Category Archives: Mignon McLaughlin

Every Society Honors Its Live Conformists, and Its Dead Troublemakers

Mignon McLaughlin? Marshall McLuhan? Wayne Dyer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: History books laud unconventional thinkers and eccentric characters who faced hardships during their lifetimes. An adage expressing this notion has been credited to magazine editor Mignon McLaughlin and media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Here are two versions:

  • The world values live conformists and dead rebels.
  • Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in “The Neurotic’s Notebook” by Mignon McLaughlin in 1963. The compendium contained quips, adages, and observations such as the following three. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The works of Herman Wouk seem written by two different men: one who creates a set of characters, and another who turns on them.

Every society honors its live conformists, and its dead troublemakers.

An artist usually has no friends except other artists, and usually they do not like his work.

McLaughlin worked as a writer and editor at magazines such as “The Atlantic Monthly”, “Glamour”, and “Vogue” for decades from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The attribution to Marshall McLuhan is spurious. It may have originated when someone confused the names McLaughlin and McLuhan. Alternatively, the mistake may have been catalyzed by textual proximity. Further details accompany the 2004 citation given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 7: Politics, Arts, Professions, Quote Page 72, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)