He Had Their Number
Almost all men are obsessed by the desire to prove that they are greater than they are; writers are obsessed by the desire to prove that they are statesmen. Consequently, throughout the centuries all great operations of extrajudiciary force, all recourse to illegal measures in situations of danger, have been recounted with respect, described with satisfaction. The author, seated tranquilly at his desk, casts opinions in all directions and tries to infuse his own style with the rapidity he advocates for decision making; he momentarily believes himself invested with power, as he preaches its abuses; and his speculative life is fired with all the demonstrations of force and power with which he embellishes his sentences. Thus, he endows himself with something of the pleasure of authority. He repeats at the top of his voice high-sounding words about the people’s salvation, the supreme law, the public interest; he waxes ecstatic at his own profundity and is amazed at his own energy. Poor fool! He speaks to men who ask nothing better than to listen to him and who, at the earliest opportunity, will use him to test his theory.
This vanity, which has distorted the judgment of so many writers, has created more difficulties than one would think during our civil conflicts. All the mediocre spirits who have won a share of authority were inflated with these maxims, which stupidity welcomed all the more readily since they served to cut the knots it could not disentangle. The fools dreamed of nothing but measures of public safety, great measures, coups d’état.
(Benjamin Constant On the Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation, quoted in The Ruin of Kasch by Roberto Calasso.)