Friday, December 31, 2004


The Power of Negativism

Chamfort (1741-1794):
Almost all men are slaves, for the reason the Spartans gave to explain the servitude of the Persians, the inability to pronounce the syllable "No." Knowing how to pronounce this word and knowing how to live by oneself are the only two ways to preserve one's freedom and individuality.

Presque tous les hommes sont esclaves par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de conserver sa liberté et son caractère.
I can't locate any ancient source for Chamfort's assertion about the Spartans and Persians, although I vaguely remember reading it elsewhere. Thoreau made a similar point about the ancient Egyptians in the first chapter of Walden:
As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.

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