Daily Rhetricks

Daily Rhetrick: October 11, 2018

October 11, 2018


I can’t quote it exactly, but one of La Rouchefoucauld’s maxims goes something like this: The faults we see most readily in others are our own.

Today that personal dynamic is called projection. Projection is the unconscious psychological coping mechanism that foists off on others one’s own undesirable internal feelings. Yesterday in an article in the New York Times, Peter Baker applies the word projection to Donald Trump. He notes that at recent rallies Trump has called Democrats “angry,” a “mob,” “wacko,” “mentally deranged”—the exact criticism that has been leveled at Trump himself during his months in office. Six days ago, he tweeted that the two women who confronted Senator Jeff Flake at the elevator were “paid professionals,” apparently forgetting that he once hired Tony Schwartz to ghostwrite The Art of the Deal. September 25, standing on the steps of the United Nations building in New York City, Trump said that the Democrats and the women who had accused Brett Kavanaugh were playing “a con game—they are really con artists.” Has he forgotten that Marco Rubio repeatedly called him a “con artist” during the 2016 campaign, and that the New Yorker published a prominent article in March of 2016 entitled, “Donald Trump, Con Artist?”

The easiest rhetorical trick is to accuse your opponent of your own faults, easy because also psychologically consoling.

Please let me know if you can identify the exact maxim of La Rouchefoucauld.

4 thoughts on “Daily Rhetrick: October 11, 2018”

  1. Can’t find that exact La Rochefoucauld quote, but here’s something a bit closer to home: “It takes one to know one.”

    But that implies some sort of equivalence, which in Trump’s case is risible. When it comes to low character, Trump trumps everyone!

  2. Quick note…

    ¶ I don’t think the sentence occurs in La Rochefoucauld. Here’s why. ¶ I have a book here: _Concordance to the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld_ (Univ. Press of Colorado, 1996). I went to the entries for “défauts” (“faults”). There were thirty-eight of ’em; not one means anything like “The faults we perceive in others are our own.” ¶ Then I skimmed the first 250 maxims, looking for some other way of expressing the sentiment in question without recourse to the word “faults.” Result: zip. ¶ Does any of this prove the sentence isn’t in there? It doesn’t. But I, anyhow, am satisfied that, somewhere along the food chain, someone either misremembered or misattributed.

    1. Anthony, sorry your search came up empty. If anybody misremembered, it was me.
      On Wikisource, you can find a searchable French text of all of La Rochefoucauld’s maxims, including those added after his death, those suppressed, and those omitted from later editions https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Maximes#371
      I found two that come close to my recollection: “The faults we see most readily in others are our own”
      (1) Tout le monde trouve à redire en autrui ce qu’on trouve à redire en lui. (We all find fault in others what others find fault in us.)
      (2) Le même orgueil qui nous fait blâmer les défauts dont nous nous croyons exempts, nous porte à mépriser les bonnes qualités que nous n’avons pas. (The same pride that causes us to blame faults of which we believe ourselves free leads us to scorn the good qualities we don’t have.)
      Circulating around the Net is also a maxim attributed to La Rochefoucauld, one I couldn’t find in the French: ‘”If we had no faults we should not take so much pleasure in noticing those in others.”
      So I agree that I am misremembering. My only excuse is that I have remembered and re-remembered from a Spanish translation of the Maximes that I found in the library of the University of the Americas (Cholula, Mexico) nearly forty years ago.

  3. The one you can’t find in the French is #31: Si nous n’avions point de défauts, nous ne prendrions pas tant de plaisir à en remarquer dans les autres.

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