What is Political Theory? by Andrew Hacker — A Summary

Title: What is Political Theory?
Author: Andrew Hacker
Publication: Andrew Hacker (1961) Political Theory — Philosophy, Ideology, Science

Science, Philosophy, Ideology

In order to say anything on a subject, one has to be either an “expositor” or a “censor”. The former explains what is and the latter tells us what ought to be. This Benthamite observation, though his remarks were confined to the study of law, brings out the distinction between the two branches of political theory: political science and political philosophy. The theorist engaging in political science describes and explains political reality. Meanwhile, the theorist engaged in political philosophy prescribes the goals that should be pursued in the political reality.

However, every respectable political theorist fills both roles and divides his efforts between both pursuits, although which role gets more attention will vary. The important point is that without both ingredients, a lasting contribution to knowledge cannot be made because there is no “pure” or “objective” political science. The grounds for selecting the aspects of reality to be studied must eventually be philosophical. Equally, political philosophy is always informed by an understanding of political reality. As such, there is no “pure” or “objective” political philosophy. It is up to the student of political theory to determine where the scientific part stops and where the philosophical part begins.

There is a third variety of theory in which the theorist may prescribe a course of action, or means, if a certain result is to be achieved. This sort of prescription that specifies the means and leaves the ends to the reader may be called “policy science”. Such if-then statements are prescriptions only in a technical sense.

A theory, in ideal terms, is dispassionate and disinterested. As science describe political reality without trying to pass judgment on what is being depicted wither implicitly or explicitly. As philosophy, it will prescribe rules of conduct which will secure the good life for all of society and not simply for certain individuals or classes.

Theorists tend to be Utopians or ideologues. While the former build castles in the air, the latter are stuck in the soil. As beings of emotion and interest, all theorists are inevitably ideologues. As such, we have distortions and rationalisations instead of disinterested description and prescription.


But despite the inevitability of rationalisations and distortions, there emerges theorists who are able to transcend the ideological limitations and achieve a broader perspective and provide generalisations that stand the test of time. Those who achieve this may legitimately be called theorists.

The Search for Significance

The theorists of yesterday, as opposed to the theorists of today, are not much concerned with methodological rigor. When Rousseau declares that we must put the facts aside because they do not affect the issue and Machiavelli pushes only the unpalatable qualities of men, it is not because Rousseau fails to realise the value of facts or because Machiavelli is unaware of the complexity of human nature. It is because they are willing to stress dominant tendencies and speculate on major trends. The problem with too much rigor and too much information is that they make any significant contribution to political theory impossible.

A theory which says that men have equal proportions of good and evil in them is, in the final analysis, no theory at all. Generalisations are always risky, but to be meaningful they must come down on one side or another.

If theorists claim that their theories are scientific, their words should be viewed with suspicion and not taken seriously.

The problem with facts concerns their role in theory. Should they be used as evidence, as contemporary theorists do, or should they be used simply as illustrations, as many historical writers[1] did? The argument for the former is that facts lead to convincing and conclusive substantiations that supports the generalisations. The argument for the latter is reality is so subtle and complex to be factually verified.

But if the pursuit of significance requires the loosening of methodological standards, what is to stop the theorist from abandoning caution altogether? What is to stop him from creating fantastical edifices where all problems are solved or where everything is explained? There are a few of those in political theory. “Nevertheless, it must be remembered that if important issues are to receive discussion, then standards of logic and even veracity must be relaxed.”

Also, even if the full system propounded by a theorist may be untenable, it should not devalue the importance of “middle range” theories — theories that are a part of the general framework of a theorist. Examples are Aristotle’s theory of class, St. Thomas’ theory of law, Locke’s theory of property, Mill’s theory of representation. It is impossible to find a satisfactory all-embracing theory by a single theorist in this day. So, in the meantime, students of political theory must be willing to collect whatever they can from any source they find. Only, they must be sufficiently sceptical in temperament.

The History of Politics and
the History of Ideas

A knowledge of history understood in its broad conception as a growth and evolution of social classes, productive forces, and political institutions is essential for the political theorist. Without such historical knowledge, there can be no perspective for analysis or standard for judgement no matter how complete his knowledge of the present might be.

An illustration of this is the idea and fact of political liberty. Liberty as freedom from state and social restraint took birth in the context of a particular social structure and at a certain stage of economic development. The theorists who propounded this idea were situated in a certain point in time. The student of political theory cannot ignore these facts any more than he can deny that the social structure and the level of economic development has drastically changed today.

History in political theory is also pervaded by ideology. The ‘historical’ constructions of Rousseau, or Marx and Engels, or even Burke and Tocqueville, are filled with ideological overtones and are often distorted to make their arguments clear. These misdirections notwithstanding, the theories so created need not become valueless.

There is another form of history crucial to political theory, that of the history of ideas which concerns the political ideas set down in writing by men of ideas. The active relation between the history of ideas and the history of political action is stressed by most students. This gives rise to the common refrain that men of ideas must always be put in their proper historical context. But that amounts to wrongly denying that what they had to say has value and application that transcend their peculiar contexts.

The works of historical writers (see footnote), regardless of when and where they were written, can increase our understanding of the world. And their theories can and should be studied independent of the role they might have played in the ‘histories of ideas’. To defend this claim, seven points may be raised in the form of a rebuke against the ‘histories of ideas’:

1. “Capital” and Carbuncles

Biographical approaches tend to concentrate on how a particular work came to be written. Marx’s carbuncles are said to have make his attack on the bourgeoise more vehement. Rousseau’s constricted bladder is said to have affected his writing in the Social Contract. It is not advisable to completely divorce the man from his work but to concentrate solely on the man and not what he wrote, as these biographical approaches do, is to do a great disservice to political theory.

2. Lost Laundry Lists

There is a tendency to look at everything that an author wrote — even laundry lists! — as important to the work of the author. An obscure Hegelian essay on the English constitution is thus criticised for not bringing anything original to the discussion. These are the lengths historians of ideas will go to. Obviously, if one wants to learn about the English constitution, Hegel is not whom he should be reading. In any case, those who look at laundry lists or incidental essays have ceased their study of politics.

3. The Pursuit of Pedigrees

Similarities in phrasing and emphasis in the writing of two or more writers are taken to imply the direct influence of the ones who came before on the ones who came after other. Hobbes is thus positioned as the precursor to the Utilitarians when there is no evidence to prove that this is actually so. Such positioning is highly speculative. It is not to say that ideas emerge in a vacuum but it is at the same time naïve to think that an intelligent theorist cannot come up with conclusions on his own.

4. Nothing New Under the Sun

A commentator pointed out that there is nothing new in the Communist Manifesto. It might be true. But the point is that Marx took the thought of the others and put them together in ways that had never been done before, much as Shakespeare used existing English words in ways that had never been used before. That Plato or Aristotle has already said a few generalised remarks about most, if not all, aspects of political theory need not discourage the theorist from exploring further and digging deeper.

5. Meaningful Misinterpretations

One historian of ideas bemoans the fact that Bodin’s legacy has been built upon a false reading of his theory of sovereignty. So what? What a work gains in truth by a thorough scholarly reading, it loses in significance. The significance of theory lies in the eyes of the reader. Historical texts are more useful if they are read as texts alone. The obsession with hidden intentions and hidden meanings contributes very little to the study of politics.

6. Representative Reflections

Historians of ideas try to understand through the works of historical writers what was going on in people’s minds. But political texts are rarely representative of the thinking of their times. Often, they are unorthodox, even radical, positions adopted by only a small minority. The great books of political theory do not tell us what happened. They show us how some people chose to view what they imagined had happened.

7. Influential Intellectuals

Historians of ideas are quick to suggest that works of theory have a direct influence upon political action. This contention is a serious one and it is true that men of action read in political texts — Jefferson had read Locke’s Second Treatise, and Lenin was highly influenced by Marx. But we must also realise that many significant events in the world were not inspired by any theory — Genghis Khan overran Asia without a theory to guide him.

The point is that instead of the theorist directing the practitioner, it is usually the practitioner who (ab)uses the words of the theorist to suit his purposes. Theory, in other words, gets diluted into ideology in order for the practitioner to use it to stir people into action. A serious student ought to recognise this fact and learn to negotiate the difficult terrain of ideology without becoming an ideologue.

The historical texts have their greatest allure in that the theories they offer transcend the times and the personalities which produced them. In this sense they are timeless and, in an important respect, anonymous.

Politics and Conscience

Political theory requires a political conscience — deep concern for the world in which we live. A student must be ready to be driven by emotion and to work conscientiously. The important matters are not historical erudition nor methodological precision. Too great a concern with the history of ideas will only limit him. Politics has timeless problems. Only a sustained and intense discussion of theory will help resolve those problems.


[1] By ‘historical writers’, Hacker means the writers of classic works on political theory who were not too concerned about methodological questions. He specifically mentions Burke and Tocqueville. He is not referring to historians.

For a differing view on the history of ideas, look at Quentin Skinner’s “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas

The Law of Peoples by John Rawls — A Summary

Title: The Law of Peoples
Author: John Rawls
Publication: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Autumn 1993)
Publication: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343947

  • Before proceeding, make sure you are familiar with Rawls’ concept of justice as fairness.  For an interesting and broader discussion on the concept, check out Michael Sandel’s lectures from his course: “Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do?” The topic is  introduced here and continued here.)
  • Sections under square brackets can be skipped on first reading.


The essay seeks to develop a “law of peoples” out of “liberal ideas of justice”.[1],By a “law of peoples”, Rawls means a “political conception of right and justice that applies to the norms and principles of international norms and practice”.[2]

The essay seeks also to determine the attitude of political liberalism to non-liberal societies once a law of peoples has been developed from liberal principles. Briefly stated, liberal societies will respect non-liberal societies provided they adhere to the law of peoples. More specifically stated, liberal societies will tolerate a specific type of non-liberal societies: “well-ordered hierarchical societies” (see Section IV.1–3).

I. How a Social Contract Doctrine in Universal in its Reach?


The conceptualisation of a liberal conception of justice begins with a hypothetically closed and self-sufficient liberal democratic society and covers only political values and not all of life. How can a “historicist” liberal conception determined in this manner be extended to non-liberal societies? How can it be extended to future generations? How can it be extended to non-cooperative individuals? How can it be extended to animals and the rest of nature? In short, how can such a conception be universalised?

Reasonable answers may be forthcoming to only the first three questions. In any case, a political conception of justice cannot be expected to handle all these questions.


In most philosophical positions, the universalising factor is often a source of authority: God (Gottfried Leibniz, John Locke) or human reason (utilitarianism, rational intuitionism, perfectionism).


However, liberal conception of justice is “constructed” through a “reasonable procedure” by working with “relevant subjects” at different levels. The principles of this conception are first arrived at for closed democratic societies, then to future societies, and then to a law of peoples until all the requisite principles are discovered. This constructivist doctrine becomes universal when it produces the law of peoples that applies to the most comprehensive subject, “the political society of peoples”.[3]

II. Three Preliminary Questions


There are two parts to the liberal conception of justice. One applies to the domestic realm of liberal societies and the other, to the general realm of the political society of peoples. The principles of justice for both are derived from the “original position”. In the first, the relevant subjects are the citizens. In the second, they are representatives of the domestic (liberal as well as hierarchical) societies.

Doesn’t this accept the state (the domestic society) as traditionally conceived, with all its familiar powers of sovereignty?

No. Because, in the first use of the original position, domestic society is seen as closed, since we abstract from relations with other societies. There is no need for armed forces, and the question of the government's right to be prepared militarily does not arise and would be denied if it did. Also, the war powers of governments, whatever they should be, are only those acceptable within a reasonable law of peoples. We must reformulate the powers of sovereignty in light of a reasonable law of peoples and get rid of the right to war and the right to internal autonomy.


Why start with liberal societies and not, say, the global society? For one, the attempt to chart the concept of “justice as fairness” began with domestic society and it has proved to be a reasonable starting point. For another, domestic societies organised by governments exist all over the world.


The law of peoples provides the conceptual tools with reference to which the law of nations (or international law) can be judged. This is the distinction between the law of peoples and the law of nations.

III. The Extension to Liberal Societies


The liberal conception of justice contains: (a) a list of basic rights, liberties and opportunities; (b) a high priority for these fundamental freedoms; and (c) guarantees to ensure effective use of these freedoms.

Justice as fairness is typical of these conceptions except that its egalitarian features are stronger. To some degree the more general liberal ideas lack the three egalitarian features: the fair value of political liberties, fair equality of opportunity, and the difference principle.

The extension of the liberal conception to the law of peoples proceeds in two stages: ideal theory and then, non-ideal theory.

In the first stage, it is assumed that all relevant societies comply strictly with the principles arrived at. These societies may be liberal or hierarchical but they are similar in that they are all well-ordered.[4] The examination of liberal societies is followed by the consideration of hierarchical societies. The feature of consequence is that both kinds of societies will comply with the principles of the law of peoples.

In the second stage, the case of societies that refuse to comply and societies that are unable to comply due to unfavourable conditions are very briefly considered.


The first original position behind the veil of ignorance is a device of representation that specifies fair conditions for the participating parties, the representatives of free and equal citizens in liberal societies, in that they fairly represented (all are equal in the original position), understood as rational (they do the best they can for their interests) and assumed to choose to choose the principles for the appropriate reasons (the veil of ignorance prevents the use of “unsuitable” reasons).


In the next level, the participating parties as representatives of liberal societies are to determine the law of peoples. As with the first original position, the representatives are reasonably situated (the representation is symmetrical), they are rational (principles of law are determined with reference to the interest of liberal societies), and they decide in accordance with appropriate reasons (the veil of ignorance hides information regarding the size of territory or population, the relative strength of the people, the extent of natural resources, the level of economic development and so on).


The principles arrived at by liberal societies will be familiar ones. They will allow cooperative association but not lead to a world state.

I … (think) that a world government — by which I mean a unified political regime with the legal powers normally exercised by central governments — would be either a global despotism or else a fragile empire torn by frequent civil strife as various regions and peoples try to gain their political autonomy.

The principles of justice between free and democratic peoples will include “certain familiar principles… , among them the following:

  1. Peoples (as organized by their governments) are free and independent, and their freedom and independence is to be respected by other peoples.
  2. Peoples are equal and parties to their own agreements.
  3. Peoples have the right of self-defence but no right to war.
  4. Peoples are to observe a duty of nonintervention.
  5. Peoples are to observe treaties and undertakings.
  6. Peoples are to observe certain specified restrictions on the conduct of war (assumed to be in self-defence).
  7. Peoples are to honour human rights.”

The list is incomplete and some of its contents may appear, to differing eyes, either too superfluous (#6) or too contested (#4). The point however is that such principles will constitute the charter of association of liberal societies.


The government of a society is the representative[5] and effective agent of its assets, i.e., the people’s territory and its (the territory’s) capacity to sustain them. Without such an agent, the asset would “deteriorate”. Irresponsible management of the asset does not give them the right to conquest by war or migrate without consent.]


In addition to the three requirements of the original position (See Section III.3), there are two further requirements. First, the society of liberal societies should be stable in the right way. This means that it should remain stable by generating respect through the merit of its principles and judgements with regards to its ideas of justice and not because of some “fortunate balance of power — it being in no people’s interest to upset it (the society of liberal societies)”.


The historical record suggests that, at least so far as the principle against war is concerned, this condition of stability would be satisfied in a society of just, democratic peoples. …since 1800 firmly established liberal societies have not gone to war with one another. …This being so, I shall suppose that a society of democratic peoples, all of whose basic institutions are well ordered by liberal conceptions of justice (though not necessarily by the same conception), will be stable in the right way as above specified.

The last condition is that the citizens of liberal societies accept the principles and judgments of the law of the society of liberal societies after due reflection.

IV. Extension to Hierarchical Societies


This section (the second step of ideal theory; see Section III.1) considers hierarchical societies. Such societies are usually, but not always, religious.

A well-ordered hierarchical society fulfils three conditions. First, it is peaceful and gains its legitimate aims through “ways of peace”. Its comprehensive religious doctrine is not expansionist. It respects the civic order and integrity of other societies. If it seeks greater influence, it does so in a way that respects the liberties of other societies.


Second, it imposes moral duties and obligations upon its members. It not only insists on a common good conception of justice, i.e., it takes into account what it thinks are the fundamental interests of its members, but it is also willing to administer its legal order, and defend and justify its decisions publicly. A well-ordered hierarchical society constitutes a “reasonable consultation hierarchy”.[6]


In view of this account of the institutional basis of a hierarchical society, we can say that its conception of the common good of justice secures for all persons at least certain minimum rights to means of subsistence and security (the right to life), to liberty (freedom from slavery, serfdom, and forced occupations), and (personal) property, as well as to formal equality as expressed by the rules of natural justice (for example, that similar cases be treated similarly).

Third, it recognises basic human rights. If it insists on a common good conception of justice (as the second requirement specifies), it must recognise and protect those rights. Otherwise, such an insistence would be unreasonable.

A hierarchical society may have an established religion with certain privileges. Still, it is essential to its being well ordered that no religions are persecuted or denied civic and social conditions that permit their practice in peace and, of course, without fear.


Fulfilling these conditions, even hierarchical societies can agree to a law of peoples that recognises human rights.  Their representatives will also, when positioned in the original position, adopt the same principles that liberal societies would. (see Section III.4) Why? Because they care about the good of their societies (meaning they are rational) and also because they respect the civic order and integrity of other societies (meaning they are reasonably situated).


(This subsection only clarifies some methodological questions and does not introduce any substantive material.)

There is no inconsistency in assuming that hierarchical societies are equally (or reasonably) situated along with liberal societies, even though the former might allow basic inequalities among its members because it is “not unreasonable”[7] for an inegalitarian society to insist on equality in making claims against other societies.

Although, the first original position incorporates a political conception of the person rooted in a liberal society, the second original position that determines the law of people does not (do not confuse this with the “political conception of justice” introduced in the Introduction). This enables the more specific liberal conception to be extended to a more general law of peoples the encompasses even non-liberal societies.

Why not start from global original position (see also Section II.2)? For one, it is not certain that proceeding in this manner would yield a different set of principles. Also, starting from such a position is troublesome for the use of liberal principles since it means narrowly assuming all persons as rational based on liberal conceptions.]


But how can a liberal conception of justice be applicable to hierarchical societies? Because they fulfil the same conditions as those specified for liberal societies in Section III.6­–7. They will honour a just law of peoples for the same reasons that liberal societies do.[8] In short, they fulfil the conditions of well-orderedness (see Subsections 1–3).

V. Human Rights


Human rights are not derived from comprehensive moral or philosophical doctrines. They only express a minimum standard[9] of well-ordered societies available to all members.


The imposition of moral duties and obligations (see Section IV.2–3) makes the existence and acceptance of human rights possible. The requirement of human rights is that members of societies be responsible, cooperating, and obedient to the moral duties and obligations, all of which are fulfilled in hierarchical societies. Human rights are therefore not exclusive to the liberal tradition. They are “politically neutral”. The basic human rights can be protected in a well-ordered hierarchical state.


One role of human rights is to circumscribe state sovereignty.[10] They are universal and non-controversial. They are integral to a law of peoples and specify the limits on the domestic institutions of societies.

Human rights (a) legitimise regimes, (b) prevent forceful (even if justified) intervention by other peoples, and (c) “set a moral limit to pluralism” among peoples.

VI. Nonideal Theory: Noncompliance[11]


All discussion up to this point has assumed strict compliance to the principles of the law of peoples, i.e., ideal theory (see Section III.1).  But to complete the sketch of the law of peoples, the case of noncompliant societies will have to be considered, i.e., nonideal theory.

Nonideal theory presupposes ideal theory[12] and seeks to work towards it (ideal theory) in gradual steps. There are two kinds of nonideal theory: outlaw regimes which refuse to comply with the law of peoples, and societies with unfavourable conditions that make their achieving well-orderedness difficult if not impossible.


Outlaw regimes are often built on a system of terror and coercion (Nazi Germany, for example) and they may recognise no conception of right and justice at all. There are also expansionist regimes (Spain, France, the Hapsburgs) that recognise no geographic limits to their authority (see Section IV.1).

With expansionist regimes, the well-ordered societies can at best establish a modus vivendi. With outlaw regimes, for the short term, the well-ordered societies are in a state of nature and they have a duty to protect and defend their own peoples as well as those innocent peoples subjected to outlaw regimes but not the rulers and elites of those outlaw regimes.


But in the long term, the aim is to bring all societies to honour the law of peoples. How to do this is a matter of foreign policy and calls upon political wisdom and success depends on luck too.It is not for political philosophy[13] to intervene.

For well-ordered peoples to achieve this long-term aim they should establish among themselves new institutions and practices to serve as a kind of federative center and public forum of their common opinion and policy towards the other regimes. … This federative center may be used both to formulate and to express the opinion of the well-ordered societies. There they may expose to public view the unjust and cruel institutions of oppressive and expansionist regimes and their violations of human rights.

VII. Nonideal Theory: Unfavourable Conditions


This type of nonideal theory applies to societies that “that lack the political and cultural traditions, the human capital and know-how, and the resources, material and technological, that make well-ordered societies possible.” The goal here is to raise the societies with unfavourable conditions towards conditions that make well-ordered societies possible.


Can the difference principle[14] be used? No. Because, it applies only to liberal societies. It also deals with ideal theory. And with the diversity of societies that are in existence, not all of them can be reasonably expected to accept a liberal principle of distributive justice.]


But how may the project of helping societies burdened by unfavourable conditions become well-ordered societies proceed? This question shall remain unanswered at the moment for the problem of giving aid is extremely tricky and also because the problem is often not of lack of resources but the political culture and social structure (oppressive government, corrupt elites, subjection of women, unreasonable religion etc.)

VIII. Concluding Reflections

(The following will be extracts and must be read along with the essay or not at all. In any case, they are non-substantive “reflections”, important from a critical perspective but not crucial to a preliminary understanding of the ideas being put forth.)


“… (the) respect for human rights is one of the conditions imposed on any political regime to be admissible as a member in good standing into a just political society of peoples. Once we understand this … it is perfectly clear why those rights hold across cultural and economic boundaries, as well as the boundaries between nation-states or other political units. With our two other conditions (see Section IV.1­–2), these rights determine the limits of toleration in a reasonable society of peoples. …These conditions indicate the region of bedrock beyond which we cannot go.”


“(I)n working out the law of peoples we assumed liberal societies to look at how they are to conduct themselves towards other societies from the point of view of their own liberal political conception. … to proceed thus is not then necessarily ethnocentric or merely Western. … The liberal conception asks of other societies only what they can reasonably grant without submitting to a position of inferiority, much less to domination. … (it) does not ask well-ordered hierarchical societies to abandon their religious institutions, and adopt liberal ones. … (it) does not justify economic sanctions or military pressure on well-ordered hierarchical societies to change their ways, provided that they respect the rules of peace and their political institutions satisfy the essential conditions we have reviewed.”


“A liberal society is to respect other societies organized by comprehensive doctrines, provided their political and social institutions meet certain conditions that lead the society to adhere to a reasonable law of peoples.”


“…to affirm the superiority of a particular comprehensive view is fully compatible with affirming a political conception of justice that does not impose it, and so with political liberalism itself.”


[1] When Rawls says “liberal ideas of justice”, he is drawing upon the ideas expressed in his conception of “justice as fairness” which he wants to make more “general” in this essay.

[2] By a “political conception of justice”, he means a conception that: (a) applies to basic political, economic, and social institutions; (b) is independent of religious, philosophical, or moral doctrines; and (c) is expressed through fundamental liberal ideas.

[3] It means a society comprising well-ordered liberal and well-ordered hierarchical societies.

[4] “Here I understand a well-ordered society as being peaceful and not expansionist; its legal system satisfies certain requisite conditions of legitimacy in the eyes of its own people; and, as a consequence of this, it honours basic human rights.”

[5] The arbitrariness of the territorial boundaries of politically organised societies might be brought up to object to the validity of the agreements made by them but such a fixation would be “wrong” because their role in the law of peoples is not subject to whether they were properly defined territorially but only to what political values they serve in the system of the law of peoples.

[6] “It includes a family of representative bodies, or other assemblies, whose task is to look after the important interests of all elements of society. … (Its citizens) are seen as responsible members of society who can recognize their moral duties and obligations and play their part in social life. …there is an opportunity for different voices to be heard … and (the citizens) have the right at some point in the process of consultation to express political dissent.”

[7] That’s not to say that it is reasonable. Rawls thinks that space should be allowed between what is (fully) reasonable and what is (fully) unreasonable.

[8] Rawls thinks this “seems plausible” enough to not warrant argument and clarification.

[9] “Since they are to express a minimum standard, the requirements that yield these rights should be quite weak.”

[10] Based on considerations of human rights, the war making and population exterminating rights of the state has severely been limited. War is no longer an admissible state policy.

[11] “In actual affairs, nonideal theory is of first practical importance and deals with problems we face every day. Yet for reasons of space, I shall say very little about them.”

[12] Because without it, nonideal theory has no objective to achieve and no standard to adhere to.

[13] Rawls ventures to give some suggestions though.

[14] The most crucial principle amongst those that constitute the concept of justice as fairness.

Priorities of Global Justice by Thomas Pogge — A Summary

Title: Priorities of Global Justice
Author: Thomas Pogge
Publication: Metaphilosophy, Vol. 32, Nos 1/2 (January 2001)
Link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24439448


  • As in the essay, all first person plurals (“we”, “us”, “our”, “ourselves”) refer to the developed countries while third person plurals refer, unless explicitly stated or obvious from the context, to developing countries;
  • The divisions are my own insertions and are not present in the original essay; and
  • Although I should not mention this, all facts and figures are dated to the time the essay was written (i.e., the dawn of the millennium).


Why have the affluent states done so little to alleviate global poverty? The demise of the Soviet Union not only enabled the availability of funds for such a purpose by reducing military spending but also facilitated the incorporation of moral values into foreign policy. But official development assistance (ODA) from developed countries has actually decreased.

To add to the puzzle, developed countries have been very willing to spend obscene amounts in military interventions to save, say, a million Serbs in Yugoslavia. Why not spend similar amounts without endangering anyone in order to save many millions of lives?

To put the importance of this question in perspective, consider the following facts: a quarter of all people live below the international poverty line[1]; 790 million people are malnourished; one billion are without safe water; 2.4 billion are without basic sanitation; 880 million lack basic services; one billion are without shelter and two billion are without electricity.

Deprivation not only leads to the underfulfillment of social and economic human rights but also civil and political human rights. Severe poverty is the greatest source of human misery today causing more suffering and deaths than all violent conflicts around the world combined.

Reducing severe poverty is not easy but it is easier than violent ‘humanitarian’ interventions which, unlike poverty reduction, have significant moral and economic costs that are hard to determine and often end up worsening the situation.


The position of the developed countries on global poverty can be summed up as under:

  1.  We are able to reduce poverty and hunger and diseases associated therewith at a modest cost, [2]
  2. We are willing to spend a tiny fraction of our national income toward such a reduction,
  3. But we are not legally or morally obligated to give any weight at all to this goal.

The denial of the obligation to reduce would be acceptable if the invisible hand of the market were doing the job on its own. But along with the ascendency of the “new economic architecture” consisting of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO as well as the healthy aggregate economic growth, there has been an increase in poverty in absolute terms.[3]

This new architecture has to be rethought if poverty is to be eradicated within an acceptable time span. It is completely dominated by a few countries and the openness of the global market has little positive consequence for poor countries whose lack of infrastructure excludes them from the ‘open’ market. A special effort is needed to jump-start development.

This is not an argument against globalisation. But it does show that the developed states must remove their protectionist barriers and make a considerable non-market-driven effort to get the poorest quartile to the point where they too can benefit from globalisation. Failing that, the new economic architecture will further increase global economic inequality or even aggravate the horrendous conditions among the poorest quartile.

Global economic inequality has persistently increased.[4] What has changed though is the capacity of the affluent states to effect massive and rapid reductions in severe poverty. It is economically feasible to wipe out poverty, hunger and disease without real inconvenience to anyone.


The conclusion from the foregoing paragraphs could be: “If we can make so huge a difference to hundreds of millions at so little cost to ourselves, we must not refuse to make this effort.”

The call for action, in this instance, is predicated on the fact that it can be done at “so little cost to ourselves”. This ground for action is misleading. It is a moral duty that requires serious effort toward reducing poverty. But not only that, the incidence of poverty among the billions in impoverished countries is deeply connected to us.

“First, their social starting positions and ours have emerged from a single historical process that was pervaded by massive grievous wrongs. … Second, they and we depend on a single natural resource base, from the benefits of which they are largely, and without compensation, excluded. … Third, they and we coexist within a single global economic order that has a strong tendency to perpetuate and even to aggravate global economic inequality.”

Given these connections, the failure to act on poverty is not merely a lack of beneficence (a line of thought popular among leaders) but an active impoverishing, starving and killing of millions of innocent people by economic means (an idea that is, unfortunately, rarely taken seriously). The harms were not intended nor foreseen, but now that the results are in, we have to realise that it was our mistake and act to rectify it.

(The next section explores the third connection between the affluent and the poor countries)


(Note: Familiarity with John Rawl’s conception of “justice as fairness” especially the “difference principle” and, to a lesser extent, his conception of the Society of Peoples is recommended.)

Free and competitive markets are quite compatible with huge and ever increasing inequality. A principle, like Rawls’ difference principle for national economies, is needed that would help assess the distributive effects of alternative global orders. Rawls, for his Society of Peoples, insists on a universal minimum as a constraint on unbridled inequality. This principle is unobjectionable and hugely important. But it does not suffice. The inegalitarian tendencies built into the global market oriented order is not made right by keeping the losers of the system from falling below a certain minimum. Rawls downplays and obscures the causal role of the global economic order in perpetrating, aggravating and perpetuating poverty and inequality.

Against this criticism, it is often argued that it is not the economic order but the governments in poor countries that are to blame for they do not implement optimal policies. The success of the “Asian Tigers” and the state of Kerala in India are cited in defence.

However, what is true of the Asian Tigers or of Kerala cannot be true for all. If all poor countries took up manufacturing just as the Asian Tigers did, there would have been much less profit to go around. The Asian Tigers exploited a niche and once that niche was filled, it made no economic sense for many more to join in.

Also, there may be systemic reasons why poor countries are unable to implement ‘optimal’ policies. The incidence of endemic corruption in developing countries and the unwillingness of the elite in these countries may be consequences of the global economic order itself.

(The next section develops this second point.)


Bribery is an unavoidable menace in developing countries. The distribution of contracts is greatly influenced by bribes. Bribes not only generate non-competitive work but also weaken regulation and quality control. Enormous losses are incurred as a result.

While this might lead to the conclusion that it is the greed of officials in developing countries that is to blame, the conclusion is punctured by the fact the developed states have not merely permitted bribes but morally justified them (by deducting bribes from taxes). Fortunately, this practice is being phased out.[5]

One could also conclude that even if they were not bribed by foreigners, the ruling elites in developing countries would have enriched themselves anyway. Many of these countries are undemocratic and many are outright violent.

This conclusion is problematic for the crucial reason that any group or indeed person, regardless of its character, controlling a preponderance of the means of coercion within the country is recognised as the legitimate government of the country’s territory and its people. That group becomes the representative of the country with which international dealings takes place.

One pertinent example of such dealings is the international borrowing privilege which imposes valid legal obligations on the country at large. Given this feature, a democratic successor to an autocratic government has to uphold the borrowing burden incurred by the previous government.

This has important negative consequences for human rights fulfilment in developing countries: “First, this privilege facilitates borrowing by destructive governments … which helps them stay in power even against near-universal popular discontent and opposition. Second, the international borrowing privilege imposes upon democratic successor regimes the often huge debts of their corrupt predecessors which saps the capacity of such democratic governments to implement structural reforms and other political programs … Third, the international borrowing privilege provides incentives toward coup attempts.”

There is also the international resource privilege that grants the power to effect legally valid transfers of ownership rights of natural resources. Corporations that have purchased resources from ruling families in developing countries become legitimate owners and acquires all rights and liberties of ownership.

This has disastrous consequences for poor countries whose economies are dominated by the resource sector. It creates strong incentives for violent coup attempts and undemocratic exercise of political power and also motivates foreigners to corrupt local officials. The chain of poverty caused by corruption caused by natural-resource wealth brings us to the international resource privilege.


These brief remarks on bribery and on the international borrowing and resource privileges show at least in outline how the current global order we uphold shapes the national culture and policies of the poorer and weaker countries. It does so in four main ways: It crucially affects what sorts of persons exercise political power in these countries, what incentives these persons face, what options they have, and what impact the implementation of any of their options would have on their most-disadvantaged compatriots.

In this global order, the developing countries are too weak to exert any real influence on the way the global economy is organised. The governments in these countries comprised as they are of elites have little incentive to alleviate the suffering of their poor counterparts. Their (corrupt elitist governments in developing contries) and our survival and flourishing are dependent on the continuation of the global order which therefore appears proper.

“The conclusion is once again that the underfulfillment of human rights in the developing countries is not a homegrown problem, but one we greatly contribute to through the policies we pursue and the international order we impose. We have then not merely a positive responsibility with regard to global poverty … but a negative responsibility to stop imposing the existing global order and to prevent and mitigate the harms it continually causes for the world’s poorest populations. … The reduction of severe global poverty should be our foremost moral priority.”


[1] “is one 1985 US dollar per person per day at purchasing power parity (PPP).”

[2] “Even if the FAO’s proposed annual increase of $6 billion (from the World Food Summit 1996) were to reduce hunger faster than expected, this should be no cause of regret… an extra %6 billion is not much to ask from the high-income countries, whose combined GNP in 2998 was $22,599 bilion.”

[3] “From 1.2 billion in 1987 to 1.5 bilion today (1999) and if trends persist, will reach 1.9 billion by 2015.”

[4] “The income gap between the fifth of the world’s people living in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 74 to 1 in 1997, up from 60 to 1 in 1990 and 30 to 1 in 1960.” Earlier estimates are 11 to 1 for 1913, 7 to 1 for 1870, and 3 to 1 for 1820.”

[5] “The first major step was the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, enacted after the Lockheed Corporation was found to have paid a $2 million bribe not to a Third World potentate, but to Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. It took another twenty years until thirty-two affluent states, under OECD auspices and under public pressure generated by a new nongovernmental organization (Transparency International), signed a Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Officials in International Business Transactions, which requires them to criminalize the bribery of foreign

On the Genealogy of Morals: Second Essay (“Guilt”, “Bad Conscience”, and Related Matters) by Friedrich Nietzsche — A Summary

Title: Second Essay (“Guilt”, “Bad Conscience”, and Related Matters)
Author: Friedrich Nietzsche
Book: Friedrich Nietzsche (1887) On the Genealogy of Morals trans. Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale (1989)

I & II

The creation of an animal with the right to make promises: this is the paradoxical task of nature. And she has succeeded.

But how could she succeed? How was the faculty of forgetfulness[1] overcome? Because promises depend upon man ‘not’ forgetting. And to make an animal that doesn’t forget, he has to be made, to a certain degree “necessary, uniform, like among like, regular and consequently calculable”.

Forgetfulness was overcome by cultivating a “real memory of the will”. This is an active desire not to forget, and not simply a passive ability to remember. This cultivation, the process of making man calculable, was made possible through the “morality of mores”.

The process has been at work for millennia and its “ripest fruit” is the “emancipated” sovereign individual. He is the free-willed, self-aware man — the man of “reason” and responsibility. He is the man who has the “right to make promises” and he is aware of his right. This awareness that the sovereign man has of this right, of his responsibility, is his conscience.


But remember that the cultivation of memory is no easy and harmless task. Fruits hang unripe and sour for a long time before they ripen! The impression of memory was effected through punishment[2] and the infliction of pain — “stoning, breaking on the wheel, piercing with stakes, quartering, boiling criminals in oil, flaying” are all techniques that enabled the creation of a “nation of thinkers” (Germany) — so that ideas are made “inextinguishable” and “unforgettable”, so that man can finally see “reason” and engage in “reflection”.

Ah, reason, seriousness, mastery over the affects, the whole somber thing called reflection, all these prerogatives and showpieces of man: how dearly have they been bought! How much blood and cruelty lie at the bottom of all “good things”!


The moral concept of guilt is rooted in the material concept of debt. Punishment too is rooted in the idea of debt — that of the “sphere of legal obligations” or the contractual relationship between the creditor and debtor.[3] And it is this relationship that gives rise to the idea that everything has a price and that everything can be paid for. It is this idea that enables the cultivation of memory by enforcing it upon those who make promises, i.e., enter into contracts.

This idea of exchange or that of, to repeat what has already been said, the contractual relationship between the creditor and debtor, is universal and is found in even the most rudimentary societies. And it is in this sphere that arises the insight that repayment can be enforced through some surety — “body, life, wife, freedom” — over which the creditor would have full powers of humiliation and torture should the debtor default on his debt.

And finally, it is in this idea that “guilt and suffering” become entangled. The suffering of the defaulter — or the pleasure of the creditor — becomes compensation for guilt i.e., debt, the inability to repay what had been borrowed.[4]

The bloodshed and horrors, nay, the festivals, that this relationship between suffering and guilt led to in the past should not be concealed by the domesticity of the present.

To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle to which even the apes might subscribe; ... Without cruelty there is no festival: thus the longest and most ancient part of human history teaches — and in punishment there is so much that is festive! —

Those were “cheerful” days. It is only the soft and dyspeptic “angels” of today that finds these instincts repugnant. Suffering is not an argument against life. It is the seduction of life. What is repugnant is in fact not suffering as such but the “senselessness” — or “meaninglessness” — of suffering. This forced man to invent gods — “the friends of cruel spectacles” — who would then serve to give meaning to and justify suffering.


The community serves as a creditor to its members, the debtors, by giving them “protection, care, and peace”. If someone breaks his pledges to society, he is punished through pain of excommunication leaving him without protection or honour.

But as communities advance and become more powerful, punishment becomes moderate until the community becomes so powerful that punishment becomes, as it were, unimportant. The community sees itself in a position to let the culprit go unpunished. Mercy is born.


Justice does not emerge from ressentiment — that is, from reactive feelings. (For what does justice mean to the man driven by emotion? A wronged person has no space for thinking about what is just.) Rather, the genesis of justice lies in the institution of law. Law is a creation of the powerful who are clear-headed enough to see through the fog of reactive emotions and codify what counts as just and what is unjust. Justice is thus distanced from reactive personal emotions and tied to impersonal standards. Only after the instituting law can we talk about what is “just” or “unjust” meaningfully.


The origin and aim of punishment are not one and the same. The “purpose” of punishment should not be understood as the cause of its origin. The uses that are ascribed to punishment evolve over time.

Whatever exists, having somehow come to being, is again and again reinterpreted to new ends, taken over, transformed, and redirected by some power superior to it; all events in the organic world are a subduing, a becoming master, and all subduing and becoming master involves as fresh interpretation, an adaptation through which any previous “meaning” and “purpose” are necessarily obscured or even obliterated.

Also, evolution does not necessarily mean progress, much less progress towards a particular goal. To see purpose where there is none or, more correctly, where there are innumerable or to see “increasing strength and perfection” through adaptation[5] is to negate the very essence of life: the overarching will to power.


The techniques of punishment are relatively enduring but its purposes are, as already pointed out, fluid. There is a whole synthesis of purposes that can be ascribed to this fluid aspect of punishment so that it defies definition.[6]

Today it is impossible to say for certain why people are really punished: all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated elude definition; only that which has no history is definable.

All the more reason, then, to disregard the uninformed obsession with punishment as a form of awakening the feeling of guilt in a person. Punishment doesn’t awake guilt; rather, punishment deadens guilt. Punishment doesn’t weaken resolve: rather, it strengthens the power of resistance. And if punishment does awaken guilt and brings about self-abasement, is such a result even desirable?

People submit to punishment as they would to a volcano — out of a lack of choice. Punishment doesn’t make men better; it simply tames him. At best, it makes him prudent.


As man is separated from his animal life and thrust into the “state” (see next section), into society, he suffers unimaginably as he has to learn to think, infer and reason while his animal instincts — of freedom, hostility, cruelty and the will to power — lie unabated. These instincts, therefore, have to be repressed, internalised i.e., turned against himself. This is the origin of “bad conscience”.

Thus began the gravest and the uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself — the result of a forcible sundering of his animal past.


This separation was not a gradual nor an organic process but a sharp break instigated and brought to its end using violence by the “state”.

The “state” refers to “some pack of blonde beasts of prey” who have the ability to organise, dominate, and who arrive inexorably like fate. Bad conscience emerges not from these but out of their domineering actions which force the weak, the dominated, to scurry for cover and vent their frustration at themselves. Bad conscience is the instinct of freedom forcibly made latent.

And it is the repression of the instinct of freedom, this redirection of anger inwards rather than outwards, this denial of the self, “bad conscience” in short, that gives value to selflessness, self-sacrifice and the unegoistic.

Bad conscience, as the womb of all ideal and imaginative phenomena, also brought to light an abundance of strange new beauty and affirmation, and perhaps beauty itself. — after all, what would be “beautiful” if the contradiction had not first become conscious of itself, if the ugly had not first said to itself: “I am ugly”?


Bad conscience is an illness. What has made it reach such a terrible pitch (see next section)?  Ancestral debt. The idea of ancestral debt in which the present generation is indebted to its ancestors because, and so goes the argument, it is only through the sacrifices of the ancestors that the present generation exists. Over generations then, debt accumulates and payments have to be made in the form of “sacrifices, feasts, music, honours, obedience”. As the power of society increases, the esteem of the forefathers increases too until it increases to such an extent that they are turned to gods.

This sense of guilt, of being indebted to forbears or deities, has accumulated over millennia. The arrival of the Christian God as the foremost figure of godliness is a reflection of the maximum sense of guilt.


This sense of guilt has grown so much, the quantum of guilt accumulated so heavy, that only God, the creditor himself, would be able to repay it, by sacrificing His own begotten son at the cross. The internalisation of guilt, this bad conscience, becomes so great that it is turned outwards onto God himself!

This “psychical cruelty” is without equal. To will himself unatonable, and therefore to will himself eternally punished, to will all things as guilty, and then to will the ideal of a “holy God” compared to which he will always be unworthy — this is the state of man. What a miserable beast!

Oh this insane, pathetic beast — man! What ideas he has, what unnaturalness, what paroxysms of nonsense, what bestiality of thought erupts as soon as he is prevented just a little from being a beast in deed!


This sad affair need not lead to degradation of the imagination. The Greeks — may they be blessed! — have used gods for less nefarious ends. They have used gods to justify man and to project noble qualities, to ward off “bad conscience”.

Much blood has been shed, many lies have been sanctified and many shrines have been destroyed in the process of creating these “ideals”. Who will reverse this? Who can attempt to separate man from his bad conscience? The Antichristian, the Antinihilist.

As for me, I will stay silent. Only Zarathustra has a right, Zarathustra the godless.


[1] That active and positive faculty lacking which we will have “no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present”. Forgetfulness is what enables us to clear out things and make room for new ones

[2] “Pain is the most powerful aid to mnemonics.”

[3] The contemporary view on and justification of punishment that the criminal is responsible for, and therefore guilty of, his crime in so far as he could have acted otherwise is only a “late fruit” (III) because responsibility comes into being when the sovereign individual finally becomes ripe. For most of history, punishment was imposed simply out of anger at someone who caused injury as a form of reprisal. It had no connection to guilt. Instead it was based on the material concept of debt: the equivalence of injury (suffered by the victim/creditor) and pain (inflicted upon the criminal and debtor).

[4] I can’t understand this sudden equation of debt and guilt — he asks: “to what extent can suffering balance debts or (emphasis mine) guilt?”. Nietzsche asserts the idea that debt gave rise to punishments not out of guilt (V) but rather as a form of “requital”. How does being in debt become equivalent to being guilty? (I might have to reread the Genealogy yet again)

[5] This is an attack on the Darwinian theory of evolution.

[6] Nietzsche lists as many as 11 “meanings” that can be ascribed to punishment adding that a lot more could be added: “prevention, compensation, isolation, deterrence, repayment, expulsion, festival, making memory, payment for protection, compromise, war”.

On the Genealogy of Morals: Preface and First Essay (“Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad”) by Friedrich Nietzsche — A Summary

Title: Preface and First Essay (“Good and Bad,” “Good and Evil”) 
Author: Friedrich Nietzsche
Book: Friedrich Nietzsche (1887) On the Genealogy of Morals trans. Walter Kaufmann and RJ Holllingdale (1989)



We are perpetually in search for knowledge but we fail to look at our own selves. We are “unknown to ourselves”.


The Genealogy investigates the origin of “moral prejudices”, of morality.


Where did “evil” originate? From God! — I proclaimed as a 13-year old. But this metaphysical answer, informed by my “theological prejudice”, soon appeared inadequate. Instead, I began to look for “moral prejudices”. I asked: “under what conditions did man” — not a transcendental being — “devise these value judgements good and evil? and what value do they themselves possess? Have they hitherto hindered or furthered human prosperity?”


What I am questioning is the “value of morality”, that is, the conventional Judeo-Christian morality characterised by “the instincts of pity, self-abnegation and self-sacrifice” so revered by Schopenhauer.

It was precisely here (in conventional morality) that I saw the great danger to mankind, it's sublimest enticement and seduction ... it was precisely here that I saw ... the will turning against life, the tender and sorrowful signs of the ultimate illness.


We need a critique of moral values, the value of these values must first be called into question.

All prior assumptions about “good” and “evil” are to be re-examined. Why? Because moral values are not absolute givens. They have “evolved and changed”. But people assume them to be given and beyond question.

The investigation disputes the assumptions and asks uncomfortable questions. “What if a symptom of regression were inherent in the “good” … so that precisely morality would be to blame if the highest power and splendor actually possible to the type man was never in fact attained? So that precisely morality was the danger of dangers?


There is nothing more worth taking seriously than this investigation even if for a reward no better than the ability to exclaim “Onwards! our old morality too is part of the comedy!”.

First Essay
“Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad”


Only the “English psychologists”[1] have attempted a history of the origin of morality. But in this endeavour, they have concentrated solely on the shameful and inactive aspects of human behaviour — “habit, forgetfulness, mechanistic hooking-together of ideas”.


The English psychologists — lacking, as they do, the historical spirit — have “decreed”:

Originally, one approved unegoistic actions and called them good from the point of view of those to whom they were done, that is to say, those to whom they were useful; later one forgot how this approval originated and, simply because unegoistic actions were always habitually praised as good, one also felt them to be good — as if they were something good in themselves.

You see it, don’t you? those “typical traits of the idiosyncrasy of the English psychologist”— “useful, forgetting, habit” — which inevitably lead to “error”.

This evaluation seeks, and finds, “good” in the wrong place. It was not, as the genealogists claim, the low-minded and powerless who ascribed goodness to actions of which they were beneficiaries. It was actually the high-minded and the powerful who determined their station and characterised their actions as good. What was at work was the pathos of distance[2] and not considerations of “utility” or concern with “unegoistic” actions.


[Also, if “good” is equivalent to “unegoistic actions”, how can the benefit of such actions be forgotten? Such an assertion is a “psychological absurdity”. If anything, it (the benefit of unegoistic actions ) would become more entrenched.]


Look at the etymology of the word good in different languages. The social connotation of the word “noble”, as an obvious example, impels the conclusion that “good” had everything to do with stations of privilege and power. The opposite is most convincing in the German word for ‘bad’ (schlecht), which is identical to that for ‘plain’, ‘simple’ (schlicht). So, “bad” has everything to do with the plain and common man, the man of low social status. This is the fundamental insight.


In addition to their power and wealth, the nobles also appropriate a typical character trait: truthful[3]. They use this to distinguish themselves from the lying common man.[4]


What if the powerful and the privileged class is constituted by the priests? When the priestly class is at the top, the powerful vs powerless opposition shifts to “pure” vs “impure” — purity being just a function of abstinence from certain practices and nothing more. Another shift is in the meaning of “good” and “bad” which are no longer based on social station.

There is … something unhealthy in such priestly aristocracies and in the habits ruling them which turn them away from action and alternate between brooding and emotional explosions. … With the priests, everything becomes more dangerous … arrogance, revenge, acuteness, profligacy, love, lust to rule, virtue, disease — but it is only fair to add that it was on the soil of this essentially dangerous form of human existence, the priestly form, that man first became an interesting animal, that only here did the human soul in a higher sense acquire depth and become evil — and these are the two basic respects in which man has hitherto been superior to other beasts!


The nobles, being strong and free-spirited, delight themselves in war and adventure. The priests, on the other hand, being powerless, resort to brooding and censure.

The priests are the most evil enemies — but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous of hatred. The truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters: other kinds of spirit hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness,

The powerlessness and its attendant hatred is the genesis of the most sinister yet most intelligent revenge upon the nobles. This most spiritual revenge is extracted by perverting the value system of the nobles: by labelling those in misery, poverty and subjugation as “good”[5] and those in positions of power and wealth, the nobility, as “evil”.

This inversion, this “revaluation”, is most visible in the triumph of the Christian religion.


From the trunk of this vengefulness, the profoundest and sublimest kind of hatred, grows the profoundest and sublimest kind of love, not as a resistenace to that hatred but as its (hatred’s) ultimate crown.

This Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate gospel of love, this “Redeemer” who brought blessedness and victory to the poor, the sick and the sinners — was he not this seduction in its most uncanny and irresistible form, a seduction and a bypath to precisely those Jewish values and new ideals?]


A “free spirit” might ask, ‘So, what if Christianity — even if built upon this lie — has triumphed? Aren’t we all intoxicated, benefited even, by the victory of this inversion of values? Why the fuss?’


The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment[6] itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge.

The morality of the nobility, “master-morality”, is that of triumphant self-affirmation. But the morality of the priests, “slave-morality”, is that of resentful self-negation. Master-morality is spontaneous, active and seeks its antithesis only for its own affirmation. Slave-morality is deliberate, reactive and depends upon its antithesis for its own existence.

The nobles find happiness in activity whereas the priests see happiness as “narcotic, drug, rest, peace, ‘sabbath’”, as passivity. The nobles are prone to impulse and recklessness, sometimes even to resentment, but these passions are quickly fulfilled, exhausted and they (the nobles) are free to pursue happiness. The priests, on the contrary, are prone to scheming. They bide their time and learn how not to forget, how to — for the moment, at least — remain humble. They are never liberated from resentment.


The noble man actively conceives himself as “good” and then creates the idea of “bad”. The priest, the man of resentment, in contrast, conceives the “evil enemy” and then attaches himself as the “good one” as an afterthought. In the former case, “bad” is unimportant — “an after-production, a side-issue, a contrasting shade” — but in the latter, “evil” is the definitive object — “the original thing, the beginning, the decisive deed”. How vast is the gap between bad and evil!

“Evil” in other words is the very basis of Christian morality.

The nobles have not always been the standard bearers of civilised behaviour. Quite the contrary, the noble races — “the beast(s) of prey, the splendid blond beast(s)” — have, thanks to their savage exploits when outside their societies, left to us the concept of the “barbarian”.

Now, assuming that the goal of culture has been to tame and civilize this “beast”, something approving might be said of the “instincts of reaction and ressentiment” that are the staple of the priests. These instincts might even be considered as the instruments of culture.

But it is the reverse that is true. You might justifiably fear the “blond beast” because, at least, that fear is followed by the possibility of admiration. But the bearers of these “instincts”, they who eternally seek revenge, represent the regression of mankind. Their instincts are a disgrace to man and a counter argument against, rather than instruments of, culture. The man of resentment — “tame, hopelessly mediocre, insipid” — cannot be feared at all and he is making Europe “stink”.


I can endure the sorrows and sufferings of the world. For that is my fate, the human condition. At the end of all that, the suffering, all I ask for is sight of a “man who justifies man”, something noble, something that inspires awe and fear. And I will be satisfied. But this celebration of mediocrity, this worship of the meek and “ill-constituted” figure of the European man — these are sights I cannot endure. I am tired of man.


The nobles are marked by strength and vigour. To brand them “evil”, as the priests do, because they are powerful and tend to dominate is akin to calling a bird of prey evil because it preys on hapless lambs. It is in their nature. You are welcome to dislike them, but it is no reason to blame them.

Strength cannot but express itself as strength. Yet, the priests often separate strength from expressions of strength and blame the strong for being strong. The “vengeful cunning of impotence”, based on this unfair charge, fabricates the lie that the “good” is one who does not “outrage, harm or attack” anybody but leaves “revenge to God”.]


Also, you only have to look into the masters of resentment to see how hollow their claims of “goodness” are. For they express a most sadistic account of what it means to be admitted into Paradise, that place of “eternal bliss”.[7]

Dante, I think committed a crude blunder when, with a terror-inspiring ingenuity, he placed above the gateway of his hell the inscription “I too was created by eternal love” — at any rate, there would be more justification for placing above the gateway to the Christian Paradise and it “eternal bliss” the inscription “I too was created by eternal hate” — provided a truth may be placed above the gateway to a lie!


The two moralities have been in struggle for millennia. This struggle is legible in history as ‘Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome’.[8] Judea has won the war. In Rome itself, Judea reigns as it does over half the world. Rome woke up during the Renaissance, but was soon put to sleep by Judea thanks to the Reformation.

The French Revolution too is a triumph of Judea over Rome. But its results have put Rome incarnate, Napoleon, on the throne.


How this struggle will end or whether it will ever end — I cannot say. The least we can do is to look beyond and to try to transcend “Good and Evil”.


[1] “An umbrella term which Nietzsche uses to designate empiricist psychology (Locke), Utilitarian ethics (Mill and Bentham) and the evolutionary theory of development (Darwin), al associated in his view with the science and scholarship of Victorian England.” (From the notes to the Oxford World Classics edition of The Genealogy, translated by Douglas Smith.)

[2] “The difference between the noble and servile, referring to both differences in social status and values.” (From the notes to the Oxford World Classics edition of The Genealogy, translated by Douglas Smith.)

[3] “The root of the word coined for this, esthlos, signifies one who is, who possesses reality, who is actual, who is true.”

[4] “[That] is how Theognis takes him to be and how he describes him.”

[5] The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3–12) is an obvious example.

[6]Ressentiment is the essence of slave morality, a purely reactive mode of feeling which simply negates the active and spontaneous affirmation of values on the part of the morality.” (From the notes to the Oxford World Classics edition of The Genealogy, translated by Douglas Smith.)

[7] Nietzsche quotes substantial passages from Aquinas and Tertullian which describe, in horrifying detail, the “spectacle” of suffering that the “blessed in the kingdom of heaven” will “delightfully” witness as the non-believers — illustrious monarchs, philosophers, poets —  are subjected to the infernal fires of Hell.

[8] Rome, of course, representing the “master morality” of “good and bad” and Judea, “slave morality” of “good and evil”.