inheritance, election, or force to achieve the power to govern are not the sole originators of new ways, it follows that the energy of progress originates in the great mass of the people as the more gifted among them are released from constraint and stimulated by intercourse with other free-thinking and free-moving individuals.
+++++This was the faith of the men who made the modern world. Renaissance, Reformation, Declaration of the Rights of Man, Industrial Revolution, National Unification all were conceived and led by men who regarded themselves as emancipators. One and all these were movements to disestablish authority. It was the energy released by this progressive emancipation which invented, wrought, and made available to mankind all that it counts as good in modern civilization. No government planned, no political authority directed, the material progress of the past four centuries, or the increasing humanity which has accompanied it. It was by a stupendous liberation of the minds and spirits and conduct of men that a world-wide exchange of goods and services and ideas was promoted, and it was in this invigorating and sustaining environment that petty principalities coalesced into great commonwealths.
+++++What reason, then, is there for thinking that in the second half of the nineteenth century the tested method of human progress suddenly became obsolete, and henceforth it is only by more authority, not by more emancipation, that mankind can advance? The patent fact is that soon after the intellectual leaders of the modern world abandoned the method of freedom the world moved into an era of intensified national rivalry, culminating in the Great War, and of intensified domestic struggle which has racked all nations and reduced some to a condition where there are assassination, massacre, persecution, and the ravaging of armed bands such as have not been known in the western world for at least two centuries.
+++++We belong to a generation that has lost its way. Unable to develop the great truths which it inherited from the emancipators, it has returned to the heresies of absolutism, authority, and the domination of men by men. Against these ideas the progressive spirit of the western world is one long, increasing protest. Thus we have rent the spirit of man, and those who by their deepest sympathies seemed destined to be the bearers of the civilizing tradition have turned against one another in fratricidal strife.
+++++What could be more tragically and more preposterously confused than this choice? Must men renounce all that their ancestors struggled to achieve, or abandon the hope of making the world a better place for their children? Must they disregard as so much antiquated nonsense the principles by which governments were subjected to law, the great made accountable, the humble established in their rights? Shall they not remember the experience by which the violence of civil factions was subdued? Must they forget how their forefathers suffered and died in order that tyranny should end and that men should be free?
+++++It is the choice of Satan, offering to sell men the kingdoms of this world for their immortal souls. And as always, when that choice is offered, it will be discovered after much travail that on those terms not even the kingdoms of the world can be bought. – W Lippmann, The Good Society, p18-21, 1933
EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATIONS
…in early times many virtues are really “martial” – that is, tend to success in war – which in later times we do not think of so calling, because the original usefulness is hid by their later usefulness. We judge of them by the present effects, not by their first. The love of law, for example, is a virtue which no one now would call martial, yet in early times it disciplined nations, and the disciplined nations won. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it. But these nations have come out of the “pre-economic stage” too soon; they have been put to learn while yet only too apt to unlearn. Such cases do not vitiate, they confirm, the principle – that a nation which has just gained variability without losing legality has a singular likelihood to be a prevalent nation. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
We can only comprehend why so many nations have not varied, when we see how hateful variation is; how everybody turns against it; how not only the conservatives of speculation try to root it out, but the very innovators invent most rigid machines for crushing the “monstrosities and anomalies” – the new forms, out of which, by competition and trial, the best is to be selected for the future. The point I am bringing out is simple: – one most important prerequisite of a prevailing nation is that it should have passed out of the first stage of civilisation into the second stage – out of the stage where permanence is most wanted into that where variability is most wanted; and you cannot comprehend why progress is so slow till you see how hard the most obstinate tendencies of human nature make that step to mankind. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
CUSTOM, LAW, SUPERSTITION
The persecuting tendency of all savages, and, indeed, of all ignorant people, is even more striking than their imitative tendency. No barbarian can bear to see one of his nation deviate from the old barbarous customs and usages of their tribe. Very commonly all the tribe would expect a punishment from the gods if any one of them refrained from what was old, or began what was new. In modern times and in cultivated countries we regard each person as responsible only for his own actions, and do not believe, or think of believing, that the misconduct of others can bring guilt on them. Guilt to us is an individual taint consequent on choice and cleaving to the chooser. But in early ages the act of one member of the tribe is conceived to make all the tribe impious, to offend its peculiar god, to expose all the tribe to penalties from heaven. There is no “limited liability” in the political notions of that time. The early tribe or nation is a religious partnership, on which a rash member by a sudden impiety may bring utter ruin. If the state is conceived thus, toleration becomes wicked. A permitted deviation from the transmitted ordinances becomes simple folly. It is a sacrifice of the happiness of the greatest number. It is allowing one individual, for a moment’s pleasure or a stupid whim, to bring terrible and irretrievable calamity upon all. No one will ever understand even Athenian history, who forgets this idea of the old world, though Athens was, in comparison with others, a rational and sceptical place, ready for new views, and free from old prejudices. When the street statues of Hermes were mutilated, all the Athenians were frightened and furious; they thought that they should all be ruined because some one had mutilated a god’s image, and so offended him. Almost every detail of life in the classical times – the times when real history opens – was invested with a religious sanction; a sacred ritual regulated human action; whether it was called “law” or not, much of it was older than the word “law”; it was part of an ancient usage conceived as emanating from a superhuman authority, and not to be transgressed without risk of punishment by more than mortal power. There was such a solidarité then between citizens, that each might be led to persecute the other for fear of harm to himself. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, III
If a tribe or a nation have, by a contagious fancy, come to believe that the doing of any one thing by any number will be “unlucky,” that is, will bring an intense and vast liability on them all, then that tribe and that nation will prevent the doing of that thing more than anything else. They will deal with the most cherished chief who even by chance should do it, as in a similar case the sailors dealt with Jonah.
+++++I do not of course mean that this strange condition of mind as it seems to us was the sole source of early customs. On the contrary, man might be described as a custom-making animal with more justice than by many of the short descriptions. In whatever way a man has done anything once, he has a tendency to do it again: if he has done it several times he has a great tendency so to do it, and what is more, he has a great tendency to make others do it also. He transmits his formed customs to his children by example and by teaching. This is true now of human nature, and will always be true, no doubt. But what is peculiar in early societies is that over most of these customs there grows sooner or later a semi-supernatural sanction. The whole community is possessed with the idea that if the primal usages of the tribe be broken, harm unspeakable will happen in ways you cannot think of, and from sources you cannot imagine. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, IV
Science means specialism, and specialism means oligarchy. If you once establish the habit of trusting particular men to produce particular results in physics or astronomy, you leave the door open for the equally natural demand that you should trust particular men to do particular things in government and the coercing of men. If, you feel it to be reasonable that one beetle should be the only study of one man, and that one man the only student of that one beetle, it is surely a very harmless consequence to go on to say that politics should be the only study of one man, and that one man the only student of politics. As I have pointed out elsewhere in this book, the expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows better. But if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.16
THE “NATURAL”, THE “RETURN TO NATURE”, THE “ARTIFICIAL”
Few people will dispute that all the typical movements of our time are upon this road towards simplification. Each system seeks to be more fundamental than the other; each seeks, in the literal sense, to undermine the other. In art, for example, the old conception of man, classic as the Apollo Belvedere, has first been attacked by the realist, who asserts that man, as a fact of natural history, is a creature with colourless hair and a freckled face. Then comes the Impressionist, going yet deeper, who asserts that to his physical eye, which alone is certain, man is a creature with purple hair and a grey face. Then comes the Symbolist, and says that to his soul, which alone is certain, man is a creature with green hair and a blue face. And all the great writers of our time represent in one form or another this attempt to reestablish communication with the elemental, or, as it is sometimes more roughly and fallaciously expressed, to return to nature. Some think that the return to nature consists in drinking no wine; some think that it consists in drinking a great deal more than is good for them. Some think that the return to nature is achieved by beating swords into ploughshares; some think it is achieved by turning ploughshares into very ineffectual British War Office bayonets. It is natural, according to the Jingo, for a man to kill other people with gunpowder and himself with gin. It is natural, according to the humanitarian revolutionist, to kill other people with dynamite and himself with vegetarianism. It would be too obviously Philistine a sentiment, perhaps, to suggest that the claim of either of these persons to be obeying the voice of nature is interesting when we consider that they require huge volumes of paradoxical argument to persuade themselves or anyone else of the truth of their conclusions. But the giants of our time are undoubtedly alike in that they approach by very different roads this conception of the return to simplicity. Ibsen returns to nature by the angular exterior of fact, Maeterlinck by the eternal tendencies of fable. Whitman returns to nature by seeing how much he can accept, Tolstoy by seeing how much he can reject.
+++++Now, this heroic desire to return to nature, is, of course, in some respects, rather like the heroic desire of a kitten to return to its own tail. A tail is a simple and beautiful object, rhythmic in curve and soothing in texture; but it is certainly one of the minor but characteristic qualities of a tail that it should hang behind. It is impossible to deny that it would in some degree lose its character if attached to any other part of the anatomy. Now, nature is like a tail in the sense that it vitally important, if it is to discharge its real duty, that it should be always behind. To imagine that we can see nature, especially our own nature, face to face, is a folly; it is even a blasphemy. It is like the conduct of a cat in some mad fairy-tale, who should set out on his travels with the firm conviction that he would find his tail growing like a tree in the meadows at the end of the world. And the actual effect of the travels of the philosopher in search of nature, when seen from the outside, looks very like the gyrations of the tail-pursuing kitten, exhibiting much enthusiasm but little dignity, much cry and very little tail. The grandeur of nature is that she is omnipotent and unseen, that she is perhaps ruling us most when we think that she is heeding us least. “Thou art a God that hidest Thyself,” said the Hebrew poet. It may be said with all reverence that it is behind a man’s back that the spirit of nature hides. – Chesterton, Varied Types, Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity
…the word artificial is the last and silliest evasion of criticism. There was never anything in the world that was really artificial. It had some motive or ideal behind it, and generally a much better one than we think. – Chesterton, Varied Types, The Position of Sir Walter Scott
WAITING and DELIBERATION
Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand. Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption. They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill. – Burke, Appeal, V 13
No one should be surprised at the prominence given to war. We are dealing with early ages; nation-making is the occupation of man in these ages, and it is war that makes nations. Nation-changing comes afterwards, and is mostly effected by peaceful revolution, though even then war, too, plays its part. The idea of an indestructible nation is a modern idea; in early ages all nations were destructible, and the further we go back, the more incessant was the work of destruction. The internal decoration of nations is a sort of secondary process, which succeeds when the main forces that create nations have principally done their work. We have here been concerned with the political scaffolding; it will be the task of other papers to trace the process of political finishing and building. The nicer play of finer forces may then require more pleasing thoughts than the fierce fights of early ages can ever suggest. It belongs to the idea of progress that beginnings can never seem attractive to those who live far on; the price of improvement is, that the unimproved will always look degraded. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
MINE, adj. Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
…they were the first European event. …the crusades constitute the heroic event of modern Europe. – Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe
Ekkehard of Urach said the truest and most profound thing about them: “Novitatem hanc iam senescenti et prope intereunti mundo pernecessariam.” [This novelty was essential for a senescent and almost moribund world.] The opponents of the cause he recognizes as Epicureans.
+++++The ideal was: “Regni sui caelestis ineuntes servitium” [To enter the service of His heavenly kingdom]. It ennobles all of Western humanity that it desires something at once human and divine. Hitherto there had been only force and individual devotion; this time the power of all is placed in the service of a common holy aim. Europe realizes that something great must be accomplished jointly in the consciousness of full strength. People had a presentiment that they were regenerating, strengthening, and exalting themselves thereby. That common cause necessarily bestows a higher consciousness of existence, different from all strength and power employed hitherto. The difference between the Crusades and the conquests of Mohammed and the caliphs consisted in the fact that this time it was not a matter of the world, but of a venerated spot. Hope is not essentially directed at worldly possessions (because the defectiveness of the land must have been known from previous crusaders), but at the safeguarding of the most sacred relic. Thus their aim exalts the crusaders, while, after a short, holy, sacrificing war, the Mohammedans are debased by greed for more gain.
+++++With the crusaders, the object is small, the volition great; with the Mohammedans, the object is the whole world, the volition is soon very low. The great things that happened through the crusaders could not be confiscated for base tyranny.
+++++Once it had set that great volition in general motion, the papacy had accomplished what was perhaps its greatest mission. Only the papacy could have done this, and afterwards it was never able to do anything as great again. Innocent III, who in his sermons proclaimed the Albigensian Crusade with the knowledge that his bands were setting out chiefly to maraud and murder, looks small compared to Urban II at Clermont.
+++++The Crusades completed the consciousness of a common Western life. The peoples who participated in them or completed similar tasks in a similar fashion, such as the Spaniards, have since then constituted the higher power in Europe.
+++++There was no question of any precalculation of what actually happened; instead of that, people fed on dream pictures. The papacy, first to be informed about the great current, at least took the helm, for reasons suited to it and its previous nature and history. The Empire took its second European fall by not providing leadership. The world had postulated a great absolving central institution and forcibly given it ideal stature. This later became a crown-bestowing institution; now it commanded the European world to go East. Since that time we have been in the West.
+++++…The sorrows and sacrifices of the Crusades on the part of the Christians and the Mohammedans alike were not lost and in vain. In the West, the entire higher level and culture are, in some way, directly or indirectly, determined by the Crusades, the mighty struggle and the consequent spiritual enrichment. In Islam the spirit of the old religious war and its devotion flares up again brightly, in Syria and Mesopotamia as in Spain. The Seljuks had already made Islam honorable; in the fight against the Christians there awakens in it a moral greatness. – Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians, ch.29-30
NATIONS, NATIONALITY, NATIONALISM
“Distinctions of race,” says Arnold…“were not of that odious and fantastic character which they have been in modern times; they implied real differences of the most important kind, religious and moral. …It is not then to be wondered at that Thucydides, when speaking of a city founded jointly by Ionians and Dorians, should have thought it right to add ‘that the prevailing institutions of the two were Ionian,’ for according as they were derived from one or the other the prevailing type would be different. And therefore the mixture of persons of different race in the same commonwealth, unless one race had a complete ascendancy, tended to confuse all the relations of human life, and all men’s notions of right and wrong; or by compelling men to tolerate in so near a relation as that of fellow-citizens differences upon the main points of human life, led to a general carelessness and scepticism, and encouraged the notion that right and wrong had no real existence, but were mere creatures of human opinion.” But if this be so, the oligarchies were right. Commerce brings this mingling of ideas, this breaking down of old creeds, and brings it inevitably. It is nowadays its greatest good that it does so; the change is what we call “enlargement of mind”. But in early times Providence “set apart the nations”; and it is not till the frame of their morals is set by long ages of transmitted discipline, that such enlargement can be borne. The ages of isolation had their use, for they trained men for ages when they were not to be isolated. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872
BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
One would think by an Englishman’s hatred of the French, and his readiness to die fighting with and for his countrymen, that all the nation were united as one man, in heart and hand and so they are in war-time and as an exercise of their loyalty and courage : but let the crisis be over, and they cool wonderfully; begin to feel the distinctions of English, Irish, and Scotch; fall out among themselves upon some minor distinction; the same hand that was eager to shed the blood of a Frenchman, will not give a crust of bread or a cup of cold water to a fellow countryman in distress; and the heroes who defended the “wooden walls of old England” are left to expose their wounds and crippled limbs to gain a pittance from the passengers, or to perish of hunger, cold, and neglect, in our highways. Such is the effect of our boasted nationality : it is active, fierce in doing mischief; dormantly lukewarm in doing good. – Hazlitt, On Party Spirit
See the power of national emblems. Some stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle, or other figure, which came into credit God knows how, on an old rag of bunting, blowing in the wind, on a fort, at the ends of the earth, shall make the blood tingle under the rudest, or the most conventional exterior. The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are all poets and mystics! – Emerson, The Poet
A lofty panegyric, a boasted virtue will fit the inhabitants of an entire district to a hair; the want of strict universality, of philosophical and abstract truth, is no difficulty here; but if you hint at an obvious vice or defect, this is instantly construed into a most unfair and partial view of the case, and each defaulter throws the imputation from himself and his country with scorn. Thus you may praise the generosity of the English…as long as you please, and not a syllable is whispered …but reverse the picture…only glance at the unfavourable side…& you are assaulted by the most violent clamours… as a disseminator of unfounded prejudices, or a libeller of human nature. I am sure there is nothing reasonable in this. – Hazlitt, On Personal Character
…you will always find that those are most apt to boast of national merit, who have little or no merit of their own to depend on; than which, to be sure, nothing is more natural: the slender vine twists around the sturdy oak, for no other reason in the world but because it has not strength sufficient to support itself. – Oliver Goldsmith, On National Prejudices
The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag. – Kin Hubbard, Abe Martin’s Primer
Nationality is often silly. Every nation believes that the Divine Providence has a sneaking kindness for it. – Emerson, journals, X 195
…answering ethical questions via economics is rather like attempting to answer scientific questions via biblical quotation. – Jenny Teichman, Social Ethics, p167
…political economy, like every other subject, cannot be dealt with effectively if we try to solve two questions at a time instead of one. It is one question, how to get plenty of a thing; and another, whether plenty of it will be good for us. Consider these two matters separately; never confuse yourself by interweaving one with the other. It is one question, how to treat your fields so as to get a good harvest; another, whether you wish to have a good harvest, or would rather like to keep up the price of corn. It is one question, how to graft your trees so as to grow most apples; and quite another, whether having such a heap of apples in the storeroom will not make them all rot. – Ruskin, A Joy For Ever, p42-3
What is called a high standard of living, consists in considerable measure, in arrangements for avoiding muscular energy, increasing sensual pleasure, enhancing caloric intake beyond any conceivable nutritional requirement. Nonetheless, the belief that increased production is a worthy social goal is very nearly absolute. – J.K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State
The essence of industrialism…is not any particular method of industry, but a particular estimate of the importance of industry, which results in it being thought the only thing that is important at all, so that it is elevated from the subordinate place which it should occupy among human interests and activities into being the standard by which all other interests and activities are judged. …
+++++When a Cabinet Minister declares that the greatness of [England] depends on the volume of its exports, so that France, which exports comparatively little, and Elizabethan England, which exported next to nothing, are presumably to be pitied as altogether inferior civilizations, that is Industrialism. It is the confusion of one minor department of life with the whole of life… When the Press clamours that the one thing needed to make [England] an Arcadia is productivity, and more productivity, and yet more productivity, that is Industrialism. It is the confusion of means with ends. – RH Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, 1921
Men will always confuse means with ends if they are without any clear conception that it is the ends, not the means, which matter – if they allow their minds to slip from the fact that it is the social purpose of industry which gives it meaning and makes it worth while to carry it on at all. And when they do that, they will turn their whole world upside down, because they do not see the poles upon which it ought to move. So when, like England, they are thoroughly industrialized, they behave like Germany, which was thoroughly militarized. They talk as though man existed for industry, instead of industry existing for man, as the Prussians talked of man existing for war. They resent any activity which is not colored by the predominant interest, because it seems a rival to it. So they destroy religion and art and morality, which cannot exist unless they are disinterested; and having destroyed these, which are the end, for the sake of industry, which is a means, they make their industry itself what they make their cities, a desert of unnatural dreariness, which only forgetfulness can make endurable, and which only excitement can enable them to forget. – Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, p46-7
NEWSPAPERS, NEWS, JOURNALISM, INFORMATION, DEMOCRACY
The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. – Wilde
The poor President, what with preserving his popularity and doing his duty, is completely bewildered. The newspapers are the ruling power. Any other government is reduced to a few marines at Fort Independence. If a man neglects to read the Daily Times, government will go down on its knees to him, for this is the only treason in these days. – Thoreau, Life Without Principle
INK, n. A villainous compound of tannogallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid to get in pays twice as much to get out. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary
…the modern news problem is not solely a question of the newspaperman’s morals. It is…the intricate result of a civilization too extensive for any man’s personal observation. As the problem is manifold, so must be the remedy. There is no panacea. But however puzzling the matter may be, there are some things that anyone may assert about it, and assert without fear of contradiction. They are that there is a problem of the news which is of absolutely basic importance to the survival of popular government, and that the importance of that problem is not vividly realized nor sufficiently considered.
+++++In a few generations it will seem ludicrous to historians that a people professing government by the will of the people should have made no serious effort to guarantee the news without which a governing opinion cannot exist. “Is it possible,” they will ask, “that at the beginning of the Twentieth Century nations calling themselves democracies were content to act on what happened to drift across their doorsteps; that apart from a few sporadic exposures and outcries they made no plans to bring these common carriers under social control; that they provided no genuine training schools for the men upon whose sagacity they were dependent; above all that their political scientists went on year after year writing and lecturing about government without producing one single, significant study of the process of public opinion?” and then they will recall the centuries in which the Church enjoyed immunity from criticism, and perhaps they will insist that the news structure of secular society was not seriously examined for analogous reasons.
+++++When they search into the personal records they will find that among journalists, as among the clergy, institutionalism had induced the usual prudence. I have made no criticism in this book which is not the shoptalk of reporters and editors. But only rarely do newspapermen take the general public into their confidence. They will have to sooner or later. It is not enough for them to struggle against great odds, as many of them are doing, wearing out their souls to do a particular assignment well. The philosophy of the work itself needs to be discussed; the news about the news needs to be told. For the news about the government of the news structure touches the center of all modern government. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p13-6, 1920
Just as the most poisonous form of disorder is the mob incited from high places, the most immoral act the immorality of a government, so the most destructive form of untruth is sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news. The news columns are common carriers. When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair ‘to the best fountains for their information,’ then anyone’s guess and anyone’s rumor, each man’s hope and each man’s whim becomes the basis of government. All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p10-1, 1920
Walk into a church in Paris, you are struck with a number of idle forms and ceremonies, the chanting of the service in Latin, the shifting of the surplices, the sprinkling of holy water, the painted windows “casting a dim religious light,” the wax tapers, the pealing organ : the common people seem attentive and devout, and to put entire faith in all this – Why? Because they imagine others to do so; they see and hear certain signs and supposed evidences of it, and it amuses and fills up the void of the mind, the love of the mysterious and wonderful, to lend their assent to it. They have assuredly, in general, no better reason – all our Protestant divines will tell you so. Well, step out of the church of St. Roche, and drop into an English reading-room hard by : what are you the better? You see a dozen or score of your countrymen with their faces fixed, and their eyes glued to a newspaper, a magazine, a review – reading, swallowing, profoundly ruminating on the lie, the cant, the sophism of the day! Why? It saves them the trouble of thinking; it gratifies their ill-humour, and keeps off ennui! Does a gleam of doubt, an air of ridicule, or a glance of impatience pass across their features at the shallow and monstrous things they find? No, it is all passive faith and dull security; they cannot take their eyes from the page, they cannot live without it. They believe in their adopted oracle (you see it in their faces) as implicitly as in Sir John Barleycorn, as in a sirloin of beef, as in quarter-day – as they hope to receive their rents, or to see Old England again! Are not the Popes, the Fathers, the Councils, as good as their oracles and champions? They know the paper before them to be a hoax, but do they believe in the ribaldry, the calumny, the less on that account? They believe the more in it, because it is got up solely and expressly to serve a cause that needs such support – and they swear by whatever is devoted to this object.
+++++The greater the profligacy, the effrontery, the servility, the greater the faith. Strange! – Hazlitt, On Party Spirit
In a newspaper the heads are the foci of attention, the odd corners the fringe; and whether one aspect of the news or another appears in the center or at the periphery makes all the difference in the world. The news of the day as it reaches the newspaper office is an incredible medley of fact, propaganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes, and fears, and the task of selecting and ordering that news is one of the truly sacred and priestly offices in a democracy. For the newspaper is in all literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct. It is the only serious book most people read. It is the only book they read every day. Now the power to determine each day what shall seem important and what shall be neglected is a power unlike any that has been exercised since the Pope lost his hold on the secular mind. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p47-8, 1920
But where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. The whole reference of thought comes to be what somebody asserts, not what actually is. Men ask, not whether such and such a thing occurred in Russia, but whether Mr. Raymond Robins is at heart more friendly to the Bolsheviki than Mr. Jerome Landfield. And so, since they are deprived of any trustworthy means of knowing what is really going on, since everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda, they believe whatever fits most comfortably with their prepossessions. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p55, 1920
Under the influence of headlines and panicky print, the contagion of unreason can easily spread through a settled community. For when the comparatively recent and unstable nervous organization which makes us capable of responding to reality as it is, and not as we should wish it, is baffled over a continuing period of time, the more primitive but much stronger instincts are let loose. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p56, 1920
Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p57-8, 1920
What are the qualifications for being a surgeon? A certain minimum of special training. What are the qualifications for operating daily on the brain and heart of a nation? None. Go some time and listen to the average run of questions asked in interviews with Cabinet officers or anywhere else. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p77, 1920
…just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest of the scientific virtues. They are the habits of ascribing no more credibility to a statement than it warrants, a nice sense of the probabilities, and a keen understanding of the quantitative importance of particular facts. You can judge the general reliability of any observer most easily by the estimate he puts upon the reliability of his own report. If you have no facts of your own with which to check him, the best rough measurement is to wait and see whether he is aware of any limitations in himself; whether he knows that he saw only part of the event he describes; and whether he has any background of knowledge against which he can set what he thinks he has seen.
+++++This kind of sophistication is, of course, necessary for the merest pretense to any education. But for different professions it needs to be specialized in particular ways. A sound legal training is pervaded by it, but the skepticism is pointed to the type of case with which the lawyer deals. The reporter’s work is not carried on under the same conditions, and therefore requires a different specialization. How he is to acquire it is, of course, a pedagogical problem requiring an inductive study of the types of witness and the sources of information with whom the reporter is in contact.
+++++Some time in the future, when men have thoroughly grasped the role of public opinion in society, scholars will not hesitate to write treatises on evidence for the use of news-gathering services. No such treatise exists to-day, because political science has suffered from that curious prejudice of the scholar which consists in regarding an irrational phenomenon as not quite worthy of serious study. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p82-4, 1920
I should be guilty of the very opinionativeness I have condemned, did these essays claim to be anything more than tentative indications of the more important phases of the problem.
+++++Yet I can well imagine their causing a considerable restlessness in the minds of some readers. Standards, institutes, university research, schools of journalism, they will argue, may be all right, but they are a gray business in a vivid world. They blunt the edge of life; they leave out of account the finely irresponsible opinion thrown out by the creative mind; they do not protect the indispensable novelty from philistinism and oppression. These proposals of yours, they will say, ignore the fact that such an apparatus of knowledge will in the main be controlled by the complacent and the traditional, and the execution will inevitably be illiberal.
+++++There is force in the indictment. And yet I am convinced that we shall accomplish more by fighting for truth than by fighting for our theories. It is a better loyalty. It is a humbler one, but it is also more irresistible. Above all it is educative. For the real enemy is ignorance, from which all of us, conservative, liberal, and revolutionary, suffer. If our effort is concentrated on our desires, be it our desire to have and to hold what is good, our desire to remake peacefully, or our desire to transform suddenly, we shall divide hopelessly and irretrievably. We must go back of our opinions to the neutral facts for unity and refreshment of spirit. To deny this, it seems to me, is to claim that the mass of men is impervious to education, and to deny that, is to deny the postulate of democracy, and to seek salvation in a dictatorship. There is, I am convinced, nothing but misery and confusion that way. But I am equally convinced that democracy will degenerate into this dictatorship either of the Right or of the Left, if it does not become genuinely self-governing. That means, in terms of public opinion, a resumption of that contact between beliefs and realities which we have been losing steadily since the small-town democracy was absorbed into the Great Society. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p97-100, 1920
We talk scornfully of “mere words.” Yet through words the whole vast process of human communication takes place. The sights and sounds and meanings of nearly all that we deal with as “politics,” we learn, not by our own experience, but through the words of others. If those words are meaningless lumps charged with emotion, instead of the messengers of fact, all sense of evidence breaks down. Just so long as big words like Bolshevism, Americanism, patriotism, pro-Germanism, are used by reporters to cover anything and anybody that the biggest fool at large wishes to include, just so long shall we be seeking our course through a fog so dense that we cannot tell whether we fly upside-down or right-side-up. It is a measure of our education as a people that so many of us are perfectly content to live our political lives in this fraudulent environment of unanalyzed words. For the reporter, abracadabra is fatal. So long as he deals in it, he is gullibility itself, seeing nothing of the world, and living, as it were, in a hall of crazy mirrors. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p85-86, 1920
Could there be a pooling of money for a news-agency? Not, I imagine, if its object were to further a cause. But suppose the plan were for a news-service in which editorial matter was rigorously excluded, and the work was done by men who had already won the confidence of the public by their independence? Then, perhaps.
+++++At any rate, our salvation lies in two things: ultimately, in the infusion of the news-structure by men with a new training and outlook; immediately, in the concentration of the independent forces against the complacency and bad service of the routineers. We shall advance when we have learned humility; when we have learned to seek the truth, to reveal it and publish it; when we care more for that than for the privilege of arguing about ideas in a fog of uncertainty. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p103-4, 1920
It may be bad to suppress a particular opinion, but the really deadly thing is to suppress the news. In time of great insecurity, certain opinions acting on unstable minds may cause infinite disaster. Knowing that such opinions necessarily originate in slender evidence, that they are propelled more by prejudice from the rear than by reference to realities, it seems to me that to build the case for liberty upon the dogma of their unlimited prerogatives is to build it upon the poorest foundation. For, even though we grant that the world is best served by the liberty of all opinion, the plain fact is that men are too busy and too much concerned to fight more than spasmodically for such liberty. When freedom of opinion is revealed as freedom of error, illusion, and misinterpretation, it is virtually impossible to stir up much interest in its behalf. It is the thinnest of all abstractions and an over-refinement of mere intellectualism. But people, wide circles of people, are aroused when their curiosity is baulked. The desire to know, the dislike of being deceived and made game of, is a really powerful motive, and it is that motive that can best be enlisted in the cause of freedom. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p64-5, 1920
…Milton said that differences of opinion, “which though they may be many, yet need not interrupt the unity of spirit, if we could but find among us the bond of peace.” There is but one kind of unity possible in a world as diverse as ours. It is unity of method, rather than of aim; the unity of the disciplined experiment. There is but one bond of peace that is both permanent and enriching: the increasing knowledge of the world in which experiment occurs. With a common intellectual method and a common area of valid fact, differences may become a form of co-operation and cease to be an irreconcilable antagonism.
+++++That, I think, constitutes the meaning of freedom for us. We cannot successfully define liberty, or accomplish it, by a series of permissions and prohibitions. For that is to ignore the content of opinion in favor of its form. Above all, it is an attempt to define liberty of opinion in terms of opinion. It is a circular and sterile logic. A useful definition of liberty is obtainable only by seeking the principle of liberty in the main business of human life, that is to say, in the process by which men educate their response and learn to control their environment. In this view liberty is the name we give to measures by which we protect and increase the veracity of the information upon which we act. – W Lippmann, Liberty and the News, p66-8, 1920
[JOURNALISM:] A profession whose business is to explain to others what it personally does not understand. – Lord Northcliffe