Alfred de Vigny: Admiration for military commander turns us into slaves and madmen
Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare
Such things happen in a society where feeling is repressed. The constant and excessive effort to toughen one’s character is one of the bad sides of the profession of arms. The heart is trained to be hard, and pity hidden for fear it should seem weakness; one tries one’s hardest to conceal the divine sense of compassion, without realizing that by dint of locking up a good emotion the prisoner is stifled.
Martial Grandeur…seems to me to be of two kinds: that of command and that of obedience. The first, wholly superficial, active, brilliant, proud, egotistical and capricious, will daily become rarer, and less coveted, as civilization grows more peaceful; the other, wholly interior, passive, hidden, modest, devoted and persevering, will be honoured more every day; for, to-day, when the spirit of conquest is dying out, the only kind of greatness an exalted character can bring to the profession of arms seems to me to reside to less in the glory of battle than in the honour of silent suffering…
O dreams of command and slavery! O corrupting thoughts of power, fit only to deceive children! False enthusiasms! Subtle poisons, who will ever succeed in finding an antidote for you?
Admiration for a military commander becomes a passion, a fanaticism, a frenzy, which blinds us and turns us into slaves and madmen.