The fable says openly what other texts (must) conceal

“The Wolf and the Lamb – the law of might is right” (La Fontaine)

by Peter Küpfer

“A thirsty little lamb is feeding at a clear brook. Suddenly a wolf appears, furious.
  How dare you, roars the hungry beast of prey, wade around here in my watering hole and muddy the water for me, me of all people!
  But, Your Highness, interjects the sheep, how could that be? Your Majesty will be so kind as to consider: I am standing much further down the stream than Your Royal Highness, so I can’t possibly ...
  What there, interrupts the beast, I see what I see. Anyway: last year you insulted me publicly, with your unwashed mouth.
  I, reviled you? How say your Majesty – last year? I wasn’t even born then.
  If it wasn’t you, it was your brother!
  I have no brother.
  Then it was another rascal, one of you over there, from your clan. I know you already. You won’t leave me alone. You’re always after me, you scum, the whole bloody lot of you. I have no life any more, you and your shepherds, with your sticks and bloodthirsty dogs. I know, I’ve been told everything, I’ve had enough. I must take revenge on you!
  Having said this, he grabs the poor lamb and drags it into the forest. There he makes short work of it. He kills it and eats it up entirely, to its bare bones.”

(La Fontaine, The Wolf and the Lamb, retold from the original French text)

This is one of La Fontaine’s master fables (Fables I, X, Le loup et l’agneau – The Wolf and the Lamb). It always gets under my skin anew, despite or perhaps because of its cool, cuttingly matter-of-fact language, and this in the face of a crying injustice. In the French original, in the master’s polished verse and in his inimitable brevity (in La Fontaine, every word counts), it is unrivalled. And all the more outrageous is its content.

Intent to kill

Nothing helps here against the intention to kill that was there from the beginning. A similar feeling of bewilderment sets in as, for example, when we read today’s UN reports on what has been going on for decades in other parts of our world, what has been happening again and again, with regard to injustice and crimes against humanity. These reports are available in the archives of the UN, in reams and piles and stacks; they trouble no-one there. They meticulously describe the war atrocities taking place every day on the hundreds of currently ongoing crises and so-called “civil war” fronts in our war-ravaged world. The very language of these reports, which are supposed to be “objective”, often breathes the systematic lie hidden in them: “civil war”, “rebellion”, “rebel troops”. In reality, these are often wars created from outside, so-called proxy wars, fought precisely not by citizens but by mercenary armies acting on orders that come from elsewhere, miles away. These are wounds and poorly healing, often permanent scars on our globe. In the investigative reports mentioned above, acts, places, times, circumstances, even names are also mentioned, page after page, in hard-to-bear enumerative factual language, and behind each there are people and fates – hard to bear reading in the face of the monstrosities they describe. And even more unbearable is the knowledge that these reports have little or no consequences, at least when they name settings that are somewhat removed from “the world” (“our” world, of course!) for example in Africa, for example in Eastern Congo.

Arbitrariness without consequences

Similarly, there are no consequences in La Fontaine’s sober fable. There is, perhaps, one difference: the “justification” offered by the slayer of this lamb is so arbitrary and screamingly stupid that it would make us laugh, were it not for the poor victim doomed to die.

Is injustice easier to “bear”, when shaped in this highly artistic form by La Fontaine? Hardly so, as injustice remains injustice. Through the strong stylisation on simple role models, as the fable is wont to show, the arbitrary contempt for every conception of justice only stands out all the more strongly. Here the attempt to stop or at least reduce the looming disaster through politeness, objectivity and reference to facts – there the blatant, droning, mocking, accusatory, even sentimental construction of an enemy image that ignores all facts (you sheep destroy my life by resisting being eaten by me!). The rhetoric used by the wolf obviously only serves the attacker’s intention to convince himself of a motive for his act of aggression. In terms fashionable today, the wolf’s gathering of reasons for his attack could be taken as a prime example of what many now call hate speech. While the clever and almost overly gentle sheep meets the wall of prejudices and arbitrary accusations with arguments, reason and a good dose of politeness, the interest-driven murderous accuser (he is both judge and executioner) confronts it with ever new, ever more absurd accusations, allegations and disparagements. There is a shift from “you” (you have insulted me – lèse majesté! ) to “he” (if it wasn’t you, then it was your brother), which factually corresponds to the illegitimate clan liability practised by the Nazi regime; then a collective guilt is built up with clumsy generalisations (I know you, you scum, that’s just how you are); finally, an unnamed, highly implausible witness is invoked as “proof” (On me l’a dit – it was told to me, it says in the original text). Told by whom, on what occasion and with what degree of credibility? – That all remains unmentioned.
  That sounds like the present. In our factual reality, NATO, together with the servile EU, is working to enforce worldwide its self-fabricated, strongly West-orientated “systems of rules”, if necessary, with a strong rapid reaction force of 300,000 men (or women?), as Jens Stoltenberg triumphantly proclaims. For the EU leadership and its comrades-in-arms, these systems of rules also include the above-mentioned EU fight against public hate speech. The EU is the follower of an American president who publicly dubbed the president of the “other side” a “killer” (long before 24 February). Is that not “hate speech” “sanctioned” by the highest politician of the country? Only recently, the self-proclaimed defender of “our” freedom had a supposedly criminal “terrorist chief” liquidated with a drone (in the purest mafia manner: only the hit is important, collateral damage is accepted!). This is a style based on one thing: the pure arrogance of power.

Criticism of absolutism

This insincere “game” was already seen through by a writer like La Fontaine, even if he chose the cautious form of the fable to denounce what was at his time pure power politics obvious to many. Every somewhat educated French reader knew who was really meant by the ravenous wolf (Louis XIV, the ruler of France, which had become a world power). La Fontaine cunningly concealed the fact that the brutal wolf meant no one other than the king by his use of the obligatory form of address for royalty at the time, formulas at the disposal of the clever lamb: “Sire” and “Votre Majésté”. La Fontaine took a clear stand by making use of the fable, a stand for the defenceless, against the arrogance of power. Its bogus legitimation applied “for the audience” cannot hide the fact: The wolf murders an innocent being, not out of necessity, not out of self-defence, not even out of revenge for an injustice, no: out of pure greed. Any “argument”, crudely crafted as it may be, is fine with him to cover this up. In this way, the fable makes him not simply the symbol of a man of power, but the symbol of an inhuman politics, of the madness of a rule detached from all law.  •

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