No One Is More Dangerous Than He Who Imagines Himself Pure In Heart; For His Purity, By Definition, Is Unassailable

James Baldwin? Norman Mailer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Individuals who consider themselves to be pure in heart are unable to recognize their own flaws. This can lead to wrong-headed and disastrous actions. The prominent novelist and essayist James Baldwin once made a comparable point about benighted self-assessment. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 James Baldwin published an essay in “Esquire” magazine that was sharply critical of fellow author Norman Mailer. Baldwin included the following cogent remark. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

No one is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Baldwin’s “Esquire” essay appeared in his 1961 collection titled “Nobody Knows My Name”; hence, the quotation achieved further distribution. 2

The quotation also appeared in references such as “What a Piece of Work Is Man!” in 1990 3 and “The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations” in 1993. 4

In conclusion, James Baldwin should receive credit for the quotation he crafted and published in “Esquire” in 1961.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1961 May, Esquire, The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy (The Journey of Norman Mailer) by James Baldwin, Start Page 102, Quote Page 105, Column 1, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1963 (1961 Copyright), Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, Part 2: With Everything On My Mind, Chapter 13: The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy, Start Page 169, Quote Page 181, Dell Publishing, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1990, What a Piece of Work Is Man!: Camp’s Unfamiliar Quotations from 2,000 B.C. to the present by Wesley D. Camp, Topic: Purity, Quote Page 281, Prentice Hall, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on Paper)
  4. 1993, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by Robert Andrews, Topic: Purity, Quote Page 755, Columbia University Press, New York. (Verified with scans)