Pascal – Maintaining prestige with humility

In 1670, Pascal warned in his Three Discourses on the Condition of the Great:

The people who admire you may not know this secret. They believe that nobility is a real greatness and they consider the great as being of a different nature than others. Do not discover this error, if you wish; but do not abuse this elevation with insolence and especially do not misunderstand yourselves by believing that your being has something higher than the others.

This is an attack, intended or not, on Jean Bodin and all the theory he has elaborated about the nature of sovereignty, which rises above the people and comes from God.

Pascal here is addressing the nobles, or those who are hierarchically higher. In no way does this mean that their being, the very essence that makes them men, is of an equally higher nature than the people in general, or than any human being.

He thus proposes to these nobles, or “great ones”, to continue to preserve the prestige of their function, but never to forget what the reality is: that they are not different from other human beings in their nature.

Pascal thus desacralizes the nobility and more generally the men of power. Let us specify that he seems to be one of the only ones to do it, since he starts by saying “The people who admire you perhaps do not know this secret,” the people being then fooled and duped.

It is not a question for the great ones to make themselves smaller in the eyes of the people, but to make themselves small, to know the limits of their power.

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