Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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The Characteristics of Corruption.

Let us observe the following characteristics in that condition of society from time to time necessary, which is designated by the word "corruption."  Immediately upon the appearance of corruption anywhere, a motley superstition gets the upper hand, and the hitherto universal belief of a people becomes colourless and impotent in comparison with it; for superstition is freethinking of the second rank, he who gives himself over to it selects certain forms and formulae which appeal to him, and permits himself a right of choice.  The superstitious man is always much more of a "person," in comparison with the religious man, and a superstitious society will be one in which there are many individuals and a delight in individuality.  Seen from this standpoint superstition always appears as a progress in comparison with belief, and as a sign that the intellect becomes more independent and claims to have its rights.  Those who reverence the old religion and the religious disposition then complain of corruption, they have hitherto also determined the usage of language, and have given a bad repute to superstition, even among the freest spirits.  Let us learn that it is a symptom of enlightenment.  Secondly, a society in which corruption takes a hold is blamed for effeminacy: for the appreciation of war, and the delight in war, perceptibly diminish in such a society, and the conveniences of life are now just as eagerly sought after as were military and gymnastic honours formerly.  But one is accustomed to overlook the fact that the old national energy and national passion, which acquired a magnificent splendour in war and in the tourney, has now transferred itself into innumerable private passions, and has merely become less visible; indeed in periods of "corruption "the quantity and quality of the expended energy of a people is probably greater than ever, and the individual spends it lavishly, to such an extent as could not be done formerly he was not then rich enough to do so!  And thus it is precisely in times of "effeminacy "that tragedy runs at large in and out of doors, it is then that ardent love and ardent hatred are born, and the flame of knowledge flashes heaven ward in full blaze.  Thirdly, as if in amends for the reproach of superstition and effeminacy, it is customary to say of such periods of corruption that they are milder, and that cruelty has then greatly diminished in comparison with the older, more credulous, and stronger period.  But to this praise I am just as little able to assent as to that reproach: I only grant so much namely, that cruelty now becomes more refined, and its older forms are henceforth counter to the taste; but the wounding and torturing by word and look reaches its highest development in times of corruption, it is now only that wickedness is created, and the delight in wickedness.  The men of the period of corruption are witty and slandering; they know that there are yet other ways of murdering than by the dagger and the ambush - they know also that all that is well said is believed in.  Fourthly, it is when "morals decay "that those beings whom one calls tyrants first make their appearance; they are the forerunners of the individual, and as it were early matured firstlings.  Yet a little while, and this fruit of fruits hangs ripe and yellow on the tree of a people, and only for the sake of such fruit did this tree exist!  When the decay has reached its worst, and likewise the conflict of all sorts of tyrants, there always arises the Caesar, the final tyrant, who puts an end to the exhausted struggle for sovereignty, by making the exhaustedness work for him.  In his time the individual is usually most mature, and consequently the "culture" is highest and most fruitful, but not on his account nor through him: although the men of highest culture love to flatter their Caesar by pretending that they are his creation.  The truth, however, is that they need quietness externally, because they have disquietude and labour internally.  In these times bribery and treason are at their height: for the love of the ego, then first discovered, is much more powerful than the love of the old, used-up, hackneyed "father land"; and the need to be secure in one way or other against the frightful fluctuations of fortune, opens even the nobler hands, as soon as a richer and more powerful person shows himself ready to put gold into them.  There is then so little certainty with regard to the future; people live only for the day: a psychical condition which enables every deceiver to play an easy game, people of course only let themselves be misled and bribed "for the present," and reserve for themselves futurity and virtue.  The individuals, as is well known, the men who only live for themselves, provide for the moment more than do their opposites, the gregarious men, because they consider themselves just as incalcul able as the future; and similarly they attach themselves willingly to despots, because they believe themselves capable of activities and expedients, which can neither reckon on being understood by the multitude, nor on finding favour with but the tyrant or the Caesar understands the right of the individual even in his excesses, and has an interest in speaking on behalf of a bolder private morality, and even in giving his hand to it For he thinks of himself, and wishes people to think of him what Napoleon once uttered in his classica stv le_- I have the right to answer by an eternal thus I am to everything about which complaint is brought against me.  I am apart from all the world, I accept conditions from nobody.  I wish people also to submit to my fancies, and to take it quite as a simple matter, if I should indulge in this or that diversion."  Thus spoke Napoleon once to his wife, when she had reasons for calling in question the fidelity of her husband.  - of corruption are the seasons when the apples fall from the tree: I mean the individuals, the seed- bearers of the future, the pioneers of spiritual colonisation, and of a new construction of national and social unions.  Corruption is only an abusive term for the autumn of a people.  
 

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