Walter Lippmann Quotes

Walter Lippmann, 1889 – 1974

Born: 23 September 1889, New York City
Died: 14 December 1974, New York City

Benefiting from a private education and annual trips to Europe with his family, Lippmann went on to Harvard University. He studied philosophy and language, completing his BA (1909) in three years and staying another year to assist George Santayana. In 1913 he was one of the founding editors of The New Republic, served as assistant to the Secretary of War in 1917, and in 1918 was an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, working on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. He became suspicious of the accuracy of journalism and researched and wrote at length on the subject. Through the ’20s he was a writer, and later the editor, of the New York World. When that paper failed he moved to the Herald Tribune where he wrote his syndicated column, “Today and Tomorrow”, for thirty years, moving to the Washington Post from 1961 to 1967 when he retired. He opposed the Korean War, the McCarthy inquisition, and the Vietnam war. He developed close personal relationship with Charles de Gaulle and Nikita Khrushchev, while alienating Lyndon Johnson. He published nineteen books, including The Cold War, the source of that phrase.

Walter Lippmann quotes:

A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society. Without criticism and reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern. For there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking and doing and wanting.
    Walter Lippmann

A long life in journalism convinced me many presidents ago that there should be a large air space between a journalist and the head of a state.
    Walter Lippmann

A man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.
    Walter Lippmann

A man who has humility will have acquired in the last reaches of his beliefs the saving doubt of his own certainty.
    Walter Lippmann

Ages when custom is unsettled are necessarily ages of prophecy. The moralist cannot teach what is revealed; he must reveal what can be taught. He has to seek insight rather than to preach.
    Walter Lippmann

An alliance is like a chain. It is not made stronger by adding weak links to it. A great power like the United States gains no advantage and it loses prestige by offering, indeed peddling, its alliances to all and sundry. An alliance should be hard diplomatic currency, valuable and hard to get, and not inflationary paper from the mimeograph machine in the State Department.
    Walter Lippmann

At the core of every moral code there is a picture of human nature, a map of the universe, and a version of history. To human nature (of the sort conceived), in a universe (of the kind imagined), after a history (so understood), the rules of the code apply.
    Walter Lippmann

Between ourselves and our real natures we interpose that wax figure of idealizations and selections we call our character.
    Walter Lippmann

Brains, you know, are suspect in the Republican Party.
    Walter Lippmann

Every fairly intelligent person is aware that the price of respectability is a muffled soul bent on the trivial and the mediocre.
    Walter Lippmann

For the principle of majority rule is the mildest form in which the force of numbers can be exercised. It is a pacific substitute for civil war in which the opposing armies are counted and victory is awarded to the larger before any blood is shed.
    Walter Lippmann

Free institutions are not the property of any majority. They do not confer upon majorities unlimited powers. The rights of the majority are limited rights. They are limited not only by the constitutional guarantees but by the moral principle implied in those guarantees. That principle is that men may not use the facilities of liberty to impair them. No man may invoke a right in order to destroy it.
    Walter Lippmann

Here lay the political genius of Franklin Roosevelt: that in his own time he knew what were the questions that had to be answered, even though he himself did not always find the full answer.
    Walter Lippmann

Ideals are an imaginative understanding of that which is desirable in that which is possible.
    Walter Lippmann

If all power is in the people, if there is no higher law than their will, and if by counting their votes, their will may be ascertained – then the people may entrust all their power to anyone, and the power of the pretender and the usurper is then legitimate. It is not to be challenged since it came originally from the sovereign people.
    Walter Lippmann

In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable.

Walter Lippmann
In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men. It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs.

Walter Lippmann
In government offices which are sensitive to the vehemence and passion of mass sentiment public men have no sure tenure. They are in effect perpetual office seekers, always on trial for their political lives, always required to court their restless constituents.

Walter Lippmann
In really hard times the rules of the game are altered. The inchoate mass begins to stir. It becomes potent, and when it strikes, it strikes with incredible emphasis. Those are the rare occasions when a national will emerges from the scattered, specialized, or indifferent blocs of voters who ordinarily elect the politicians. Those are for good or evil the great occasions in a nation’s history.

Walter Lippmann
In the end, advertising rests upon the fact that consumers are a fickle and superstitious mob, incapable of any real judgment as to what it wants or how it is to get what it thinks it likes.

Walter Lippmann
Industry is a better horse to ride than genius.

Walter Lippmann
It does not matter whether the right to govern is hereditary or obtained with the consent of the governed. A State is absolute in the sense which I have in mind when it claims the right to a monopoly of all the force within the community, to make war, to make peace, to conscript life, to tax, to establish and dis-establish property, to define crime, to punish disobedience, to control education, to supervise the family, to regulate personal habits, and to censor opinions. The modern State claims all of these powers, and, in the matter of theory, there is no real difference in the size of the claim between communists, fascists, and democrats.

Walter Lippmann
It is all very well to talk about being the captain of your soul. It is hard, and only a few heroes, saints, and geniuses have been the captains of their souls for any extended period of their lives. Most men, after a little freedom, have preferred authority with the consoling assurances and the economy of effort which it brings.

Walter Lippmann
It is easier to develop great power than it is to know how to use it wisely.

Walter Lippmann
It is perfectly true that that government is best which governs least. It is equally true that that government is best which provides most.

Walter Lippmann
It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.

Walter Lippmann
Leaders are the custodians of a nation’s ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals.

Walter Lippmann
Love endures only when the lovers love many things together and not merely each other.

Walter Lippmann
Many a time I have wanted to stop talking and find out what I really believed.

Walter Lippmann
Men can know more than their ancestors did if they start with a knowledge of what their ancestors had already learned…. That is why a society can be progressive only if it conserves its traditions.

Walter Lippmann

Men who are orthodox when they are young are in danger of being middle-aged all their lives.

Walter Lippmann
Most men, after a little freedom, have preferred authority with the consoling assurances and the economy of effort it brings.

Walter Lippmann
No amount of charters, direct primaries, or short ballots will make a democracy out of an illiterate people.

Walter Lippmann
No serious historian of politics would imagine that he had accounted for the protective tariff of the system of bounties or subsidies, for the monetary and banking laws, for the state of law in regard to corporate privileges and immunities, for the actual status of property rights, for agricultural or for labor policies, until he had gone behind the general claims and the abstract justifications and had identified the specifically interested groups which promoted the specific law.

Walter Lippmann
Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon.

Walter Lippmann

A Preface to Politics (1913)
Only the consciousness of a purpose that is mightier than any man and worthy of all men can fortify and inspirit and compose the souls of men.

Walter Lippmann
Our conscience is not the vessel of eternal verities. It grows with our social life, and a new social condition means a radical change in conscience.

Walter Lippmann
People who are tremendously concerned about their identification, their individuality, their self-expression, or their sense of humor, always seem to be missing the very things they pursue.

Walter Lippmann
Private property was the original source of freedom. It still is its main ballpark.

Walter Lippmann
Propaganda is that branch of lying which often deceives your friends without ever deceiving your enemies.

Walter Lippmann
So far as I am concerned I have no doctrinaire belief in free speech. In the interest of the war it is necessary to sacrifice some of it.

Walter Lippmann
Social movements are at once the symptoms and the instruments of progress. Ignore them and statesmanship is irrelevant; fail to use them and it is weak.

Walter Lippmann
Success makes men rigid and they tend to exalt stability over all the other virtues; tired of the effort of willing they become fanatics about conservatism.

Walter Lippmann

A Preface to Politics (1913)
Successful … politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies.

Walter Lippmann
The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master’s ear. It is the court fool, not the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose.

Walter Lippmann

The disesteem into which moralists have fallen is due at bottom to their failure to see that in an age like this one the function of the moralist is not to exhort men to be good but to elucidate what the good is. The problem of sanctions is secondary.

Walter Lippmann
The facts we see depend on where we are placed and the habits of our eyes.

Walter Lippmann

Public Opinion (1922)
The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.

Walter Lippmann
The first principle of a civilized state is that the power is legitimate only when it is under contract.

Walter Lippmann
The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.

Walter Lippmann
The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully.

Walter Lippmann
The great social adventure of America is no longer the conquest of the wilderness but the absorption of fifty different peoples.

Walter Lippmann
The man who will follow precedent, but never create one, is merely an obvious example of the routineer. You find him desperately numerous in the civil service, in the official bureaus. To him government is something given as unconditionally, as absolutely as ocean or hill. He goes on winding the tape that he finds. His imagination has rarely extricated itself from under the administrative machine to gain any sense of what a human, temporary contraption the whole affair is. What he thinks is the heavens above him is nothing but the roof.

Walter Lippmann
The mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation.

Walter Lippmann
The music is nothing if the audience is deaf.

Walter Lippmann
The news and the truth are not the same thing.

Walter Lippmann
The newspaper is, in all its literalness, the bible of democracy; the book out of which a people determines its conduct.

Walter Lippmann

quoted by Tim Rutten in The Los Angeles Times (7 October 2006)
The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opposition than from his fervent supporters.

Walter Lippmann

“The Indispensable Opposition” (1939) in Atlantic Monthly, reprinted in The Essential Lippmann (1982)
The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent supporters. For his supporters will push him to disaster unless his opponents show him where the dangers are. So if he is wise he will often pray to be delivered from his friends, because they will ruin him. But though it hurts, he ought also to pray never to be left without opponents; for they keep him on the path of reason and good sense.

Walter Lippmann

“The Indispensable Opposition” (1939) in Atlantic Monthly, reprinted in The Essential Lippmann (1982)
The press does not tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about.

Walter Lippmann

There is nothing so good for the human soul as the discovery that there are ancient and flourishing civilized societies which have somehow managed to exist for many centuries and are still in being though they have had no help from the traveler in solving their problems.

Walter Lippmann
Unless the reformer can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, he will fail.

Walter Lippmann
Very few established institutions, governments, and constitutions … are ever destroyed by their enemies until they have been corrupted and weakened by their friends.

Walter Lippmann
We are all captives of the picture in our head — our belief that the world we have experienced is the world that really exists.

Walter Lippmann
We are quite rich enough to defend ourselves, whatever the cost. We must now learn that we are quite rich enough to educate ourselves as we need to be educated.

Walter Lippmann
We shall assume that what each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but by pictures made by himself or given to him. If his atlas tells him the world is flat he will not sail near what he believes to be the edge of our planet for fear of falling off. If his maps include a fountain of eternal youth, a Ponce de Leon will go off in quest of it. If someone digs up yellow dirt that looks like gold, he will for a time act exactly as if he has found gold. The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do. It does not determine what they will achieve. It determines their effort, their feelings, their hopes, not their accomplishments and results.

Walter Lippmann
What the public does is not to express its opinions but to align itself for or against a proposal. If that theory is accepted, we must abandon the notion that democratic government can be the direct expression of the will of the people. We must abandon the notion that the people govern. Instead we must adopt the theory that, by their occasional mobilizations as a majority, people support or oppose the individuals who actually govern. We must say that the popular will does not direct continuously but that it intervenes occasionally.

Walter Lippmann
What we call a democratic society might be defined for certain purposes as one in which the majority is always prepared to put down a revolutionary minority.

Walter Lippmann
When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into an absolute.

Walter Lippmann
When men are brought face to face with their opponents, forced to listen and learn and mend their ideas, they cease to be children and savages and begin to live like civilized men. Then only is freedom a reality, when men may voice their opinions because they must examine their opinions.

Walter Lippmann
When men can no longer be theists, they must, if they are civilized, become humanists.

Walter Lippmann
When philosophers try to be politicians they generally cease to be philosophers.

Walter Lippmann
Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.

Walter Lippmann
While the right to talk may be the beginning of freedom, the necessity of listening is what makes the right important.

Walter Lippmann

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