Microcosmographia Academica

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Microcosmographia Academica, literally meaning "A Study of a Tiny Academic World" in Greek, is a short pamphlet on university politics written by F. M. Cornford and published in 1908. It has acquired a small cult following as a pessimistic view of academic politics presented in a readable and lively style. However, the pamphlet is best known for its discussion of such things as "The Thin End of The Wedge" and "The Dangerous Precedent":

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Although it was written for an audience familiar with the procedures of the University of Cambridge at the turn of the twentieth century, Microcosmographia Academica could apply to any political system and is reminiscent of the British television comedy Yes Minister; a portion of the dialogue in one episode of that programme, "Doing the Honours", closely follows Cornford's text.

Gordon Johnson included Microcosmographia Academica in his short book about the politics of the University of Cambridge, and the original text is preceded by a much longer description of the background against which Cornford was writing.


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