Quotations about   culture

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Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers’ Manual, Part 3, ch. 1 “Words as Separate Units of Consciousness” (1988)
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Added on 27-May-19 | Last updated 27-May-19
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Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, but a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Anglo-Irish statesman, orator, philosopher
Letters on a Regicide Peace, Letter 1 (1796)
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Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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Somehow he has internalized the ur-cultural narrative: you grow up, go to university, get a job, meet Ms. Right, get married, settle down, have kids, grow old together … it’s like some sort of checklist. Or maybe a list of epic quests you’ve got to complete while level-grinding in a game you’re not allowed to quit, with no respawns and no cheat codes.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 9 (2016)
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Added on 29-Aug-17 | Last updated 29-Aug-17
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This ideal University of Life … would never take the importance of culture for granted. It would know that culture is kept alive by a constant respectful questioning — not by an excessive and snobbish attitude of respect. Therefore, rather than leaving it hanging why one was reading Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, an ideal course covering nineteenth-century literature would ask plainly “What is it that adultery ruins in a marriage?” Students in the ideal University of Life would end up knowing much the same material as their colleagues in other institutions, they would simply have learned it under a very different set of headings.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
“Reclaiming the Intellectual Life for Posterity,” Liberal Education (Spring 2009)
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Added on 18-Aug-17 | Last updated 18-Aug-17
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Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
(Attributed)
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Recounted in the Pennsylvania School Journal, Vol. 46, #7 (Jan 1898) as an anecdote from a clergyman printed in the New York Tribune.
Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 25-May-17
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Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) Austrian-American business consultant
(Attributed)

Frequently attributed to Drucker, but not found in his writings. See here for more discussion.
Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
The Lessons of History (1968)
Added on 10-Apr-17 | Last updated 10-Apr-17
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Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts (1962)
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 21-Mar-17
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Proverbs contradict each other. That is the wisdom of a nation.

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts (1962)
Added on 16-Mar-17 | Last updated 16-Mar-17
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The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, ch. 24 (1936)
Added on 14-Mar-17 | Last updated 14-Mar-17
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A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3: Caesar and Christ (1944)
Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The civilized are those who get more out of life than the uncivilized, and for this the uncivilized have not forgiven them.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the factors of decadence, — luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition, — are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
Added on 13-Feb-17 | Last updated 13-Feb-17
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In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

porter-anything-goes-wist_info-quote

Cole Porter (1891-1964) American composer and songwriter
“Anything Goes” (1934)
Added on 19-Jan-17 | Last updated 19-Jan-17
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We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. If the foundation be firm, the foundation will stand.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Commencement Address, Wheaton College, Norton, Mass. (17 Jun 1921)
Added on 6-Dec-16 | Last updated 6-Dec-16
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The test of a religion or philosophy is the number of things it can explain: so true it is. But the religion of our churches explains neither art not society nor history, but itself needs explanation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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As with most things in life, Lady Maccon preferred the civilized exterior to the dark underbelly (with the exception of pork products, of course).

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Heartless (2011)
Added on 15-Sep-16 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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What the tender and poetic youth dreams to-day, and conjures up with inarticulate speech, is to-morrow the vociferated result of public opinion, and the day after is the character of nations.

Emerson - character of nations - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Comper Gray, The Biblical Museum: Old Testament (1876).
Added on 4-Aug-16 | Last updated 4-Aug-16
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An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.

Miller - basic illusions are exhausted - wist_info quote

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) American playwright and essayist
“The Year It Came Apart,” New York Magazine (30 Dec 1974)
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 28-Jul-16
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To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click, “I agree.”

Maher - Bible I Agree - wist_info quote

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
(Attributed)
Added on 8-Jun-16 | Last updated 8-Jun-16
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No matter how poor I am; no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the sacred writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakespeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.

William E. Channing (1780-1842) American moralist, author, cleric, Unitarian theologian
“Self Culture,” lecture, Boston (Sep 1838)
Added on 5-May-16 | Last updated 5-May-16
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The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) English poet and critic
God and the Bible (1875)
Added on 28-Apr-16 | Last updated 28-Apr-16
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The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.

Gruenert and Whitaker - leader is willing to tolerate - wist_info quote

Other Authors and Sources
Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, School Culture Rewired, ch. 3 (2015)
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Often misattributed as "Gruenter and Whitaker".
Added on 16-Mar-16 | Last updated 16-Mar-16
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You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“Bradbury Still Believes in Heat of ‘Fahrenheit 451,'” interview by Misha Berson, The Seattle Times (12 Mar 1993)
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Added on 21-Jan-16 | Last updated 21-Jan-16
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The chief business of the nation, as a nation, is the setting up of heroes, mainly bogus.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“On Being an American” (1), Prejudices: Third Series (1922)
Added on 23-Oct-15 | Last updated 23-Oct-15
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If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
“Administrative Nihilism” (1871)
Added on 6-Oct-15 | Last updated 6-Oct-15
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Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus. That values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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Added on 4-May-15 | Last updated 4-May-15
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Beauty loses its relish; the graces never.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking (1761)
Added on 12-Feb-15 | Last updated 12-Feb-15
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The superstition in which we grew up,
Though we may recognize it, does not lose
Its power over us — Not all are free
Who make mock of their chains.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Nathan the Wise (1779) [tr. Morgan (1955)]

Alt. trans.: "The superstition in which we were brought up never loses its power over us, even after we understand it." [In J. K. Hoyt & Anna L. Ward (eds.), The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1881)]
Added on 23-Jan-15 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, Amherst College (26 Oct 1963)
Added on 31-Dec-14 | Last updated 31-Dec-14
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It is difficult for a majority to see, let alone sympathize with, a practice that discriminates against a minority. It’s not unlike trying to get a fish to understand the concept of water! It is simply the medium in which the fish resides, requiring no cognition of the water that supports it. Discrimination — not just individual, but systemic — is the “water” in which the majority swims, and unless something happens to bring that discrimination into the view and consciousness of the majority, nothing will change, because the majority hardly, if ever, notices it.

Gene Robinson (b. 1947) American Episcopal bishop
God Believes in Love (2012)
Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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The difference between the Japanese and the American is summed up in their opposite reactions to the proverb (popular in both nations), “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Epidemiologist S. Leonard Syme observes that to the Japanese, moss is exquisite and valued; a stone is enhanced by moss; hence a person who keeps moving and changing never acquires the beauty and benefits of stability. To Americans, the proverb is an admonition to keep rolling, to keep from being covered with clinging attachments.

Other Authors and Sources
Carol Tavris, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, ch. 4 (1982)
Added on 19-May-14 | Last updated 19-May-14
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The virtues of society are the vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 6-Sep-13 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) Russian novelist
The House of the Dead (1862) [tr. Garnett (1957)]
Added on 9-Feb-11 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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America thou half-brother of the world!
With something good and bad of every land.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) English poet
Festus, Sc. 10 “Earth’s Surface,” l. 340 (1813)
Added on 16-Aug-10 | Last updated 2-Apr-15
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A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (26 Oct 1769)

Quoted by Rev. Dr. Maxwell. In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
Added on 3-Aug-09 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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