Tag: maxims

Friday maxim

This was the fortune cookie message from lunch yesterday:

“For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous.”

I told my assistant that it sounded like a license to steal…but many other dark ideas came to mind.

In any case, since this is an IR blog, I might note that numerous scholars and diplomats would likely agree with the advice offered by that fortune cookie.

Here’s one.

Given that I have a very large stack of papers to grade, I will put this one to the readership. Comments?

Note: this is apparently a fairly common fortune, but yesterday marked the first time I ever received that message.

Yes, I know I’m posting this on Thursday. However, Dan previously posted a Friday maxim so this is my contribution to that thread. Plus, it is already Friday in part of the world.

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Wednesday’s Maxim

Always deny what you don’t want to be known, and always affirm what you want to be believed. For, though there be much – even conclusive – evidence to the contrary, a fervent affirmation or denial will often create at least some doubt in the mind of your listener. (Series C, 37)

I guess early modern Europe wasn’t very different from the present after all…

For other maxims from Guicciardini, see here and here.

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Wednesday’s Maxim

Guicciardini on the perils of bandwagoning (allying with the strong against the weak), and generally of being a minor power:

I was in Spain when the news came that the Venetians had made an alliance with the king of France against His Catholic Majesty. Upon hearing it, Almazano, his Secretary, told me a Castilian proverb which says in effect that the thread breaks where it is weakest. What it means is that the weakest always get it in the neck; for men do not act according to reason or consideration of others. Rather each seeks his own advantage, and all agree to make the weakest suffer because he is the one they least fear. If you have to deal with those stronger than you, always remember this proverb, for it is a matter of everyday reality. (Series C, 144)


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Wednesday’s Maxim

Nicollò Machiavelli is a household name among educated adult; most people who have taken an international-relations or political-theory course have read, at least in part, sections of The Prince or of the Discourse on Livy.

His friend and contemporary, Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1530) is far less well known. Indeed, I would wager that even a majority of international-relations scholars have never heard of Guicciardini (at the very least, a majority have never read any of his works). Guicciardini is often credited with coining the phrase “reason of state,” and his magisterial The History of Italy is a central text in the development of ideas about the balance of power.

Guicciardini’s collection of maxims, translated both under the title Counsels and Reflections and Maxims and Reflections, is a wonderful list of statements about diplomacy, warfare, and political power. One of the neat things about them is that their punchline isn’t always what a contemporary reader might expect. As a new feature of the “Duck,” I plan to post one of his maxims every Wednesday.

Today’s concerns the relationship between theory and practice, and has words of wisdom for any scholar.

How different theory is from practice! So many people understand things well but either do not remember or do not know how to put them into practice! The knowledge of such men is useless. It is like having a treasure stored in a chest without ever being able to take it out. (Series C, 35)

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