The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Wednesday’s Maxim

June 8, 2005

Guicciardini on the perils of bandwagoning (allying with the strong against the weak), and generally of being a minor power:

I was in Spain when the news came that the Venetians had made an alliance with the king of France against His Catholic Majesty. Upon hearing it, Almazano, his Secretary, told me a Castilian proverb which says in effect that the thread breaks where it is weakest. What it means is that the weakest always get it in the neck; for men do not act according to reason or consideration of others. Rather each seeks his own advantage, and all agree to make the weakest suffer because he is the one they least fear. If you have to deal with those stronger than you, always remember this proverb, for it is a matter of everyday reality. (Series C, 144)

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.