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Les petits esprits ont besoin de despotisme pour le jeu de leurs nerfs, comme les grandes âmes ont soif d’égalité pour l’action du cœur. Or les êtres étroits s’étendent aussi bien par la persécution que par la bienfaisence; ils peuvent s’attester leur puissance par un empire ou cruel ou charitable sur autrui, mais ils vont du côté où les pousse leur tempérament. Ajoutez le véhicule de l’intérêt, et vous aurez l’énigme de la plupart des choses sociales.
Small minds can develop as well through despotism as through benevolence; they can assure themselves of their power by tyrannizing cruelly or beneficently others; they go the way their nature guides them. Add to this the dictates of self-interest, and you will have the key to most social riddles.
–Honoré de Balzac, Pierrette (1840) in Scènes de la vie de province in the Pléiade edition of La Comédie humaine, vol. 3, p. 702 (M. Bouteron ed. 1952)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”