Sydney J. Harris

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Oliver Wendell Holmes
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The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.

Sydney J. Harris (14 September 1917 in London8 December 1986 in Chicago), was a syndicated essayist and drama critic.

Sourced

  • In shape, it is perfectly elliptical. In texture, it is smooth and lustrous. In color, it ranges from pale alabaster to warm terra cotta. And in taste, it outstrips all the lush pomegranates that Swinburne was so fond of sinking his lyrical teeth into.
    • “Tribute to an Egg” in Majority of One (1957)
  • Nothing is as easy to make as a promise this winter to do something next summer; this is how commencement speakers are caught.
    • Chicago Daily News (February 20, 1958)
  • The public examination of homosexuality in our contemporary life is still so coated with distasteful moral connotations that even a reviewer is bound to wonder uneasily why he was selected to evaluate a book on the subject, and to assert defensively at the outset that he is happily married, the father of four children and the one-time adornment of his college boxing, track and tennis teams.
    • On Jess Stearn’s The Sixth Man, Saturday Review (April 22, 1961)
  • The beauty of “spacing” children many years apart lies in the fact that parents have time to learn the mistakes that were made with the older ones — which permits them to make exactly the opposite mistakes with the younger ones.
    • Leaving the Surface (1968)
  • An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.
    • Reader’s Digest (May 1979)
  • Agnosticism is a perfectly respectable and tenable philosophical position; it is not dogmatic and makes no pronouncements about the ultimate truths of the universe. It remains open to evidence and persuasion; lacking faith, it nevertheless does not deride faith. Atheism, on the other hand, is as unyielding and dogmatic about religious belief as true believers are about heathens. It tries to use reason to demolish a structure that is not built upon reason.
    • “Atheists, Like Fundamentalists, are Dogmatic,” Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.
    • “What’s Wrong with Being Proud?” Pieces of Eight (1982)
  • Every morning I take out my bankbook, stare at it, shudder — and turn quickly to my typewriter.
    • On incentive as a journalist, quoted by Rosamund Essex Church Times (December 30, 1983)
  • As we grow older, we should learn that these are two quite different things. Character is something you forge for yourself; temperament is something you are born with and can only slightly modify. Some people have easy temperaments and weak characters; others have difficult temperaments and strong characters. We are all prone to confuse the two in assessing people we associate with. Those with easy temperaments and weak characters are more likable than admirable; those with difficult temperaments and strong characters are more admirable than likable.
    • “Confusing ‘Character’ with ‘Temperament’,” Clearing the Ground (1986)

Strictly Personal (1953)

  • The principal difference between love and hate is that love is an irradiation, and hate is a concentration. Love makes everything lovely; hate concentrates itself on the object of its hatred.
    • Love and Its Loveless Counterfeits
  • The difference between faith and superstition is that the first uses reason to go as far as it can, and then makes the jump; the second shuns reason entirely — which is why superstition is not the ally, but the enemy, of true religion.
    • Purely Personal Prejudices
  • The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.
    • Purely Personal Prejudices

On the Contrary (1962)

  • A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.
    • Ch. 7
  • We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice — that is, until we have stopped saying “It got lost,” and say, “I lost it.”
    • Ch. 7
  • People who think they’re generous to a fault usually think that’s their only fault.
    • Ch. 7

Unsourced

  • Habits of the mind are even stronger than those of the body.
  • Man's unique agony as a species consists in his perpetual conflict between the desire to stand out and the need to blend in.
  • Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men.
  • No theory, however absurd, is wholly wrong; and the task of a wise man is to make a synthesis of conflicting claims.
  • Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
  • Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.
  • Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
  • Self-discipline without talent can often achieve astounding results, whereas talent without self-discipline inevitably dooms itself to failure.
  • Superior people are only those who let it be discovered by others; the need to make it evident forfeits the very virtue they aspire to.
  • The good person loves people and uses things, while the bad person loves things and uses people.
  • The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's leisure.
  • The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.
  • The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.
  • The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, "I was wrong."
  • When I hear somebody sigh that Life is hard, I am always tempted to ask, Compared to what?
  • When you run into someone who is disagreeable to others, you may be sure he is uncomfortable with himself; the amount of pain we inflict upon others is directly proportional to the amount we feel within us.

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