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Walter Lippmann – From instruments we’ve made hot buttons.

September 2, 2014

“In very considerable measure political theory in the modern world is sterilized by its own ideas. There have been passed down from generation to generation a collection of concepts which are so hallowed and so dense that their only use is to excite emotions and to obscure insight. How many of us really know what we are talking about when we use words like the state, sovereignty, independence, democracy, representative government, national honor, liberty and loyalty? Very few of us, I think, could define any of these terms under cross-examination, though we are prepared to shed blood, or at least ink, in their behalf. These terms have ceased to be intellectual instruments for apprehending the facts we have to deal with and have become push buttons which touch off emotional reflexes.”

(quoted by Edmund Wilson in his July 10, 1929, New Republic review of A Preface to Morals)

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