4/13/2005

Quote of the Day

Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.
—Edward Bulwer-Lytton

(I find it most interesting that the first part of the sentence is usually ignored. It completely undercuts the way in which the quote is generally used, that is, to discount the utility of violence. In fact, the pen can only be mightier than the sword "beneath the rule of men entirely great," meaning under a just and stable society. In a time of turmoil, the writer must take refuge behind the swordsman, or else take up the sword himself.)

3 comments:

Asher said...

It can probably also mean that beneath the rule of a ruler who is so secure in his rule, either through popularity or despotism or outright militarily enforced totalitarianism, and the strength of arm already has no chance of success...

ERA said...

I shouldn't be amazed that even a famous quote like that is snipped, taken out of context, to get the desired effect. It's as if the NY Times got a hold of it.

Mike Maller said...

Ah, but does the swing of the sword outlive the swordsman? The popular part of the quote is also applied in this way. Further consider that swords have been drawn many times because of the scribbles of pens.

Don't take this quote as a truism. In the US, the leader changes every four to eight years or so, but the overall structure remains the same. The fealty of the armed forces are not to an specific presiden. Its members and even the president himself swear an oath to uphold a piece of paper.

This seems to be the Ajax/Odysseus argument rearing its head again, and the competing cults of force and reason. Not that I totally disregard force... Odysseus was a fighter after all.