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   285. WHETHER PROPERTY CAN BE SQUARED WITH JUSTICE   Next Section

Whether Property can be squared with Justice.  When the injustice of property is strongly felt (and the hand of the great clock is once more at this place), we formulate two methods of relieving this injustice: either an equal distribution, or an abolition of private possession and a return to State ownership.  The latter method is especially dear to the hearts of our Socialists, who are angry with that primitive Jew for saying, "Thou shalt not steal”.  In their view the eighth commandment should rather run, "Thou shalt not possess”.  The former method was frequently tried in antiquity, always indeed on a small scale, and yet with poor success.  From this failure we too may learn.  "Equal plots of land" is easily enough said, but how much bitterness is aroused by the necessary division and separation, by the loss of time honoured possessions, how much piety is wounded and sacrificed!  We uproot the foundation of morality when we uproot boundary stones.  Again, how much fresh bitterness among the new owners, how much envy and looking askance 1 For there have never been two really equal plots of land, and if there were, man's envy of his neighbour would prevent him from believing in their equality.  And how long would this equality, unhealthy and poisoned at the very roots, endure?  In a few generations, by inheritance, here one plot would come to five owners, there five plots to one.  Even supposing that men acquiesced in such abuses through the enactment of stern laws of inheritance, the same equal plots would indeed exist, but there would also be needy malcontents, owning nothing but dislike of their kinsmen and neighbours, and longing for a general upheaval.  If, however, by the second method we try to restore ownership to the community and make the individual but a temporary tenant, we interfere with agriculture.  For man is opposed to all that is only a transitory possession, unblessed with his own care and sacrifice.  With such property he behaves in freebooter fashion, as robber or as worthless spendthrift.  When Plato declares that self seeking would be removed with the abolition of property, we may answer him that, if self seeking be taken away, man will no longer possess the four cardinal virtues either; as we must say that the most deadly plague could not injure mankind so terribly as if vanity were one day to disappear.  Without vanity and self seeking what are human virtues?  By this I am far from meaning that these virtues are but varied names and masks for these two qualities.  Plato's Utopian refrain, which is still sung by Socialists, rests upon a deficient knowledge of men.  He lacked the historical science of moral emotions, the insight into the origin of the good and useful characteristics of the human soul.  He believed, like all antiquity, in good and evil as in black and white — that is to say, in a radical difference between good and bad men and good and bad qualities.  In order that property may henceforth inspire more confidence and become more moral, we should keep open all the paths of work for small fortunes, but should prevent the effortless and sudden acquisition of wealth.  
 

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