Wordsmith Weekend : La Rochefoucauld – Our Contemporary

Background and Introducing our philosopher

La Rochefoucauld was a French philosopher and writer of utmost brilliance of the 17th century. His philosophical fame rests on a 65 page slim book called Maxims and its relevance is increasing in each century. He is our contemporary for two reasons, first he was one of the greatest observers of human condition and in the age of social media, his genius of brevity and catching attention in first 3-4 seconds in a conversation in a Parisian salon full of vain and distracted people has tremendous significance. Our philosopher had a very eventful life filled with libel, imprisonment, poverty, ill-health and romantic disappointments but unlike most, he transformed all of these as a fuel for the propulsion of his spirit. He is part of the essential French spirit.

Social Media Genius in Paris Salon

A Parisian salon of his time can be considered the distracting and attention hungry world of social media today. Senses fight for attention and before one starts to read first few words of a post (listening to a conversation), a bewitchingly seductive video pops up or in his days, an apple tart as snacks. The fundamental problem then is how to deliver your message ? Unlike many philosophers, Rochefoucauld considered presentation and delivery of the message as important as the message itself. This is a great act of kindness – a compassion which can be felt only by those who are trying to deliver any significant message to the vain, self-obsessed, attention-seeking and distracted souls.

Methods in the Maxims

The goal, the most important goal of a communicator is to catch the attention of the listener / reader in first 3-4 seconds and then get his approval to go in a form of suspended judgment and then slowly at the end deliver the sting or the essential message. He foresaw Twitter’s 140 character limitation three hundred years back. His genius lies in mixing everyday life and its vanities, prose, literature, wisdom, philosophy in a whole package and then delivering in a form and mode that sharpened his craft. Instead of complaining the idiocies and imbecilities of common people as many philosophers and thinkers have done, he has used this as a springboard to create an Art form in itself.

I. We all have strength enough to bear the misfortune of others.

II. There are some people who would have never fallen in love if they had not heard that there was such a thing

III. He who refuses praise for the first time wants to hear it offered the second time.

IV. Lovers never get tired of talking with each other, possibly because they talk about themselves and nothing else.

V. To say that one never flirts is in itself a form of flirtation.

VI. The only person we think normal are those whom we don’t know very well.


He lies everywhere in French prose, thinking and culture. The first book my French teacher gave me to read was Maxims with this brilliant and useful advice : here is the essence of French spirit in its most concentrated spirit form.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s