- There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires. [Jawaharlal Nehru, The Unity of India: Collected Writings 1937-1940; later quoted by Nelson Mandela.]
- . . . politics as the art of the possible. [Otto von Bismarck]
Which is better: steadfast scrupulousness or flexible compromise? The question defies a definitive answer. Without Nelson Mandela’s unwillingness to yield to the injustice he experienced, over decades in prison, South African apartheid might not have been dismantled when it was. On the other hand, Barack Obama presided over the passage of national health care legislation in the United States, producing legislation that was less ambitious than could have been achieved a generation earlier through compromise.
Choosing between steadfastness and flexibility requires wisdom, the ability to read people and situations, and a solid set of values. These two virtues, which are also shortcomings in some situations, must be considered together.
The political battle over slavery in the United States is often cited as an example of principle versus compromise.
- Fergus M. Bordewich, America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (Simon & Schuster, 2012): “The final resolution of the twin problems of slavery and nationhood would not come until it was written in blood.”
- Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012): “With standoffs looming on several fronts, we cannot know at present whether meaningful compromise can be reached, and whether reason or passion will win the day.”
Most of the works by and about Nelson Mandela illustrate steadfastness but the book by John Carlin shows how Mandela became a crafty political leader who understood and practiced the value of compromise.
- Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom (1973).
- Barry Denenberg, Nelson Mandela: No Easy Walk to Freedom (Turtleback, 1991).
- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Little, Brown and Company, 1994).
- Tom Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press, 2006).
- Nelson Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography (Little, Brown and Company, 1996).
- Anthony Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Autobiography (Knopf, 1999).
- Nelson Mandela, Conversations With Myself (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).
- David James Smith, Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years (Little, Brown and Company, 2010).
- John Carlin, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation (Penguin Press, HC, 2008).
- Sean Wilentz, The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016). “His thesis is easily stated: Politicians serve the country best when the learn the art of compromise through party-building and not when they stand, prophet-like, outside the fray delivering secular, and sometimes overtly religious, sermons.”
- Nelson Mandela
- Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity (1912)
Film and Stage
- Sergeant York, the biographical drama about Alvin York, a conscientious objector who became the army’s most decorated soldier in World War I: some people may think pacifist and skilled killer to be incompatible ideals but apparently York saw a deeper principle in defense of country.
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: a Western in which a political figure philosophizes on the compromises necessary to bring order to the Old West
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Along with others, swing-era jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton earned the title “mainstreamer” by straddling the line between swing revival and modernism. He in particular struck this balance creatively and intelligently.
- “How Hi the Fi” album (1954)
- “Basel 1961” album
- “One for Buck” album (1961)
- “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” album
- “Copenhagen Concerts” album
- compilation of tracks
- The Huckle-Buck
- Robbins’ Nest
- All the Cats Join In
- Outer Drive
- All of Me