Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak:  Reflections on Moral Prejudice. Morgenröte: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile (also could be translated as The Dawn).

Written and published in 1881.

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Our duties are the rights of others over us.  How did they acquire such rights?  By accepting us as partners capable of keeping contracts, of requital, by considering us as equals and by consequently entrusting something to us, by educating and supporting us.  We do our duty i.  e.  we justify that understanding of our power within which all these things were done for us.  We requite on the same terms and to the same proportion as we receive.  It is thus our pride that urges us to our duty—we re-establish our own standing when we give back to others what they have given to us – for when someone does something for us it reduces our power and this would remain so if we did not make requital by means of "duty" and thus encroach upon their power.  The rights of others can only relate to that which lies within our power; it would be unreasonable of them to require something from us which we cannot fulfil.  Or, more accurately, their rights can only relate to what they believe to be in our power and we must also believe that it is something that lies within our power.  The same error may easily occur on either side.  The feeling of duty depends upon our having the same belief regarding the extent of our power i.  e.  that we can promise certain things and are capable of doing them ("free will").  My rights are that part of my power which others have not only conceded to me but which they wish me to preserve.  Why is this so?  On the one hand they are motivated by prudence, fear and caution: whether they expect the same in return from us (the protection of their rights) or they consider a struggle with us as dangerous or inopportune or whether they see a disadvantage to themselves in any weakening of our power as we would then not be a fit partner for an alliance with them against a hostile third power.  On the other hand, rights are granted by donations and concessions.  In this case the other party has not only enough power but more than enough so that they can afford to give up a portion it and guarantee it to the person to whom they give it: they thereby presuppose a certain weakness in the perceived power of the person upon whom they have bestowed the gift.  In this way rights arise: as recognised and guaranteed degrees of power.  When power relations are materially changed rights disappear and new ones are formed as is demonstrated by the constant flux and reflux of the rights of nations.  When our power diminishes to any great extent the posture of those who to date guaranteed it changes: they reconsider whether they shall restore us to our former power and if not, they deny our "rights" from that time onwards.  In the same way, if our power increases significantly the posture of those who previously recognised it and whose recognition we no longer require will likewise change: they will then try to reduce our power to its former extent and they will endeavour to interfere in our affairs, justifying their interference by an appeal to their "duty".  But this is merely playing with words.  Where rights exist a certain state and degree of power is maintained and all attempts at its increase or reduction are resisted.  The right of others are the concession of our sense of power to the sense of power of others.  Whenever our power is weakened or broken our rights cease: on the other hand, when we have become much stronger the rights of others cease for us to be what we have to date taken them to be.  The man who aims at being fair therefore must keep a constant vigil for changes in balance of power in order that he may properly estimate the degrees of power and right - which with the customary transitoriness of human affairs retain their equilibrium for only a short time and in most cases continually rise and fall.  As a consequence it is thus very difficult to be "just" and requires much experience, good intentions and an unusually large dose of good sense.  
 

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