Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten).

The Wanderer and his Shadow, the second supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1880.


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The Praise of Disinterestedness and its Origin.  Between two neighbouring chieftains there was a long standing quarrel: they laid waste each other's territories, stole cattle, and burnt down houses, with an indecisive result on the whole, because their power was fairly equal.  A third, who from the distant situation of his property was able to keep aloof from these feuds, yet had reason to dread the day when one of the two neighbours should gain a decisive preponderance, at last intervened between the combatants with ceremonial goodwill.  Secretly he lent a heavy weight to his peace proposal by giving either to understand that he would henceforth join forces with the other against the one who strove to break the peace.  They met in his presence, they hesitatingly placed into his hand the hands that had hitherto been the tools and only too often the causes of hatred — and then they really and seriously tried to keep the peace.  Either saw with astonishment how suddenly his prosperity and his comfort increased; how he now had as neighbour a dealer ready to buy and sell instead of a treacherous or openly scornful evil doer; how even, in unforeseen troubles, they could reciprocally save each other from distress, instead of, as before, making capital out of this distress of his neighbour and enhancing it to the highest degree.  It even seemed as if the human type had improved in both countries, for the eyes had become brighter, the forehead had lost its wrinkles; all now felt confidence in the future — and nothing is more advantageous for the souls and bodies of men than this confidence.  They saw each other every year on the anniversary of the alliance, the chieftains as well as their retinue, and indeed before the eyes of the mediator, whose mode of action they admired and revered more and more, the greater the profit that they owed to him became.  Then his mode of action was called disinterested.  They had looked far too fixedly at the profit they had reaped themselves hitherto to see anything more of their neighbour's method of dealing than that his condition in consequence of this had not altered so much as their own; he had rather remained the same: and thus it appeared that the former had not had his profit in view.  For the first time people said to themselves that disinterestedness was a virtue.  It is true that in minor private matters similar circumstances had arisen, but men only had eyes for this virtue when it was depicted on the walls in a large script that was legible to the whole community.  Moral qualities are not recognised as virtues, endowed with names, held in esteem, and recommended as worthy of acquisition until the moment when they have visibly decided the happiness and destiny of whole societies.  For then the loftiness of sentiment and the excitation of the inner creative forces is in many so great, that offerings are brought to this quality, offerings from the best of what each possesses.  At its feet the serious man lays his seriousness, the dignified man his dignity, women their gentleness, the young all the wealth of hope and futurity that in them lies; the poet lends it words and names, sets it marching in the procession of similar beings, gives it a pedigree, and finally, as is the way of artists, adores the picture of his fancy as a new godhead — he even teaches others to adore.  Thus in the end, with the co operation of universal love and gratitude, a virtue becomes, like a statue, a repository of all that is good and honourable, a sort of temple and divine personage combined.  It appears thenceforward as an individual virtue, as an absolute entity, which it was not before, and exercises the power and privileges of a sanctified super humanity.  In the later days of Greece the cities were full of such deified human abstractions (if one may so call them).  The nation, in its own fashion, had set up a Platonic "Heaven of Ideas" on earth, and I do not think that its inhabitants were felt to be less alive than any of the old Homeric divinities.  

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