Lewis H. Lapham quotes

  • Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Leadership #Character #Technique

  • Talk about the flag or drugs or crime (never about race or class or justice) and follow the yellow brick road to the wonderful land of consensus. In place of honest argument among consenting adults the politicians substitute a lullaby for frightened children: the pretense that conflict doesn't really exist, that we have achieved the blessed state in which we no longer need politics.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Children #Blessed #Race

  • A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Football #People #Fields

  • The survival of American democracy depends less on the size of its armies than on the capacity of its individual citizens to rely... on the strength of their own thought.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Strength #Army #Survival

  • People may expect too much of journalism. Not only do they expect it to be entertaining, they expect it to be true.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #People #May #Too Much

  • We might make a public moan in the newspapers about the decay of conscience, but in private conversation, no matter what crimes a man may have committed or how cynically he may have debased his talent or his friends, variations on the answer Yes, but I did it for the money, satisfy all but the most tiresome objections.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Money #Men #May

  • Let the rabbit of free enterprise out of its velveteen bag and too many people would have to be fired, too much idiocy exposed to the light of judgment or ridicule, too much vanity sacrificed to the fires of efficiency. Such a catastrophe obviously would threaten the American way of life, to say nothing of the belief in free markets.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Fire #Vanity #Light

  • Since the eighteenth century the immense expansion of the worlds wealth has come about as a result of a correspondingly immense expansion of credit, which in turn has demanded increasingly stupendous suspensions of disbelief.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Expansion #Credit #World

  • The playing field is more sacred than the stock exchange, more blessed than Capital Hill or the vaults of Fort Knox. The diamond and the gridiron -- and, to a lesser degree, the court, the rink, the track, and the ring -- embody the American dream of Eden.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Dream #Blessed #Eden

  • The pose of innocence is as mandatory as the ability to eat banquet food and endure the scourging of the press.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Innocence #Banquets #Endure

  • The substitution of meaning accounts for the grasping of misers as well as the extravagance of spendthrifts. Karl Marx well understood this peculiar transformation of flesh into coin.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Peculiar #Extravagance #Coins

  • As a child growing up in the precincts of wealth, and later as a college student, newspaper reporter and resident of New York's Upper East Side, I got used to listening to the talk of financial killings and sexual misalliance that animates the conversation of the rich and the familiars of the rich.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #New York #Children #Growing Up

  • The world goes on as before, and it turns out that nobody else seems to to notice the unbearable lightness of being.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Goes On #World #Unbearable

  • We are a people captivated by the power and romance of metaphor, forever seeking the invisible through the image of the visible.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #People #Romance #Forever

  • Democracy is a difficult art of government, demanding of its citizens high ratios of courage and literacy, and at the moment we lack both the necessary habits of mind and a sphere of common reference.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Art #Government #Mind

  • It isn't money itself that causes the trouble, but the use of money as votive offering and pagan ornament.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Offering #Ornaments #Use

  • At this late stage in the history of American capitalism I'm not sure I know how much testimony still needs to be presented to establish the relation between profit and theft.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Needs #Profit #Stage

  • The rich, like well brought up children, are meant to be seen, not heard.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Children #Rich #Heard

  • Unlike every other nation in the world, the United States defines itself as a hypothesis and constitutes itself as an argument.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #United States #World #Argument

  • Further strengthenings of the self-centered instinct for survival recruit even greater numbers of people into some sort of ring of fellowship (church or gender, red state or blue) by populating the terra incognita outside the ring with enough barbarians to verify the existence of a civilization within--to define the preferred stock by what, as all good people agree, it decidedly is not.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Blue #Self #Civilization

  • Usually when I drank too much, I could guess why I did so, the objective being to murder a state of consciousness that I didn't have the courage to sustain--a fear of heights, which sometimes during the carnival of the 1960s accompanied my attempts to transform the bourgeois journalist into an avant-garde novelist. The stepped-up ambition was a commonplace among the would-be William Faulkners of my generation; nearly always it resulted in commercial failure and literary embarrassment.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Ambition #Novelists #Would Be

  • Tardiness is next to wickedness in a society relentless in its consumption of time as both a good and a service--as tweet and Instagram, film clip and sound bite, as sporting event, investment opportunity, Tinder hookup, and interest rate--its value measured not by its texture or its substance but by the speed of its delivery, a distinction apparent to Andy Warhol when he supposedly said that any painting that takes longer than five minutes to make is a bad painting.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Opportunity #Sound #Events

  • Power broken into a thousand pieces can be hidden and disowned.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Broken #Pieces #Thousand

  • When we talk about the foreign, the question becomes one of us versus them. But in the end, is one just the opposite side of the other?
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Opposites #Sides #Ends

  • Given lesser opportunities, Kissinger would have done very well as a talk show host. Fortunately for him, although not so fortunately for the United States, he found his patron in Nelson Rockefeller instead of William Paley.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Opportunity #United States #Done

  • What kind of people do we wish to become, and how do we know an American when we see one? Is it possible to pursue a common purpose without a common history or a standard text?
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #People #Wish #Purpose

  • About the presence of death and dying I don't remember the society in the 1950s being so skittish as it has since become. People still died at home, among relatives and friends, often in the care of a family physician. Death was still to be seen sitting in the parlor, hanging in a butcher shop, sometimes lying in the street.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Death #Lying #Home

  • Dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Doors #Democracy #Quiet

  • His administration apparently means to define itself as a television program instead of a government...I don't know if it can please both its sponsors and its intended audience.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Mean #Government #Television

  • The future is an empty canvas or a blank sheet of paper, and if you have the courage of your own thought and your own observation you can make of it what you will
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Paper #Canvas #Empty

  • If you wear a suit, you can talk to anybody.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Suits

  • The mystical nature of American consumption accounts for its joylessness. We spend a great deal of time in stores, but if we don't seem to take much pleasure in our buying, it's because we're engaged in the acts of sacrifice and self-definition. Abashed in the presence of expensive merchandise, we recognize ourselves . . . as suppliants admitted to a shrine.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Sacrifice #Self #Shrines

  • The American oligarchy increasingly has less in common with the American people than it does with the equivalent oligarchies in Germany or Mexico or Japan.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Japan #People #Doe

  • Now that Mr. Carter has made a book of his diary, an adoring memoir entitled Keeping Faith, the notes read like a collection of letters sent from scout camp.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Book #Diaries #Letters

  • It is the fear of death--24/7 in every shade of hospital white and doomsday black--that sells the pharmaceutical, political, financial, film, and food product promising to make good the wish to live forever.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Death #White #Forever

  • Let the corporations do as they please -- pillage the environment, falsify their advertising, rig the securities markets -- and it is none of the federal government's business to interfere with the will of heaven.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Government #Heaven #Corporations

  • The gentlemen who wrote the Constitution were as suspicious of efficient government as they were wary of democracy, a "turbulence and a folly" that was associated with the unruly ignorance of an urban mob.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Ignorance #Government #Gentleman

  • Power broken into a thousand pieces can be hidden and disowned. If no individual or institution possesses the authority to act without of everybody else in the room, then nobody is at fault if anything goes wrong.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Broken #Anything Goes #Pieces

  • But the line of thought that I'd been chasing for several days was implicit in the ruins of the old Roman Empire, which gradually destroyed itself by substituting the faith in a legion of miraculous words for the strength of armies and the weight of walls.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Wall #Army #Weight

  • We need not seek our own best selves, and in the meantime we inoculate ourselves against the viruses of age and idealism, which, as the advertising agencies well know, depress sales and sour the feasts of consumption.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Depressing #Agency #Self

  • I sometimes think that the American story is the one about the reading of the will.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Reading #Thinking #America

  • Most American cities shop to their best advantage when seen from a height or from a distance, at a point where the ugliness of the buildings dissolves into the beauty of an abstraction.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Distance #Cities #America

  • What joins the Americans one to another is not a common ancestry, language or race, but a shared work of the imagination that looks forward to the making of a future, not backward to the insignia of the past. Their enterprise is underwritten by a Constitution that allows for the widest horizons of sight and the broadest range of expression, supports the liberties of the people as opposed to the ambitions of the state, and stands as premise for a narrative rather than plan for an invasion or a monument. The narrative was always plural; not one story, many stories.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Ambition #Past #Race

  • Rumors and reports of man's relation with animals are the world's oldest news stories, headlined in the stars of the zodiac, posted on the walls of prehistoric caves, inscribed in the languages of Egyptian myth, Greek philosophy, Hindu religion, Christian art, our own DNA. Belonging within the circle of mankind's intimate acquaintance ... constant albeit speechless companions, they supplied energies fit to be harnessed or roasted.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Christian #Art #Stars

  • If in the well and truly made martini DeVoto finds "water of life" and the blessing to the spirit, so also DeVoto's The Hour brings to its readers the breath of life and a vision of themselves made generous, indomitable and wise.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Wise #Blessing #Water

  • The state of perpetual emptiness is, of course, very good for business.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Emptiness #States #Very Good

  • The days of my youth I remember as nearly always in need of explanation, and not as much fun as advertised in the promotions for board games and breakfast cereal.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Fun #Cereal #Games

  • A certain kind of rich man afflicted with the symptoms of moral dandyism sooner or later comes to the conclusion that it isn't enough merely to make money. He feels obliged to hold views, to espouse causes and elect Presidents, to explain to a trembling world how and why the world went wrong. The spectacle is nearly always comic.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Money #Men #Views

  • The national distrust of the contemplative temperament arises less from an innate Philistinism than from a suspicion of anything that cannot be counted, stuffed, framed or mounted over the fireplace in the den.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Fire #Framed #Dens

  • Except in a few well-publicized instances (enough to lend credence to the iconography painted on the walls of the media), the rigorous practice of rugged individualism usually leads to poverty, ostracism and disgrace. The rugged individualist is too often mistaken for the misfit, the maverick, the spoilsport, the sore thumb.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Pain #Wall #Media

  • To the United States the Third World often takes the form of a black woman who has been made pregnant in a moment of passion and who shows up one day in the reception room on the forty-ninth floor threatening to make a scene. The lawyers pay the woman off; sometimes uniformed guards accompany her to the elevators.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Passion #Black #One Day

  • More than illness or death, the American journalist fears standing alone against the whim of his owners or the prejudices of his audience. Deprive William Safire of the insignia of the New York Times, and he would have a hard time selling his truths to a weekly broadsheet in suburban Duluth.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Death #New York #Hard Times

  • Most of the ladies and gentlemen who mourn the passing of the nation's leaders wouldn't know a leader if they saw one. If they had the bad luck to come across a leader, they would find out that he might demand something from them, and this impertinence would put an abrupt and indignant end to their wish for his return.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Leader #Luck #Gentleman

  • Among all the emotions, the rich have the least talent for love. It is possible to love one's dog, dress or duck-shooting hat, but a human being presents a more difficult problem. The rich might wish to experience feelings of affection, but it is almost impossible to chip away the enamel of their narcissism. They take up all the space in all the mirrors in the house. Their children, who represent the most present and therefore the most annoying claim on their attention, usually receive the brunt of their irritation.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Love #Dog #Children

  • Whether lawyer, politician or executive, the American who knows what's good for his career seeks an institutional rather than an individual identity. He becomes the man from NBC or IBM. The institutional imprint furnishes him with pension, meaning, proofs of existence. A man without a company name is a man without a country.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Country #Men #Names

  • The genius of capitalism consists precisely in its lack of morality. Unless he is rich enough to hire his own choir, a capitalist is a fellow who, by definition, can ill afford to believe in anything other than the doctrine of the bottom line. Deprive a capitalist of his God-given right to lie and cheat and steal, and the poor sap stands a better than even chance of becoming one of the abominable wards of the state from whose grimy fingers the Reagan Administration hopes to snatch the ark of democracy.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Lying #Believe #Democracy

  • The more prosperous and settled a nation, the more readily it tends to think of war as a regrettable accident; to nations less fortunate the chance of war presents itself as a possible bountiful friend.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #War #Thinking #Chance

  • Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Leadership #Integrity #Character

  • The supply of government exceeds demand.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Government #Demand

  • I never can pass by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York without thinking of it not as a gallery of living portraits but as a cemetery of tax-deductible wealth.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Art #New York #Thinking

  • Nobody suffers the pain of birth or the anguish of loving a child in order for presidents to make wars, for governments to feed on the substance of their people, for insurance companies to cheat the young and rob the old.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Pain #Children #War

  • Never in the history of the world have so many people been so rich; never in the history of the world have so many of those same people felt themselves so poor.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #People #World #Poverty

  • The figure of the enthusiast who has just discovered jogging or a new way to fix tofu can be said to stand or, more accurately, to tremble on the threshold of conversion, as the representative American
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Jogging #Tofu #Enthusiasm

  • Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralizing as earth, air and water. Men can employ it as a tool or they can dance around it as if it were the incarnation of a god. Money votes socialist or monarchist, finds a profit in ***** or translations from the Bible, commissions Rembrandt and underwrites the technology of Auschwitz. It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Money #Technology #Men

  • Under the rules of a society that cannot distinguish between profit and profiteering, between money defined as necessity and money defined as luxury, murder is occasionally obligatory and always permissible.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Money #Luxury #Murder

  • Seeing is believing, and if an American success is to count for anything in the world it must be clothed in the raiment of property. As often as not it isn't the money itself that means anything; it is the use of money as the currency of the soul.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Money #Believe #Mean

  • The future turns out to be something that you make instead of find. It isn't waiting for your arrival, either with an arrest warrant or a band, nor is it any further away than the next sentence, the next best guess, the next sketch for the painting of a life portrait that might become a masterpiece. The future is an empty canvas or a blank sheet of paper, and if you have the courage of your own thought and your own observation, you can make of it what you will.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Life #Waiting #Might

  • Youth as glimpsed by its elders is a story that comes from afar, showing itself as either lovely to look at or a torment to endure.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Lovely #Looks #Stories

  • Recollections of early childhood bear comparison to fairy tales, and ... youth remains an unknown country to whose bourn no traveler returns except as the agent of a foreign power.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Country #Childhood #Agents

  • I know no other way out of what is both the maze of the eternal present and the prison of the self except with a string of words.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Self #Mazes #Way

  • In the garden of tabloid delight, there is always a clean towel and another song.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Song #Garden #Delight

  • Wars might come and go, but the seven o'clock news lives forever.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #War #Forever #News

  • If we could let go of our faith in money, who knows what we might put in its place?
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Letting Go #Money #Might

  • Love of country follows from the exercise of its freedoms, not from pride in its fleets or its armies.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Country #Freedom #Pride

  • The American press is, and always has been, a booster press, its editorial pages characteristically advancing the same arguments as the paid advertising copy.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Media #Pages #Advertising

  • The leading cause of death is birth.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Causes #Birth

  • Unlike any other business in the United States, sports must preserve an illusion of perfect innocence.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Sports #Perfect #United States

  • I begin to understand that failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Distance #Reflection #Mirrors

  • From authors whom I read more than once I learn to value the weight of words and to delight in their meter and cadence -- in Gibbon's polyphonic counterpoint and Guedalla's command of the subjunctive, in Mailer's hyperbole and Dillard's similes, in Twain's invectives and burlesques with which he set the torch of his ferocious wit to the hospitality tents of the world's colossal humbug . . . I know no other way out of what is both the maze of the eternal present and the prison of the self except with a string of words.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Self #Mazes #Torches

  • Seeking the invisible through the imagery of the visible, the Americans never can get quite all the way to the end of the American dream.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Dream #Way #Invisible

  • Construed as a means instead of an end, history is the weapon with which we defend the future against the past.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Mean #Past #Weapons

  • As many as six out of ten American adults have never read a book of any kind, and the bulletins from the nation’s educational frontiers read like the casualty reports from a lost war.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #War #Educational #Book

  • Anti-utopianism continues to suffuse our culture...Today few imagine that society can be fundamentally improved, and those who do are seen as at best deluded, at worst threatening.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Culture #Today #Imagine

  • Of what does politics consist except the making of imperfect decisions, many of them unjust and quite a few of them deadly?
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Political #Decision #Doe

  • Unlike any other business in the United States, sports must preserve an illusion of perfect innocence. The mounting of this illusion defines the purpose and accounts for the immense wealth of American sports. It is the ceremony of innocence that the fans pay to see - not the game or the match or the bout, but the ritual portrayal of a world in which time stops and all hope remains plausible, in which everybody present can recover the blameless expectations of a child, where the forces of light always triumph over the powers of darkness.
    -- Lewis H. Lapham

    #Sports #Children #Light