Faustian bargain

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From the medieval legend of Faust, who made a contract with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The story first appeared in print in an anonymously written chapbook, Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1587),[1] which purported to contain tales about the life of the German alchemist and magician Johann Georg Faust (c. 1466 or 1480 – c. 1541). It was particularly popularized by two plays, Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragicall History of D. Faustus (first published 1604)[2] and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (published 1808 and 1832).[3]



Faustian bargain (plural Faustian bargains)

  1. (idiomatic) An agreement in which a person abandons his or her spiritual values or moral principles in order to obtain knowledge, wealth or other benefits.
    Synonym: deal with the devil
    The university’s abandonment of its founding value of academic freedom in exchange for the corporation’s large financial contribution was a Faustian bargain.
    • 1908 August, “The Bookman’s Letter Box”, in The Bookman: An Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Life, volume XXVII, New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead and Company [], →OCLC, section I, page 558, column 1:
      Most people nowadays, in this country at least, do not seem to be able to see anything else but money. They would cheerfully sell their souls to hell for it. Quite a number of them, according to the tencent magazines, have already made this Faustian bargain.
    • 1950, Frank Yerby, chapter 16, in Floodtide, New York, N.Y.: The Dial Press, →OCLC, page 291:
      I've made my Faustian bargain—for this woman, I've sold my immortal soul …
    • 2003, Anne C. Petty, Tolkien in the Land of Heroes: Discovering the Human Spirit, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Press, →ISBN, page 107:
      A number of characters in Middle-earth engage in some kind of Faustian bargain where they are tempted with promises of power, wealth, and status. This is how Sauron ensnares the kings of men and dwarves with the elf-crafted rings of power.
    • 2004 July, Brett A. Berliner, “Mephistopheles and Monkeys: Rejuvenation, Race, and Sexuality in Popular Culture in Interwar France”, in Journal of the History of Sexuality, volume 13, number 3, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press; Austin, Tx.: University of Texas Press, →ISSN, →JSTOR, →OCLC, page 309:
      Rejuvenation was associated with a reinvigorated sex drive, and this connection generated an anxiety expressed in the Faustian bargain: damnation for a few extra years of carnal pleasure.
  2. (idiomatic) A deal in which one focuses on present gain without considering the long-term consequences.
    • 1974 October, Joel Primack, Frank von Hippel, “Nuclear Reactor Safety: The Origins and Issues of a Vital Debate”, in Samuel H. Day, Jr., editor, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, volume XXX, number 8, Chicago, Ill.: Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 5, column 1:
      It has been remarked that all technology is a Faustian bargain: one obtains conveniences and sometimes luxuries, but in exchange one gets an increased potential for catastrophe.
    • 1992 June, Henry J. Reske, “What Price Prosecution?: Critics Claim Noriega Guilty Verdict Costly in Lives, ‘Faustian Bargains’”, in ABA Journal: The Lawyer’s Magazine, volume 78, Chicago, Ill.: American Bar Association, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 20, column 1:
      And the law's long arm loosened its grip on some drug dealers when prosecutors offered them deals for their testimony. "The government was hell-bent on convicting [Manuel] Noriega no matter what the cost," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice. "When you look at some of the Faustian bargains that were struck, you have to wonder: Did we really have to burn the village down in order to save it?"
    • 1997 July 21, Brian Bremner, Emily Thornton, “Blackmail!: A Rash of Scandals and a Government Crackdown are Showing how Mob-linked Investors—the Sokaiya—Prey on some of Japan’s Biggest Companies. Can Business Break Free?”, in Businessweek[1], archived from the original on 19 December 2019:
      But for decades, many executives actually employed sokaiya as muscle to keep unruly investors in check during their choreographed annual meetings. [...] Yet executives' reliance on mobsters turned out to be a Faustian bargain. By the 1970s, the sokaiya had figured out how to become stockholders themselves and threaten to ask embarrassing questions at annual meetings.
    • 2011 March 10, Ellen Barry, “Plain speaking from Biden in Moscow speech”, in The New York Times[2], archived from the original on 25 April 2012:
      Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. [...] used a speech at Moscow State University to criticize Russia’s legal and political systems, a move likely to irritate the country's leaders. [...] “I urge all you students here: Don’t compromise on the basic elements of democracy. You need not make that Faustian bargain.”


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historia von D. Johann Fausten, dem weitbeschreyten Zauberer und Schwartzkünstler, wie er sich gegen den Teuffel auff eine benandte Zeit verschrieben [...] bis er endtlich seinen wol verdienten Lohn empfangen. Mehrentheils aus seinen eygenen hinterlassenen Schriften [...] zusammengezogen [...] [The History of Dr. Johann Fausten, the Greatly Bewitched Magician and Practitioner of the Black Arts, how He Committed Himself to the Devil for a Certain Time until He [...] Finally Received His Deserved Reward. Much of It has been Summarized from His Own Writings Left Behind [...]], Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Johann Spies, 1587, →OCLC.
  2. ^ Ch[risopher] Marl[owe] (1604) The Tragicall History of D. Faustus: [], London: Printed by V[alentine] S[immes] for Thomas Bushell, →OCLC.
  3. ^ [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe (1808) Faust. Eine Tragödie. [Faust. A Tragedy.], Tübingen: In der J[ohann] G[eorg] Cotta'schen Buchhandlung, →OCLC; [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe (1832) Faust. Der Tragödie zweyter Theil in fünf Acten. [Faust. The Second Part of the Tragedy in Five Acts.] (Goethe’s nachgelassene Werke [Goethe’s Posthumous Works]; 1), Tübingen: [Johann Georg] Cotta, →OCLC.

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