Thursday, November 5, 2020
Care must be taken, in the contemplation of earlier ages, that there be no falling into unjust scornfulness. The injustice in slavery, the cruelty in the subjugation of persons and peoples must not be estimated by our standard. For in that period the instinct of justice was not so highly developed. Who dare reproach the Genoese Calvin for burning the physician Servetus at the stake? It was a proceeding growing out of his convictions. And the Inquisition, too, had its justification. The only thing is that the prevailing views were false and led to those proceedings which seem so cruel to us, simply because such views have become foreign to us. Besides, what is the burning alive of one individual compared with eternal hell pains for everybody else? And yet this idea then had hold of all the world without in the least vitiating, with its frightfulness, the other idea of a god. Even we nowadays are hard and merciless to political revolutionists, but that is because we are in the habit of believing the state a necessity, and hence the cruelty of the proceeding is not so much understood as in the other cases where the points of view are repudiated. The cruelty to animals shown by children and Italians is due to the same misunderstanding. The animal, owing to the exigencies of the church catechism, is placed too far below the level of mankind.—Much, too, that is frightful and inhuman in history, and which is almost incredible, is rendered less atrocious by the reflection that the one who commands and the one who executes are different persons. The former does not witness the performance and hence it makes no strong impression on him. The latter obeys a superior and hence feels no responsibility. Most princes and military chieftains appear, through lack of true perception, cruel and hard without really being so.—Egoism is not bad because the idea of the "neighbour"—the word is of Christian origin and does not correspond to truth—is very weak in us, and we feel ourselves, in regard to him, as free from responsibility as if plants and stones were involved. That another is in suffering must be learned and it can never be learned.