Thursday, January 27, 2011

Summary -- La Rochefoucauld V INTEREST 147

"Interest" and "Self-Love"

Translated from a letter La Rochefoucauld sent to
Madame de Sable (whose salon reviewed the various
Maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

LXVI.--Interest is the soul of self-love, in as much
as when the body deprived of its soul is without sight,
feeling or knowledge, without thought or movement,
so self-love, riven so to speak from its interest, neither
sees, nor hears, nor smells, nor moves; thus it is that
the same man who will run over land and sea for his
own interest becomes suddenly paralyzed when en-
gaged for that of others; from this arises that sudden
dullness and, as it were, death, with which we afflict
those to whom we speak of our own matters; from this
also their sudden resurrection when in our narrative
we relate something concerning them; from this we
find in our conversations and business that a man
becomes dull or bright just as his own interest is near
to him or distant from him. (LETTER TO MADAME DE
SABLÉ, MS., FOLIO. 211.)

W.G. Moore, in his chapter “The Tyrannical Self” of his excellent book, La Rochefoucauld: His Mind and Art (Oxford, 1969, p. 96), tells us that 'interest' “seems to have little to do with one's opinion of oneself.” Moore goes on,

...In one astonishing outburst, which he never consented to publish, he defined [interest] as [the lover of self-love] and described in violently physical terms the latter [self-love] as dormant and inert unless and until 'animated' by the chance approach of [interest]. Nowhere else do I recall so vivid a picture, not of the truth so much as of the almost instinctive sense (which seems to have obsessed LR) of the human person as an idle machine which is galvanized by the passions, or by anything that affects its survival.”

             --W.G. Moore, La Rochefoucauld: His Mind and Art, p.97
                      (Moore uses the original French “interet” and “amour-propre,”
                      which I have translated into English inside square brackets

The blog author has been reading La Rochefoucauld since 1966. In that time, I have been utterly unable to crack or disavow a single Maxim out of hundreds he wrote. The unpublished comment in red above means that “self love” is a passive mood except when animated by the sense that something is interesting and worth focusing on. Thus self-love and interest are lovers who act in tandem to ignite passion or survival instincts. The next Quiddity blog entry is the conclusion, and it is based on this partnership of these two qualities.

Support for the pairing of self-love and interest: Below are all the examples I can find from the 1871 translation of the Maxims that include “interest,” as well as a paragraph from La Rochefoucauld's self-description and some quotes from his Reflections (the quote from the letter to Madame Sable is already quoted at the beginning of this post.) All the statements in the Maxims involving “interest” seem consistent with the red highlighted comments above by W.G. Moore.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

[Self-description of the Duke]

I love my friends; and I love them to such an
extent that I would not for a moment weigh my
interest against theirs. I condescend to them, I
patiently endure their bad temper. But, also, I do
not make much of their caresses, and I do not feel
great uneasiness in their absence.

From the Maxims:

1.--What we term virtue is often but a mass of
various actions and divers interests, which fortune, or
our own industry, manage to arrange; and it is not
always from valour or from chastity that men are
brave, and women chaste.

3.--Whatever discoveries have been made in the
region of self-love, there remain many unexplored
territories there.

9.--The passions possess a certain injustice and
self interest which makes it dangerous to follow them,
and in reality we should distrust them even when
they appear most trustworthy.

39.--Interest speaks all sorts of tongues and plays
all sorts of characters; even that of disinterestedness.

40.--Interest blinds some and makes some see.

66.--A clever man ought to so regulate his interests
that each will fall in due order. Our greediness so
often troubles us, making us run after so many things
at the same time, that while we too eagerly look after
the least we miss the greatest.

83.--What men term friendship is merely a partner-
ship with a collection of reciprocal interests, and an
exchange of favours--in fact it is but a trade in which
self love always expects to gain something.

85.--We often persuade ourselves to love people
who are more powerful than we are, yet interest alone
produces our friendship; we do not give our hearts
away for the good we wish to do, but for that we
expect to receive.

116.--Nothing is less sincere than the way of asking
and giving advice. The person asking seems to pay
deference to the opinion of his friend, while thinking
in reality of making his friend approve his opinion
and be responsible for his conduct. The person
giving the advice returns the confidence placed in him
by eager and disinterested zeal, in doing which he is
usually guided only by his own interest or reputation.

124.--The most deceitful persons spend their lives
in blaming deceit, so as to use it on some great occa-
sion to promote some great interest.

172.--If we thoroughly consider the varied effects
of indifference we find we miscarry more in our duties
than in our interests.

173.--There are different kinds of curiosity: one
springs from interest, which makes us desire to know
everything that may be profitable to us; another from
pride, which springs from a desire of knowing what
others are ignorant of.

187.--The name of virtue is as useful to our interest
as that of vice.

232.--Whatever pretext we give to our afflictions it
is always interest or vanity that causes them.

253.--Interest sets at work all sorts of virtues and

275.--Natural goodness, which boasts of being so
apparent, is often smothered by the least interest.

278.--What makes us so often discontented with
those who transact business for us is that they almost
always abandon the interest of their friends for the
interest of the business, because they wish to have
the honour of succeeding in that which they have

305.--Interest which is accused of all our misdeeds
often should be praised for our good deeds.

390.--We give up more easily our interest than our

418.--Young women who do not want to appear
flirts, and old men who do not want to appear ridi-
culous, should not talk of love as a matter wherein
they can have any interest.

492.--Avarice often produces opposite results: there
are an infinite number of persons who sacrifice their
property to doubtful and distant expectations, others
mistake great future advantages for small present

XVII.--As if it was not sufficient that self-love
should have the power to change itself, it has added
that of changing other objects, and this it does in a
very astonishing manner; for not only does it so well
disguise them that it is itself deceived, but it even
changes the state and nature of things. Thus, when
a female is adverse to us, and she turns her hate
and persecution against us, self-love pronounces
on her actions with all the severity of justice;
it exaggerates the faults till they are enormous,
and looks at her good qualities in so disadvan-
tageous a light that they become more displeasing than
her faults. If however the same female becomes
favourable to us, or certain of our interests reconcile
her to us, our sole self interest gives her back the
lustre which our hatred deprived her of. The bad
qualities become effaced, the good ones appear with
a redoubled advantage; we even summon all our
indulgence to justify the war she has made upon us.
Now although all passions prove this truth, that of
love exhibits it most clearly; for we may see a
lover moved with rage by the neglect or the infidelity
of her whom he loves, and meditating the utmost
vengeance that his passion can inspire. Nevertheless
as soon as the sight of his beloved has calmed the
fury of his movements, his passion holds that beauty
innocent; he only accuses himself, he condemns his
condemnations, and by the miraculous power of self-
love, he whitens the blackest actions of his mistress,
and takes from her all crime to lay it on himself.

{No date or number is given for this maxim}

XXIX.--Men only blame vice and praise virtue
from interest. (1665, No. 151.)

XLI.--Those who wish to define victory by her birth
will be tempted to imitate the poets, and to call her
the Daughter of Heaven, since they cannot find her
origin on earth. Truly she is produced from an
infinity of actions, which instead of wishing to beget
her, only look to the particular interests of their
masters, since all those who compose an army, in
aiming at their own rise and glory, produce a good
so great and general. (1665, No. 232.)

LIV.--Luxury and too refined a policy in states are
a sure presage of their fall, because all parties looking
after their own interest turn away from the public
good. (1665, No. 282.)

- - - - - - - - - -
from the Reflections:
- - - - - - - - - -

Confidence leaves us less liberty, its rules are
stricter, it requires more prudence and reticence, and
we are not always free to give it. It relates not only
to ourselves, since our interests are often mixed up
with those of others; it requires great delicacy not to
expose our friends in exposing ourselves, not to draw
upon their goodness to enhance the value of what we

Confidence always pleases those who receive it. It
is a tribute we pay to their merit, a deposit we commit
to their trust, a pledge which gives them a claim upon
us, a kind of dependence to which we voluntarily
submit. I do not wish from what I have said to
depreciate confidence, so necessary to man. It is
in society the link between acquaintance and
friendship. I only wish to state its limits to make
it true and real. I would that it was always sincere,
always discreet, and that it had neither weakness nor
interest. I know it is hard to place proper limits on
being taken into all our friends' confidence, and taking
them into all ours.

- - - - - - - - - -

With those friends whose truth we know we have
the closest intimacy. They have always spoken unre-
servedly to us, we should always do the same to them.
They know our habits and connexions, and see too
clearly not to perceive the slightest change. They
may have elsewhere learnt what we have promised not
to tell. It is not in our power to tell them what has
been entrusted to us, though it might tend to their
interest to know it. We feel as confident of them
as of ourselves, and we are reduced to the hard fate of
losing their friendship, which is dear to us, or of being
faithless as regards a secret. This is doubtless the
hardest test of fidelity, but it should not move an
honest man; it is then that he can sacrifice himself
to others. His first duty is to rigidly keep his trust
in its entirety. He should not only control and
guard his and his voice, but even his lighter
talk, so that nothing be seen in his conversation or
manner that could direct the curiosity of others towards
that which he wishes to conceal.

A clever, pliant, winning mind knows how to avoid
and overcome difficulties. Bending easily to what it
wants, it understands the inclination and temper it is
dealing with, and by managing their interests it
advances and establishes its own.

A difference exists between a working mind and a
business-like mind. We can undertake business with-
out turning it to our own interest. Some are clever
only in what does not concern them, and the reverse
in all that does. There are others again whose
cleverness is limited to their own business, and who
know how to turn everything to their own advantage.

IV. On Society.

It sometimes happens that persons opposite in tem-
per and mind become united. They doubtless hold
together for different reasons, which cannot last for
long. Society may subsist between those who are our
inferiors by birth or by personal qualities, but those
who have these advantages should not abuse them.
They should seldom let it be perceived that they
serve to instruct others. They should let their con-
duct show that they, too, have need to be guided and
led by reason, and accommodate themselves as far as
possible to the feeling and the interests of the others.

There should be some variety in wit. Those who
have only one kind of wit cannot please for long
unless they can take different roads, and not both use
the same talents, thus adding to the pleasure of
society, and keeping the same harmony that different
voices and different instruments should observe in
music; and as it is detrimental to the quiet of society,
that many persons should have the same interests,
it is yet as necessary for it that their interests should
not be different.

We should anticipate what can please our friends,
find out how to be useful to them so as to exempt them
from annoyance, and when we cannot avert evils,
seem to participate in them, insensibly obliterate
without attempting to destroy them at a blow, and
place agreeable objects in their place, or at least such
as will interest them. We should talk of subjects
that concern them, but only so far as they like, and
we should take great care where we draw the line.
There is a species of politeness, and we may say a
similar species of humanity, which does not enter too
quickly into the recesses of the heart. It often takes
pains to allow us to see all that our friends know,
while they have still the advantage of not knowing
to the full when we have penetrated the depth of the

V. On Conversation.

To please others we should talk on subjects they
like and that interest them, avoid disputes upon in-
different matters, seldom ask questions, and never let
them see that we pretend to be better informed than
they are.

We cannot give too great study to find out the
manner and the capacity of those with whom we talk,
so as to join in the conversation of those who have
more than ourselves without hurting by this prefer-
ence the wishes or interests of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment