“You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

Let’s start the week with some poetic inspiration.

The excellent Netflix series “The Crown” launched its fourth season yesterday, with Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, delivering a brilliant portrayal of “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) warns the Prime Minister that she is making enemies, and she responds by reciting from memory this poem, which I had never heard or read before.

You Have No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Mackay is not well-known in the U.S., and he was a marginal literary figure in England. But in 2019, a confidante of Thatcher’s revealed that she turned to the writings of Mackay for solace and inspiration, particularly “Enemies,” which she kept in her scrapbook.

I’d describe the poem as a simpler, more direct predecessor of Theodore’s Roosevelt’s famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. (Teddy did go on.) Mackay’s poem has the advantage of being suitable for children, who need to be taught, as do almost all of our current politicians, that popularity isn’t everything.

12 thoughts on ““You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

  1. Ironically, in the 1966 semi-antiwar (I say semi because it’s still got plenty of action and by the end of the film the action fans had what they came for) film “The Sand Pebbles,” one of the last things that Steve McQueen’s rebellious Jake Holman says before he tells by-the-book Lt. Collins (Richard Crenna) to leave, that he is going to stay with Candice Bergen’s idealistic Shirley Eckert is “I don’t got no more enemies.” Unfortunately the enemy didn’t get the memo.

    There’s no need to gratuitously make enemies by being an asshole and a bully, as a good chunk of the civil rights and plaintiffs’ bar could stand to learn. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to do it because your first loyalty has to be to your client, not good relations with other attorneys. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if doing so costs you later. You need an adjournment? Mmmhmm, that’s almost as funny as the time you fought me on that adjournment when I was going away on vacation. Go to hell. You need me to throw in a few bucks to make this settlement happen? Mmmhmm, I still remember the time you were nasty to me in that deposition. I won’t put a dime on this.

    However, I agree that popularity isn’t everything, and those who pursue it and value it more than being principled and getting the job done are foolish.

  2. One of my favorite, and most prescient, quotes is attributed to Mackay from his Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

    Men, It Has Been Well Said, Think In Herds; It Will Be Seen That They Go Mad In Herds, While They Only Recover Their Senses Slowly, And One By One.

    • The whole Trump era has brought to my attention that more than a few of the people I thought were my friends were in fact enemies. Simply because, evidently, I was not apoplectically opposed to Trump’s even existing. Such a strange thing to have happen as a nearly seventy year-old. Depressing, actually, when I think about it.

        • I wonder whether even though Trump will be off the stage emails from people will still contain the evidently obligatory snide comment about something Trump related. I’m just not sure Trump derangement will clear up very quickly. Its victims seem so comfortable in their symptoms.

  3. When I was new, an old faculty member told me that he never voted in favor of tenure or promotion of anyone who didn’t have a few nasty student evaluations. He said that if none of the students was unhappy with the class, then you weren’t pushing any of them to learn the most they could and become better. That has stuck with me all these years. I am usually criticized when I express that opinion. There are very few faculty with any negative student evaluation comments.

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