A mighty pen

DSC_0296.jpgAre you an alumnus of the Norwegian Fulbright program?  The handsome Fulbright Peace and Enlightenment pen can be yours in two easy steps:

1. Tell someone about the Fulbright program.
2. Send an email to fulbright@fulbright.no, and tell us who you are and to what address we should send the pen.

“First resort of kings” – the distinctive www.fulbright.no “peace and enlightenment” pen.

In 1628, Cardinal Richelieu placed an order with a foundry in Amsterdam for 60 cannon for the French navy, inscribed with the motto “ultima ratio regum” – the “last argument of kings.” That motto would grace the guns of France for the next 150 years, reminding the world of the persuasive firepower of the Bourbon kings.

In English, “ultima ratio regum” is usually rendered as “the last resort of kings”; “resort” is a less artful translation than “argument,” since it misses the irony of  attributing “ratio” – powers of reason and logical argument – to cannons,  but it underscores effectively that war is not a variant, but the opposite, of argument.

In his magisterial history of U.S. cultural diplomacy in the 20th century, Richard Arndt argued that if war is the last resort of kings, then cultural diplomacy should surely be the first – and he chose “First Resort of Kings” as the highly appropriate title for that book.

“First resort of kings” is an equally suitable motto for the Fulbright program, which was conceived with the lofty objective of using international educational exchange and cross-cultural dialogue to preempt and, one may hope, ultimately eliminate, that last resort of kings, that ”faux argument” of cannon balls and warfare.

Senator Fulbright’s ambitious objective was indeed nothing less than to silence guns and cannons through cross-cultural exposure and dialogue. About the respective powers of “ratio” and armed force Fulbright once said: “In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.”

The handsome www.Fulbright.no flashlight pen is not, as some might be forgiven for thinking, a souvenir from a fancy hotel in Monte Carlo or Biarritz, but a symbol of both enlightenment and peace, which are in fact the means and end of the Fulbright program.  “First resort of kings” is engraved on the pen’s barrel, a small diode flashlight will provide light where there was none,  and – last but not least – you can write with it, making it far mightier than both sword and cannon.

p.s. – another relevant piece of Richelieu trivia: the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” was coined by the British novelist and politician Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) for his 1839 play “Richelieu” act2 sc.2:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.