The Wolf and the Lamb: “The reason of the strongest is always the best”?

In La Fontaine’s The Wolf and the Lamb, the dialog between the two animals illustrates not the violence tyrants exercise against the weak but their attempt to justify brutality. As a predator, the wolf is subjected to his aggressive and cruel impulses. Throughout the fable, the wolf resorts to a language of threats, hatred, and coercion, tries to justify the impending murder of the lamb by accusing him of false crimes and misdemeanours. His arguments are absurd but he nonetheless manages to reject the lamb’s rational counter-arguments. As he finds excuses for his tyranny, the lamb loses control and his voice is silenced: “The wolf carries the lamb, and then eats him. Without any other why or wherefore.”


La Fontaine story about power relations and the senselessness of the powerful still resonates today. Dictators such as Bashar Al Assad will always try to justify violent repression. What is surprising about La Fontaine’s fable is the sense of fatality: from the start of the fable, we know implicitly that the wolf is going to succeed, violence will triumph. The wolf may be the intruder in the story but his bad faith and cruelty are stronger than the lamb’s natural rights.


The parallel may be somewhat far-fetched or incongruous. However, what I want to say is that the strongest should not be allowed to succeed he should not be allowed to justify violence and tyranny. What is also missing in this fable is a third character. When La Fontaine wrote the fable, he wanted to denounce King Louis XIV authoritarianism and absolute monarchy. But we are not in the 17th century anymore. According to international principles, leaders do no longer have absolute power over their people anymore. If he is unable or unwilling to protect them, a third actor has a responsibility to act. I am not calling for military intervention here. In Syria, the situation has gotten so bad that it is difficult to say what the solution is. Some argue that we should arm the rebels, for example. My point is that we are not doing enough. We speak of “red lines not to be crossed” but where is that red line and if crossed, what will the international community do? There is a need for some kind of political action. After two years of conflict, the deadlock faced by the international community in Syria only helps Bashar Al Assad and contributes to the silencing of “the lamb.”


The French version of the fable ends with the following sentence: “Sans autre forme de procès” which could perhaps be translated as “without due process” or “without any form of judgment.” Once and for all, we should not let the Syrian regime get away with it or we will have to held accountable for or lack of action as well.

I will leave you a cartoon drawn by Chappatte in “Le Temps” (Geneva)



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