”Much of this, that is, the dumbing down of culture, youth, and the general public, can also be applied to Sweden, often described as the stronghold of the Law of Jante and political correctness.”

Award-winning journalist and author Lewis Lapham, in several essays, books, and interviews, has explained how a small elite rules and how they, often with the help of mainstream media, undermine democracy and can even start wars on false grounds. (1) Lapham was born into an affluent family in San Francisco in 1935. His great-grandfather, Lewis Henry Lapham, founded the major corporation Texaco, and his grandfather Frank became the mayor of the city. Lewis Lapham, educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and Hotchkiss School at Yale, described how students were rewarded based on the wealth of their parents, and the explicit purpose of education was not to acquire more knowledge but to turn students into leaders. (2)

After working as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, Lapham moved to New York in 1960, where he worked successively at the Herald Tribune, Saturday Evening Post, and Life Magazine. In 1968, he was sent to India, where he met the Beatles and spent time with them. Lapham later worked at Harper’s Magazine, where he served as editor from 1976 to 1981 and published a series of critical essays on society. In 1988, he published the book ”Money and Class in America,” addressing how the wealthy get richer and how ”the lovely word profit justifies misery, famine, dishonesty, and war.” (3) ”We’ve created a culture where all hotels, office buildings, and suburbs look the same, and where we care less and less about humanism,” says Lapham. (4)

He argues that it is not a coincidence that banks resemble temples, primarily Greek, and that visitors who come to perform their rituals of deposits and withdrawals instinctively lower their voices in reverence. Lapham believes that the fixation on money, material possessions, and superficiality, largely created by the elite, has led to an increasing sense of inner emptiness. ”Never in world history have so many people been so rich,” he notes, ”and never in world history have so many of these people felt so poor.” (5) In ”Imperial Masquerade” (1990), he described the hypocrisy of former presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and the absurdity of elevating Nixon in recent years to a kind of ”wise advisor.”

In 1993, he published ”The Wish for Kings,” in which he wrote about the paradoxical fact that Americans ”want to be led while remaining free,” as the philosopher de Tocqueville expressed it in an analysis dating back to the 19th century. (6) As they do not seem able to reconcile these contradictory desires, de Tocqueville added, ”they strive to satisfy both at once.” (7) The result, according to Lapham, is a ”yearning for kings,” a desire for strong, paternal leaders on white horses who ride in and save the day because ”the tedious business of self-rule” is simply ”too hard, too dull, and too complicated.” (8)

”Most people who mourn when the country’s leaders die wouldn’t recognize a leader if they saw one,” Lapham claims. ”If they had the misfortune to meet a leader, they would quickly realize that he demanded something from them, and this audacity would quickly put an angry end to their desire for his return.” (9) In 1997, ”Waiting for the Barbarians” was published, where Lapham wrote about the politicians’ involvement in ”well-funded mischief around the world” and that the ”barbarism inherent in global capitalism needs some form of control by a democratic government. This is because ”history shows that oligarchies, unburdened by conscience or common sense, rarely show interest in the purpose of civil liberties.” (10)

Lapham believes that democracy is a difficult form of governance because it requires a high degree of courage and literacy among its citizens, and currently, we lack both the necessary habits and a common frame of reference, he says. ”The formation of the will of Congress and the election of the American president have become a privilege reserved for the country’s upper classes, the top 20% of the population that owns 93% of the wealth, runs businesses and banks, owns and operates news and entertainment media, enacts laws, controls universities, oversees philanthropic foundations, political institutions, casinos, and sports arenas.” (11)

Lapham believes that journalism in the USA leaves much to be desired, and in 2007, he founded Lapham’s Quarterly, an independent magazine about history and literature. He describes one of America’s more celebrated reporters, Bob Woodward (known for, among other things, the Watergate exposé), as an accommodating butler to the elite. ”There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” Lapham said at the premiere of the film ”Gonzo,” about journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s life. ”The press would speak for the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” (12) Lapham also mentions that he has read David Ray Griffin’s book ”Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory” and that Bush should have been indicted for the lies about the Iraq war:

Most worrying, according to Lapham, is mainstream media’s support for the erosion of civil liberties in the name of ”national security,” where the Patriot Act represents one of the worst examples. Lapham is also concerned about an increasingly dumbed-down culture that instills passivity in the population: ”As many as six out of ten American adults have never read a book of any kind,” he says, ”and announcements from the country’s education program resemble reports describing accident statistics from a lost war.” (13) According to surveys, one-fourth of adults do not know that the Earth revolves around the sun, and 68% of college students have difficulty locating California on a map. A female student even thought that the Holocaust was a Jewish holiday.

Much of this, namely the dumbing down of culture, youth, and the general population, can also be applied to Sweden, often described as the stronghold of the Law of Jante and political correctness. Today, young people know everything about TV series, soap opera stars, and video games but very little about literature, history, or life itself. This is probably not a coincidence that it happens in the country most Americanized of all in Europe. Adults, in turn, continue to run on the hamster wheel to afford all the things they believe they need, which in a time of orgiastic superficiality and boredom serve as diversion and solace. Therefore, they are content with what daily and evening newspapers (or even worse, their online versions, which now mostly resemble tabloids) serve them, along with the often deficient reports on TV news about what is happening.

In such an environment, where dumbing down is continually gaining ground, and conforming thought police increasingly put a stop to uncomfortable truths, Lewis Lapham feels like an essential antidote.


(1) In Depth with Lewis Lapham, C-Span, June 3, 2007.

(2) In Depth with Lewis Lapham, C-Span, June 3, 2007.

(3) Lewis H. Lapham, “Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on the Civil Religion,” Ballantine Books, 1989, (page 303)

(4) Lewis H. Lapham, “Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on the Civil Religion,” Ballantine Books, 1989, (page 21)

(5) Lewis H. Lapham, “Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on the Civil Religion,” Ballantine Books, 1989, (page 7)

(6)  Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America, Volume 2,” J & H. G Langley, 1840, (page 319)

(7)  Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America, Volume 2,” J & H. G Langley, 1840, (page 319)

 (8) On Wishing for Kings and Unfettereed Speech, scottlondon.com/reviews/voice6.html

(9) ,”New Democrat”, Volume 7, Letterhurst Limited, 1989, (page 28)

(10) Lewis H. Lapham, ”Waiting for the Barbarians” Princeton University Press, 1997, (page 219)

(11) Feast of Fools: How American democracy became all about the rule of money, Laphams Quarterly, 2012.

(12) Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did by Glenn Greenwald

(13) Lewis H. Lapham, “Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy,” Penguin Press, 2004, (page 121)


An antidote to stupidity


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