Oct 192011

Here is another dg epigram at the international affairs magazine Global Brief. Global Brief is an amazing and ambitious magazine, the inspiration of the editor Irvin Studin, who finds his writers all over the world (the online part of the magazine features blogs in several languages). The current issue features an interview with Steven Pinker, an essay on three tragedies of humanitarian intervention, a piece on international criminal justice and a prophetic text on the complex future of Israel—to name a few.


Magnanimity heals the rift; ruthlessness seeks to erase the opponent. Both are tools of what we nowadays call conflict resolution. Yet history abounds with cautionary tales. In 1836, Santa Anna was ruthless at the Alamo and Goliad, raising the red flag signifying No Quarter, only to inspire the rag-tag Texians at San Jacinto. After the Second Punic War, Scipio Africanus was surprisingly magnanimous toward the defeated Carthaginians, which only led to the Third Punic War (after which the Romans ruthlessly sowed the ruins of Carthage with salt, and resolved that conflict for good).

Ruthlessness means without pity – without those second thoughts about the feelings of others that plague the well-brought-up human. Mexican drug lords popping victims into oil drums filled with acid are ruthless. Pol Pot was ruthless, as were Hitler and Vlad the Impaler. Andrew Jackson sending the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears was ruthless. Harry Truman bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was ruthless. But Gandhi was ruthless, too, in his own way, and maybe even Martin Luther King Jr. (a case could be made).

Read the rest at On Magnanimity and Ruthlessness : Global Brief.

  12 Responses to “On Magnanimity and Ruthlessness : Douglas Glover at Global Brief”

  1. “And the sad truth is that most humans are neither ruthless nor magnanimous, but merely short-sighted, middling, decent or vicious, as the case may be, and terribly muddled as to motive.”


  2. A very cool, fascinatingly economic piece, DG. I really liked all the tension, history, and context you wove into such a brief space.

  3. Another enlightening epigram in a series of enlightening epigrams! Thank you, dg!

    • Thanks, Natalia, Martin & Gary: They are extended aphorisms. Interesting to assemble and then follow the thought.

    • Thank you. Quite an all-star team you’ve assembled here, of the ruthless and magnanimous. Maybe it’s reassuring, to be among the muddled and confused?

  4. Here’s an example of carelessness (in its full meaning), decency, and ruthlessness untempered by magnanimity

    I think that the average ordinary person IS sometimes capable of magnanimity and/or ruthlessness.

  5. If the ruthless American bankers can turn magnanimous overnight!

  6. If ONLY!

  7. Rarely, if ever, has a piece simultaneously and acutely made me feel so depressed, entertained and educated. (I mean that as a compliment, if it wasn’t apparent.)

  8. Ah, the yin and yang of the inner life, writ large across history!

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