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   33. ELEMENTS OF REVENGE   Next Section

Elements of Revenge.  The word "revenge" is spoken so quickly that it almost seems as if it could not contain more than one conceptual and emotional root.  Hence we are still at pains to find this root.  Our economists, in the same way, have never wearied of scenting a similar unity in the word "value” and of hunting after the primitive root idea of value.  As if all words were not pockets, into which this or that or several things have been stuffed at once!  So "revenge" is now one thing, now another, and sometimes more composite.  Let us first distinguish that defensive counter blow, which we strike, almost unconsciously, even at inanimate objects (such as machinery in motion) that have hurt us.  The notion is to set a check to the object that has hurt us, by bringing the machine to a stop.  Sometimes the force of this counter blow, in order to attain its object, will have to be strong enough to shatter the machine.  If the machine be too strong to be disorganised by one man, the latter will all the same strike the most violent blow he can — as a sort of last attempt.  We behave similarly towards persons who hurt us, at the immediate sensation of the hurt.  If we like to call this an act of revenge, well and good: but we must remember that here self preservation alone has set its cog wheels of reason in motion, and that after all we do not think of the doer of the injury but only of ourselves.  We act without any idea of doing injury in return, only with a view to getting away safe and sound.  It needs time to pass in thought from oneself to one's adversary and ask oneself at what point he is most vulnerable.  This is done in the second variety of revenge, the preliminary idea of which is to consider the vulnerability and susceptibility of the other.  The intention then is to give pain.  On the other hand, the idea of securing himself against further injury is in this case so entirely outside the avenger's horizon, that he almost regularly brings about his own further injury and often foresees it in cold blood.  If in the first sort of revenge it was the fear of a second blow that made the counter blow as strong as possible, in this case there is an almost complete indifference to what one's adversary will do: the strength of the counter blow is only determined by what he has already done to us.  Then what has he done?  What profit is it to us if he is now suffering, after we have suffered through him?  This is a case of readjustment, whereas the first act of revenge only serves the purpose of self-preservation.  It may be that through our adversary vie have lost property, rank, friends, children — these losses are not recovered by revenge, the readjustment only concerns a subsidiary loss which is added to all the other losses.  The revenge of readjustment does not preserve one from further injury, it does not make good the injury already suffered — except in one case.  If our honour has suffered through our adversary, revenge can restore it.  But in any case honour has suffered an injury if intentional harm has been done us, because our adversary proved thereby that he was not afraid of us.  By revenge we prove that we are not afraid of him either, and herein lies the settlement, the readjustment.  (The intention of showing their complete lack of fear goes so far in some people that the dangers of revenge — loss of health or life or other losses — are in their eyes an indispensable condition of every vengeful act.  Hence they practise the duel, although the law also offers them aid in obtaining satisfaction for what they have suffered.  They are not satisfied with a safe means of recovering their honour, because this would not prove their fearlessness.)  — In the first named variety of revenge it is just fear that strikes the counter blow; in the second case it is the absence of fear, which, as has been said, wishes to manifest itself in the counter blow.  Thus nothing appears more different than the motives of the two courses of action which are designated by the one word "revenge”.  Yet it often happens that the avenger is not precisely certain as to what really prompted his deed: perhaps he struck the counterblow from fear and the instinct of self preservation, but in the background, when he has time to reflect upon the standpoint of wounded honour, he imagines that he has avenged himself for the sake of his honour — this motive is in any case more reputable than the other.  An essential point is whether he sees his honour injured in the eyes of others (the world) or only in the eyes of his offenders: in the latter case he will prefer secret, in the former open revenge.  Accordingly, as he enters strongly or feebly into the soul of the doer and the spectator, his revenge will be more bitter or more tame.  If he is entirely lacking in this sort of imagination, he will not think at all of revenge, as the feeling of "honour" is not present in him, and accordingly cannot be wounded.  In the same way, he will not think of revenge if he despises the offender and the spectator; because as objects of his contempt they cannot give him honour, and accordingly cannot rob him of honour.  Finally, he will forego revenge in the not uncommon case of his loving the offender.  It is true that he then suffers loss of honour in the other's eyes, and will perhaps become less worthy of having his love returned.  But even to renounce all requital of love is a sacrifice that love is ready to make when its only object is to avoid hurting the beloved object: this would mean hurting oneself more than one is hurt by the sacrifice.  Accordingly, everyone will avenge himself, unless he be bereft of honour or inspired by contempt or by love for the offender.  Even if he turns to the law courts, he desires revenge as a private individual; but also, as a thoughtful, prudent man of society, he desires the revenge of society upon one who does not respect it.  Thus by legal punishment private honour as well as that of society is restored — that is to say, punishment is revenge.  Punishment undoubtedly contains the first mentioned element of revenge, in as far as by its means society helps to preserve itself, and strikes a counter blow in self defence.  Punishment desires to prevent further injury, to scare other offenders.  In this way the two elements of revenge, different as they are, are united in punishment, and this may perhaps tend most of all to maintain the above mentioned confusion of ideas, thanks to which the individual avenger generally does not know what he really wants.  

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