Where Internal Compulsion is Lacking External Punishment is Required

All morality is violence.

Every political regime, every law, and every moral code is built on a foundation of blood. The question is not whether there will be violence in human society but who will wield it and to what end. Will the violence that characterizes all politics be oriented toward ends that are good for life or bad for it?

Thinkers as varied as Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzsche are in perfect agreement as to the answer to this question.

In Question 95 of the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas’ monumental work on Christian theology, the philosopher states that individuals who are not inclined to do good must be ruled by “force” and “fear”:

But since some are found to be depraved, and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force and fear, in order that, at least, they might desist from evil-doing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves, by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and thus become virtuous. Now this kind of training, which compels through fear of punishment, is the discipline of laws.

In the second essay of the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche asks how human beings came to be able to make promises. How did man develop a conscience—the internal compulsion and memory required to fulfill his duties?

Nietzsche answers: through pain.

If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory”-this is a main clause of the oldest (unhappily also the most enduring) psychology on earth.

For Nietzsche, memory and obedience go together. A people with a bad memory cannot remember its duties. Such a people is therefore bad at obeying the law and must be punished all the more harshly by its rulers in order to compel submission:


Categories: Law/Justice

Leave a Reply