I recently began a careful re-reading of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, a book I had not looked at closely in decades. The work is primarily an argument for Pascal’s Jansenist Christian beliefs, but prepares the soil with a searching review of Man’s transience and wretchedness.

The genius Pascal, in his cruelly foreshortened life, acquired wisdom far beyond his meager allotment of years, and the collection is a treasury of coruscating aphoristic gems. I think I will post some of them here from time to time, with or without comment; I’ll present them as numbered in the 1966 Penguin translation by A.J. Krailsheimer.

Here, for example, is #26, which seems timely enough:

The power of kings is founded on the reason and folly of the people, but especially on their folly. The greatest and most important thing in the world is founded on weakness. This is a remarkably sure foundation, for nothing it surer than that the people will be weak. Anything founded on sound reason is very ill-founded, like respect for wisdom.

Related content from Sphere


  1. Addofio says

    Ya’ know, I can see where this would support the notion that religion is a surer foundation for a moral society than atheism, for someone with your respective opinions of the two. Just a thought :-)

    Posted November 16, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Oh, it may well be. I’ve never disputed that. That’s why I think religion exists in the first place, as I have written often.

    Of course, “moral” means different things to different religions, and to different groups. In a world as heterogeneous as this, the variety of religions (and the groups they bind) in constant collision is an engine of endless and sanguinary conflict.

    Posted November 16, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Court says

    Keep those quotes coming, Malcolm. Pascal is one of the great aphorists and it’s good to see him wherever he pops up.

    Posted November 18, 2008 at 12:31 am | Permalink