Aux armes · a postscript

Nought can deform the Human Race
Like to the Armour's iron brace.
When Gold and Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.

William Blake (c. 1801–3). Auguries of Innocence.*

Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men …

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813). Queen Mab: a philosophical poem, with notes.


Some from the tribe of the assiduously offended find this entire subject provocative, a few with censure rather too fervent for its object, considering that the menacing grandeur and proud pomp of heraldry are illusory — and no more threatening than engulfing clouds are to the Moon on a stormy night.

Ein jeder sieht was er im Herzen trägt.

Everyone sees what he carries in his heart.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808). Faust – Der Tragödie erster Teil (Faust: Part One).
Ibid., English translation, Bayard Taylor (1871).

As a man is, so he sees.

William Blake (1799). Letters from William Blake to Dr. Trusler.

A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean.

Zhuangzi (莊周) (c. 370–300 B.C.).

Hence each of us should be beware of our own steadfast certainties and ardent passions:

One man's dream is oft another's nightmare,
for visions to saints and madmen alike give joy;
and sometimes smoothing words beguile to snare,
that else with scorn would our fond hopes destroy.


* The French economist Frédéric Bastiat, commenting on vicariously rapacious politics, concurred with Blake's sentiment:

Pour produire, il faut diriger toutes ses facultés vers la domination de la nature ; car c’est elle qu’il s’agit de combattre, de dompter et d’asservir. C’est pourquoi le fer converti en charrue est l’emblème de la production.

Pour spolier, il faut diriger toutes ses facultés vers la domination des hommes ; car ce sont eux qu’il faut combattre, tuer ou asservir. C’est pourquoi le fer converti en épée est l’emblème de la spoliation.

In order to produce, we must direct all our faculties toward the conquest of Nature; for it is Nature that must be fought, mastered and subjugated. That is why iron beaten into a plowshare is the emblem of production.

In order to plunder, we must direct all our faculties toward the conquest of men; for they are the ones we must fight, kill or enslave. That is why iron beaten into a sword is the emblem of plunder.

Frédéric Bastiat (1850). Harmonies économiques.
Ibid., Economic Harmonies.

A cogent explanation of this enduring outrage is given by another Frenchman:

Ainsi la première raison de la servitude volontaire, c’est la coutume : comme des plus braves courtauds, qui au commencement mordent le frein et puis s’en jouent, et là où naguères ruaient contre la selle, ils se parent maintenant dans les harnais et tout fiers se gorgiassent sous la barde. Ils disent qu’ils ont été toujours sujets, que leurs pères ont ainsi vécu ; ils pensent qu’ils sont tenus d’endurer le mal et se font accroire par exemple, et fondent eux-mêmes sous la longueur du temps la possession de ceux qui les tyrannisent ; mais pour vrai, les ans ne donnent jamais droit de mal faire, ains agrandissent l’injure

Thus custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude. Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.

Étienne de La Boétie (1576). Discours de la servitude volontaire. Édition Bossard (1922). Wikisource.
Ibid., The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.

The threat to freedom from the consequences of populist delusions is not new, merely resurgent.

More just it is doubtless, if it com[e] to force, that a less number compel a greater to retain, which can be no wrong to them, th[e]ir libertie, then that a greater number for the pleasure of their baseness, compel a less most injuriously to be th[e]ir fellow slaves. They who seek nothing but th[e]ir own just libertie, have always right to win it and to keep it, whenever they have power, be the voices never so numerous that oppose it.

John Milton (1660). The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth …. 2nd edition.

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— that's enough meandering:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream, …

William Shakespeare (c. 1595).
A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Copyright © 2006 Alan Geal