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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Previous Section   22. THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUILIBRIUM   Next Section

The Principle of Equilibrium.  The robber and the man of power who promises to protect a community from robbers are perhaps at bottom beings of the same mould, save that the latter attains his ends by other means than the former — that is to say, through regular imposts paid to him by the community, and no longer through forced contributions.  (The same relation exists between merchant and pirate, who for a long period are one and the same person: where the one function appears to them inadvisable, they exercise the other.  Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement on piratical morality — buying in the cheapest market, at prime cost if possible, and selling in the dearest.)  The essential point is that the man of power promises to maintain the equilibrium against the robber, and herein the weak find a possibility of living.  For either they must group themselves into an equivalent power, or they must subject themselves to someone of equivalent power {i.  e.  render service in return for his efforts).  The latter course is generally preferred, because it really keeps two dangerous beings in check — the robber through the man of power, and the man of power through the standpoint of advantage; for the latter profits by treating his subjects with graciousness and tolerance, in order that they may support not only themselves but their ruler.  As a matter of fact, conditions may still be hard and cruel enough, yet in comparison with the complete annihilation that was formerly always a possibility, men breathe freely.  The community is at first the organisation of the weak to counterbalance menacing forces.  An organisation to outweigh those forces would be more advisable, if its members grew strong enough to destroy the adverse power: and when it is a question of one mighty oppressor, the attempt will certainly be made.  But if the one man is the head of a clan, or if he has a large following, a rapid and decisive annihilation is improbable, and a long or permanent feud is only to be expected.  This feud, however, involves the least desirable condition for the community, for it thereby loses the time to provide for its means of subsistence with the necessary regularity, and sees the product of all work hourly threatened.  Hence the community prefers to raise its power of attack and defence to the exact plane on which the power of its dangerous neighbour stands, and to give him to understand that an equal weight now lies in its own side of the scales — so why not be good friends?  — Thus equilibrium is a most important conception for the understanding of the ancient doctrines of law and morals.  Equilibrium is, in fact, the basis of justice.  When justice in ruder ages says, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” it presupposes the attainment of this equilibrium and tries to maintain it by means of this compensation; so that, when crime is committed, the injured party will not take the revenge of blind anger.  By means of the jus talionis the equilibrium of the disturbed relations of power is restored, for in such primitive times an eye or an arm more means a bit more power, more weight.  In a community where all consider themselves equal, disgrace and punishment await crime — that is, violations of the principle of equilibrium.  Disgrace is thrown into the scale as a counter weight against the encroaching individual, who has gained profit by his encroachment, and now suffers losses (through disgrace) which annul and outweigh the previous profits.  Punishment, in the same way, sets up a far greater counterweight against the preponderance which every criminal hopes to obtain — imprisonment as against a deed of violence, restitution and fines as against theft.  Thus the sinner is reminded that his action has excluded him from the community and from its moral advantages, since the community treats him as an inferior, a weaker brother, an outsider.  For this reason punishment is not merely retaliation, but has something more, something of the cruelty of the state of nature, and of this it would serve as a reminder.  
 

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