Last Resort

I give thanks to the internet for remedying my want of a good 19th-century education, specifically, to the website that provides translations of all non-English phrases in Patrick O’Brien’s sea tales.

While browsing there I noticed this reference from The Ionian Mission:

ultima ratio regum
the final argument of Kings (L; from the tag ‘War is the final argument of Kings’.)

One king, Louis XIV of France, so approved the sentiment that he ordered the motto stamped on his cannon.

Upon reading the complete quote from which the phrase was taken, it occurred to me this is a classical inversion of Asimov’s famous maxim (from Foundation), “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I wondered,  is there a connection?

Not necessarily. Wikiquote considers Samuel Johnson to have been Asimov’s inspiration with his maxim “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Wikiquote actually calls this an “apophthegm.” I hope someone is at work on a website that will explain all the non-English words used there, to remedy my want of a good 21st-century education.

4 thoughts on “Last Resort

  1. The Johnsonian statement is taken out of context:

    Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.

    –Life of Johnson, April 7, 1775

  2. Interesting that Dr. Asimov used the quotation from Samuel Johnson, as Robert Heinlein spoke of him in his 1973 Forrestal lecture “The Pragmatics of Patriotism” as “…a fat, gluttonous slob who was pursued all his life by a pathological fear of death” and a “…fat poltroon….”

    In all I’ve read, Mr. Heinlein regarded Dr. Asimov with great respect, but on this they seem to have disagreed.

  3. @Joe: Usually when one speaks of a statement being taken out of context it is because doing so has done an injustice to the material. But to the extent the apophthegm may have provided Asimov’s inspiration, his saying was offered with just the same degree of disapproval of the abusers.

    By the way, this might also be my only opportunity to flash away by taking note of the duodiphthong in “apophthegm.” It is likely the first time “duodiphthong” has appeared in this blog, while I’d be willing to bet you have already worked it into Alexiad somewhere along the line.

  4. For a moment I thought that when Heinlein spoke of “…a fat, gluttonous slob who was pursued all his life by a pathological fear of death” and a “…fat poltroon…” he may have been speaking of Asimov himself. It’s a relief that Heinlein meant Samuel Johnson. It seems odd that a man who himself appeared to have been frightened of his eventual, inevitable death should criticize another. I guess it made all the difference in the world to RAH that, afraid or not, he was willing to lay down his life for mystical, nation-state reasons.

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