A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The proverb has a literal meaning, although the ‘weakest link’ referred to is figurative and usually applies to a person or technical feature rather than the link of an actual chain.
It is clearly a literal fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The conversion of that notion into a figurative phrase was established in the language by the 18th century. Thomas Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, 1786, included this line:
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