Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2012: Politics


What can one say about this issue?  FINISHED!!  Timely as ever it arrived mid-September for the Oct.-Dec. quarter and in time to get some of it read before the Great Elections of 2012.  It still took me the entire quarter to read the mere 222 pages of this fine publication.  There is something about Politics that doesn’t exactly intrigue, invigorate, or capture the imagination.

As we know Lapham’s Quarterly is a superb literary compendium of great minds throughout history and their thoughts on a single subject expressed in Lapham’s Voices in Time.  There were 66 such extracts/essays in this issue.  In addition it is liberally laced with pertinent quotes and sidebars, depictions of appropriate art from the ages, and Lewis Lapham’s always thought-provoking and eloquent introductory essay, all beautifully produced on heavy, high quality bond paper.  The print edition is a ‘keeper’ even if you don’t normally collect.

I subscribe to both the print and digital editions.  I do most of my reading from the digital edition on my Macbook and iPad2.  Live internet access is required as it’s not downloadable.  It’s an exact reproduction of the print edition, cover to cover, with added features such as search.  I highly recommend both.  Lapham’s Quarterly is well worth owning and keeping.  My local library doesn’t carry it but I see it available in the Denver Library catalog.  Other big city libraries might have it also.

What about POLITICS?  Who needs it?  It is like whatever in your life is unwanted or unwelcome but un-riddable.  Acne comes to mind.  You have it whether you like it or not.

Following are a few comments, quotes, or extracts.

1.  Mark Twain’s revelations of himself in his bid for President are hilarious of course.  Lapham’s has made this available free online: Campaign Promises: 1879 / Hartford, CT

(If you go to you can get free access to a LOT of the current quarter’s journal.  It changes each quarter with the new publication.

2.  This free one, on the Shah of Iran’s folly, I found noteworthy.  IMO, the U.S. abandonment of the Shah left us with Islamic Fundamentalism.  Who likes Iran now?  Ryszard Kapuściński on a Dictator’s Folly: 1973 / Tehran

3.  Do the Right Thing: 427 BC / Athens  (Not everything is free online.  Honest!)
Noteworthy discussion of democracy.  Prompted me to research further on Mytilene.  Have a look at this one.  Some comments could be applied to current U.S. Middle East policy:

“Personally I have had occasion often enough already to observe that a democracy is incapable of governing others, and I am all the more convinced of this when I see how you are now changing your minds about the Mytilenians. Because fear and conspiracy play no part in your daily relations with each other, you imagine that the same thing is true of your allies, and you fail to see that when you allow them to persuade you to make a mistaken decision and when you give way to your own feelings of compassion, you are being guilty of a kind of weakness that is dangerous to you and that will not make them love you any more. What you do not realize is that your empire is a tyranny exercised over subjects who do not like it and who are always plotting against you; you will not make them obey you by injuring your own interests in order to do them a favor; your leadership depends on superior strength and not on any goodwill of theirs. And this is the very worst thing: to pass measures and then not to abide by them. ”

4.  The sidebar on p. 44, “1937 Munich” was different.  A  British Paris Hilton of the 1930’s (sorry Paris, but you’re like Kleenex) courting Hitler (yes, THAT Hitler).  Do some Wiki research on this one.  She’s not the last human to be a misguided fool.  (Update 12/15/12: That would be Unity Mitford you want to research. )

5.  Thoreau, p.88.  Don’t tax me bro!  (Free: Henry David Thoreau Declines the Honor: 1849 / Concord, MA)

“Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?  Is it not possible to take a step further toward recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened state, until the state comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a state at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor, which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A state which bore this kind of fruit and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious state, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

6.  Machiavelli on p. 93 was insightful.  A republic for the common good or a prince acting in his own interest.  Sound familiar?

7.  P.  114.  de Tocqueville:

“What I see in America leaves me doubting that government by the multitude, even under the most favorable circumstances-and they exist here-is a good thing. There is general agreement that in the early days of the republic, statesmen and members of the two legislative houses were much more distinguished than they are today. They almost all belonged to that class of landowners I mentioned above. The populace no longer chooses with such a sure band. It generally favors those who flatter its passions and descend to its level. This effect of democracy, combined with what else I note about it-the extreme instability of all its elements, its absolute lack of perseverance in treating matters of state-reinforces my conviction that the most rational government is not the one in which all concerned participate, but the one directed by the most enlightened and moral classes of society.”

8. P. 134, Mencken:

“After damning politicians uphill and down dale for many years as rogues and vagabonds, frauds, and scoundrels, I sometimes suspect that, like everyone else,I often expect too much of them. Though faith and confidence are surely more or less foreign to my nature,I not infrequently find myself looking to them to be able, diligent, candid, and even honest. Plainly enough, that is too large an order, as anyone must realize who reflects upon the manner in which they reach public office. They seldom if ever get there by merit alone, at least in democratic states. Sometimes, to be sure, it happens, but only by a kind of miracle. They are chosen normally for quite different reasons, the chief of which is simply their power to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged.”

9. P. 162.  Aristotle on constitutional government:”Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of royalty, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all.”

And a few others:

P. 179.  JFK.  Wit and jocularity, or not, when playing the political game.

“During a speech at the Gridiron Club dinner in March 1958, Kennedy, running for reelection to the Senate, pulled a piece of paper from his suit pocket that he said was a telegram from “my generous daddy.” He read, “Dear Jack: Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.””

P. 187.  Between the Lines: by Robert Boyers  I couldn’t get through the lines let alone in between them on this one.  On political novels, I think.  Reminds me of my least favorite publication The Hedgehog Review.  Cerebral, academic, and full of itself.

P. 201.  Tales of Brave Ulysses: by H.W. Brands  Enlightening insights into President U.S. Grant.

P. 208.  The only piece in the entire quarterly that I took exception with.  Barely a book review it is the reviewer’s own lengthy synopsis of the historical period.  Intriguing story regardless.  Trial by Fire: by Anthony Grafton

P. 216.  Speculative insights, as it must be with the historical distance of Ancient Egypt, on the Queen, nay, female King, Hatshepsut.  Intriguing also.  The Woman Who Would Be King: by Kara Cooney

If I quote any more Lapham’s will charge me to charge you.  You get the picture.  Yet another superb collection of thought through the Ages.  Lapham’s Quarterly should always be a staple in your literary diet.  Read it, and weep for the condition of politics today.  “A republic, if you can keep it” indeed Mr. Franklin (p. 16).

4 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2012: Politics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s