The Essential Lippmann
edited by Clinton Rossiter, edited by James Lare
Random House, 535 pp., $7.50
Walter Lippmann, the editors say, “deserves to be ranked with such men as John Dewey, Thorsten Veblen, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles A. Beard, H. L. Mencken, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Frost, Lewis Mumford, Roscoe Pound, and Reinhold Niebuhr as a major contributor to the American way of life and thought.” This may be one way of placing him, though it is not, I think, a very helpful one. For myself, I would bench some of these players and send in others—Mr. Justice Holmes, certainly, and Lippmann’s old teacher Santayana, and, replacing Lewis Mumford at left tackle, Edmund Wilson. But this is playing the editors’ game. They are determined to find chic companions for Lippmann. Locke and Hobbes and Mill are mentioned, along with Machiavelli and Rousseau, and, of course, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Calhoun. Back among the quick, Lippmann is appointed chairman of a board of intellectual directors that includes David Riesman, Erich Fromm, Herbert Agar, Harold Lasswell, and a few others. A phantom board, thank God!
If I sound irritated, that is how I feel. Lippmann deserves better than to be served up in this fashion—”For the first time in one volume: a comprehensive selection from Walter Lippmann’s writings.” What on earth is a “comprehensive selection”? The editors tell us that they have “labored hard to separate the wheat of contemplation from the chaff of interpretation.” This seems a pointless kind of threshing. In any case, their hard labor has not given me, a Lippmannite, anything that I recognize as the “essential” Lippmann. Indeed, this book-merchant’s word seems in itself offensive—particularly in a work whose editors tell us that, in the first place, they have limited their selections to “political philosophy” and beyond that have favored books out of print over books in print, later books over earlier books, and “the column of 1962 (over) the column of 1932.” What they have produced is 535 pages by the Lippmann who sounds most like a follower of Clinton Rossiter.
I do not know how one could get the “essential” Lippmann into a “treasury” (another of the editors’ words) or even if it ought to be tried. I do know that the Lippmann some of us value the most is hard to find in this ponderous volume with its pol. sci. rubrics (“The Tensions of Constitutionalism…The Dilemma of Liberal Democracy…The Role of Government”) and its obliteration of time by topic. In a general way, the editors were no doubt sound in sticking to Lippmann’s concern with politics. It is the world of policy and polity that has engaged most of his time and his intellectual energies over the years. But what makes Lippmann tower above his contemporaries is the range of his cultivation, and the liveliness of his interest in many other thngs. “What do you love?” Mabel Dodge once asked him. “The living world,” Lippmann answered. This Lippmann is now and then encountered in this book—but only now and then …