LEWIS H. LAPHAM QUOTES

American author & editor (1935- )

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, Harper's Magazine, March 1985

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Tags: violence


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, "Leadership", Money and Class in America

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Tags: leadership


Power broken into a thousand pieces can be hidden and disowned.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Waiting for the Barbarians

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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, "Alms for Oblivion", Lapham's Quarterly: Intoxication

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Tags: William Faulkner


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, Waiting for the Barbarians

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Tags: corporations


The genius of capitalsim 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, "Moral Dandyism", Harper's Magazine, July 1985

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Tags: capitalism


The state of perpetual emptiness is, of course, very good for business.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Money and Class in America

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Love of country follows from the exercise of its freedoms, not from pride in its fleets or its armies.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, "Them", Lapham's Quarterly: Foreigners, winter 2014

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Tags: freedom


The marvel of postmodern communications--five hundred television channels, CD-ROMS, the Internet--invites each of us to construct a preferred reality, furnished, like McNamara's theory of Vietnam, with the objects of wish and dream. The commonwealth of shared meaning divides into remote worlds of our own invention, receding from one another literally at the speed of light. We need never see or talk to anybody with whom we don't agree, and we can constitute ourselves as our own governments in perpetually virtuous exile. For every benign us, we can nominate a malignant them (ice people, femi-Nazis, FBI agents, etc.); and for every distant they, a blessed and neighboring we.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Lights, Camera, Democracy!

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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, "Them", Lapham's Quarterly: Foreigners, winter 2014

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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, "Momento Mori", Lapham's Quarterly: Death, fall 2013

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Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralising 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 ... It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Money and Class in America

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The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, "Feast of Fools", Lapham's Quarterly: Politics

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Tags: democracy


Wars might come and go, but the seven o'clock news lives forever.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Money and Class in America

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Tags: news


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

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, preamble, Money and Class in America

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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, Harper's Magazine, November 2010

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Tags: words


In the garden of tabloid delight, there is always a clean towel and another song.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Waiting for the Barbarians

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Tags: tabloids


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, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy

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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, "Them", Lapham's Quarterly: Foreigners, winter 2014

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Tags: America


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, "Fortune's Child", Lapham's Quarterly: Youth

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Tags: youth