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Thinking of the Shadow. Conceptions of Cruelty in the History of Western Thought

As regards thinking of the shadow, I can contribute to the present discussion qua intellectual historian who, together with the theologian Michael Trice, has reconstructed in recent years the understanding of a particular manifestation of the shadow in the long life of Western philosophy: cruelty. Between 1998, when I started investigating Judith Shklar’s and Richard Rorty’s liberalism of fear, and 2017, when I completed a volume of collected essays of mine to be published by Northwest Passage Books under the title Philosophy of Cruelty, I devoted considerable time and attention to retrieving, mapping and reflecting upon the conceptions of cruelty developed in the history of Western thought. What follows here is a concise overview of the five most common and/or most articulate conceptions that I have identified in the course of my studies, and repeats almost verbatim what I state in the aforementioned collection of essays of mine. Longer and more detailed analyses can be retrieved in my older publications on this subject. Please note also that my research is intentionally limited to explicit uses of the terms “cruelty” and “cruel” in the languages accessible to me.  Extending it to cognates such as “violence” or “aggressiveness” would make the project unmanageable.

Cruelty as Vice

Cruelty has been regarded very often as a quintessentially human vice affecting specific individuals. This conception of cruelty is characteristic of ancient and medieval philosophers, whose approach to ethics typically centres upon the notion of personal character rather than upon the notion of rightful or good actions and norms—the latter being predominant amongst modern and contemporary thinkers. Also, this former conception of cruelty takes a chief interest in observing what consequences cruelty has for the perpetrator, rather than for its victims, as commonplace instead for modern and contemporary approaches to cruelty. In particular, ancient and medieval philosophers suggested that cruelty is a vice affecting persons involved in punitive contexts, e.g. courtrooms, schools, armies and households. In De Clementia, Seneca claims that “cruel are those who have a reason for punishing, but do not have moderation in it”.[1] Besides, he claims that, as concerns the person who “finds pleasure in torture, we may say is not cruelty, but savagery – we may even call it madness; for there are various kinds of madness, and none is more unmistakable than that which reaches the point of murdering and mutilating men.”[2] “Cruelty” is thus defined as “harshness of mind in exacting punishment”, rather than unrestrained lust for blood.[3] As a vice, ‘”cruelty” is said to be “an evil thing befitting least of all a man”,[4] and it can take private forms (e.g. family feuds) as well as public forms (e.g. tyranny, insofar as “[t]yrants”, unlike kings resorting to cruelty “for a reason and by necessity[,…] take delight in cruelty”).[5] Cruelty is the opposite of clemency, yet “it is as much a cruelty to pardon all as to pardon none.”[6] Clemency, according to Seneca, does not mean indiscriminate forgiveness, but rather a balanced blend of moderation and justice.

As famously discussed by Aristotle, our vices are said to spring from a lack of balance within the human soul; to exceed in forgiveness is as conducive to vice as to exceed in harshness. Aquinas’ Summa Theologica echoes Seneca’s position and combines it with Aristotle’s ethics:

Cruelty apparently takes its name from “cruditas”[rawness]. Now just as things when cooked and prepared are wont to have an agreeable and sweet savour, so when raw they have a disagreeable and bitter taste. Now it has been stated… that clemency denotes a certain smoothness or sweetness of soul, whereby one is inclined to mitigate punishment. Hence cruelty is directly opposed to clemency.[7]

Also for the doctor angelicus [angelic doctor] of the Catholic Church is “cruelty… hardness of the heart in exacting punishment”,[8] hence a form of “human wickedness”; whereas “savagery and brutality” are a form of “bestiality”.[9] Cruelty contains an element of rational deliberation, which “savagery” and “brutality” do not possess: these, in fact, “take their names from a likeness to wild beasts… deriving pleasure from a man’s torture.”[10] Cruelty is therefore something evil that we do intentionally and which corrupts our character by exceeding in what would be otherwise acceptable; but it is also something that we can do something else about, for all vices can be remedied by proper self-correction. As Aristotle and the medieval pedagogues used to teach, whatever the initial endowment of inclinations and talents in our character, each of us is responsible for the kind of person she becomes.

Cruelty as Sadism

The distinction drawn by Seneca and Aquinas between cruelty and bestiality, epitomised by sadistic pleasure, seems to vanish with several modern thinkers, who actually take sadism as the paramount, if not the sole, example of cruelty. This is a second, fairly common conception of cruelty, according to which cruelty turns into something worse than a vice, indeed something devilish or extreme. To some, cruelty becomes so extreme a tendency that it transforms into a sheer figment of our imagination, i.e. some kind of philosophical or literary ‘ghost’. Thomas Hobbes, for instance, argues that “Contempt, or little sense of the calamity of others, is that which men call cruelty; proceeding from security of their own fortune. For, that any man should take pleasure in other men’s great harms, without other end of his own, I do not conceive it possible.”[11] Bishop Joseph Butler, on his part, states that “[t]he utmost possible depravity, which we can in imagination conceive, is that of disinterested cruelty.”[12] David Hume, on this point, affirms: “Absolute, unprovoked, disinterested malice has never, perhaps, had place in any human breast”.[13]

The element of rational deliberation that Seneca and Aquinas observed in cruelty is adamantly underplayed in this second conception of cruelty, as Thomas Hobbes’ understanding reveals once more:

Revenge without respect to the example and profit to come is a triumph, or glorying in the hurt of another, tending to no end (for the end is always somewhat to come); and glorying to no end is vain-glory, and contrary to reason; and to hurt without reason tendeth to the introduction of war, which is against the law of nature, and is commonly styled by the name of cruelty.[14]

Rather than a vice, for which a person must take responsibility, cruelty morphs into a malady of the soul, the result of a poor, incompetent or broken mind, which reduces the humanity of its carrier and makes her closer to wild animals. Perhaps, this malady can be cured, or at least confined by appropriate measures of social hygiene. After all, animals can be tamed and trained; though sometimes they are put in cages or butchered. And the cruel human person, now likened to the beast, can be treated instrumentally, like commonly practised with horses and pigs; all this, naturally, being the case for the greater good of the commonwealth to which she and her victims belong.

Cruelty as Avoidable Harm

The idea of cruelty as something sick, if not even something sickening, colours also the work of the French Renaissance sceptic Michel de Montaigne. In his Essays, Montaigne observes that “cowardice is the mother of cruelty”[15] and states:

I cruelly hate cruelty, both by nature and by judgment, as the extreme of all vices. But this is to such a point of softness that I do not see a chicken’s neck wrung without distress, and I cannot bear to hear the scream of a hare in the teeth of my dogs… Even the executions of the law, however reasonable that may be, I cannot witness with a steady gaze.[16]

As for wars, it is worth repeating that Montaigne remarks: “I could hardly be convinced, until I saw it, that there were souls so monstrous that they would commit murder for the mere pleasure of it… For that is the uttermost point that cruelty can attain.”[17] The conceptions of cruelty as vice and sadism are accounted for in Montaigne’s reflections, but they are also subtly advanced to a broader condemnation of cruelty as harm to be avoided: capital punishment might be reformed, hunting abandoned, and wars prevented. In this perspective, his contribution to the understanding of cruelty in Western history is momentous, just as momentous were his Essays for the West’s intellectuals in the three centuries following their publication, and it connects the modern conceptions with the ancient one. Moreover, Montaigne is the first Western intellectual to devote an entire essay to the topic of cruelty—a stark sign of how genuine was his hatred for cruelty. “Montaignesque” is therefore the third conception of cruelty to be presented, i.e. cruelty as harm to be avoided.

The champions of the European Enlightenment are probably the most vocal and best-remembered members of this approach. Montesquieu, for example, labels as “cruel… torture” and gruesome “punishments”, legal servitude for insolvent debtors and colonial occupation.[18] In his essays On Tolerance, Voltaire describes as eminently cruel all wars of religion, whilst in Candide he condemns as such rape, corporal punishment and mutilation, even when lawfully administered in the name of justice.[19] Adam Smith, champion of the Scottish Enlightenment, ascribes the attribute “cruel” to infanticide,[20] personal vendetta,[21] economic monopolies,[22] burdensome taxes of succession or of passage of property,[23] the suffering of the “race of labourers” in periods of economic recession,[24] and mercy to the guilty.[25] In Italy, Pietro Verri argues that “[r]eason can show [what] is unjust, extremely dangerous, and immensely cruel”—and reason led him to condemn “torture” as “cruel”.[26] Cesare Beccaria, the most influential penal reformer of all times and both a friend and a student of Verri’s, condemns torture as cruel too, whilst also noting: “man is only cruel in proportion to his interest to be so, to his hatred or to his fear.”[27] Hence, it ought to be a duty for the legislator to “[c]ause men to fear the laws and the laws alone. Salutary is the fear of the law, but fatal and fertile in crime is the fear of one man of another. Men as slaves are more sensual, more immoral, more cruel than free men”.[28] For Jean-Antoine-Nicolas, Marquis de Condorcet, instead, “cruel” is the institutional neglect of “the progress of education”, for it constitutes nothing but the shameful misdeed of “abandoning men to the authority of ignorance, which is always unjust and cruel”.[29] Even the non-instrumental Enlightenment thinker par excellence, Immanuel Kant, does espouse the spirit of reformation of his age, and calls “most cruel” the institution of “slavery” exercised in the “Sugar Islands” by Dutch landowners,[30] whereas merely “cruel” are the “duels” fought in the name of “military honour”, which, like “Maternal Infanticide”, lead to cases of “Homicide” as distinguished from “Murder”.[31]

19th– and 20th-century political and legal reformers followed in the footsteps of the ‘enlighteners’ of the 18th century. Amongst them are also Judith Shklar and Richard Rorty. Judith Shklar, who was a Montaigne scholar, defines cruelty in two ways. The former reads: “Cruelty is… the wilful inflicting of physical pain on a weaker being in order to cause anguish and fear… [it is] horrible… [it] repels instantly because it is ‘ugly’… and disfigures human character”. The latter reads: “Cruelty is the deliberate infliction of physical, and secondarily emotional, pain upon a weaker person or group by stronger ones in order to achieve some end, tangible or intangible, of the latter.” Judith Shklar believes that cruelty, to a meaningful extent, can be controlled by appropriate doses of liberalism, which is itself in many ways a child of the 18th century: “the first right is to be protected against the fear of cruelty. People have rights as a shield against this greatest of human vices. This is the evil, the threat to be avoided at all costs. Justice itself is only a web of legal arrangements required to keep cruelty in check.”[32] Good laws and good political arrangements can reduce the pain that we impose upon/suffer from weaker/stronger creatures like us. That is the hope animating the American and the French Revolutions, as well as many of the emancipatory struggles fought during the following two centuries. Still, additional cruelties can be retrieved—and rejected—in other areas too. Giacomo Leopardi, for one, aims at a different target. He associates cruelty with the rewards and punishments awaiting us post mortem [after death], which he claims to be nothing but the sorrowful fictional creations of tragically misguided philosophies and religions. Whether “healthy or sick”, these creations are, in his view, signs of “cowardice” and mere “childish illusions” that were developed in the face of “the absence of any hope, …the desert of life, …men’s infelicity[,]… and destiny’s cruelty”.[33] Though living as such is cruel in and for itself, even crueller it is to live in fear of the priest’s gloomy superstitions or the philosopher’s hollow concepts.

Tom Regan sketches a fascinating taxonomy of cruelty, which he derives from yet another area that seems engulfed with cruelty: the human treatment of animals. As Regan writes:

People can rightly be judged cruel either for what they do or for what they fail to do, and either for what they feel or for what they fail to feel. The central case of cruelty appears to be the case where, in Locke’s apt phrase, one takes ‘a seeming kind of Pleasure’ in causing another to suffer. Sadistic torturers provide perhaps the clearest example of cruelty in this sense: they are cruel not just because they cause suffering (so do dentists and doctors, for example) but because they enjoy doing so. Let us term this sadistic cruelty… Not all cruel people are cruel in this sense. Some cruel people do not feel pleasure in making others suffer. Indeed they seem not to feel anything. Their cruelty is manifested by a lack of what is judged appropriate feeling, as pity or mercy, for the plight of the individual whose suffering they cause, rather than pleasure in causing it… The sense of cruelty that involves indifference to, rather than enjoyment of, suffering caused to others we shall call brutal cruelty…Cruelty admits of at least four possible classifications: (1) active sadistic cruelty; (2) passive sadistic cruelty; (3) active brutal cruelty; (4) passive brutal cruelty.[34]

Whichever class of cruelty we encounter in life, Regan believes that we must try to eliminate it. In particular, he focuses on (3) and (4), i.e. the types of cruelty that seem to characterise the human-animal relationship in contemporary societies. Persons are not only cruel to other persons: as long as pain is taken to be a relevant ethical factor, then also animals can become victims, and maybe even perpetrators (though Regan does not explore this avenue).

Cruelty as Paradox

As inheritors of the projects initiated in the 18th century, we can find Shklar’s and Regan’s definitions rather appealing. However, how many types of cruelty and cruel areas of behaviour can be actually tackled? How many revolutions, with their load of gunpowder and dynamite, should be fought? If three centuries of worldwide-expanding liberalism, culminated with Francis Fukuyama’s post-Cold-War proclamation of “the end of history”, have not eliminated it, what reasonable expectations can be entertained vis-à-vis the future?[35] Few are the philosophers who have pondered upon the paradoxical character of cruelty—a fourth conception that can also be retrieved in the history of Western thought. Cruelty persists within our lives and societies despite its being commonly denounced as something extremely negative and, above all, despite the recurring attempts to promote social progress and reform existing institutions. Judith Shklar herself admits that “cruelty is baffling because we can live neither with nor without it” and this is probably the reason why:

Philosophers rarely talk about cruelty… I suspect that we talk around cruelty because we do not want to talk about it… What we do seem to talk about incessantly is hypocrisy, and not because it hides cowardice, cruelty, or other horrors, but because failures of honesty and of sincerity upset us enormously, and they are vices which we can attack directly and easily. They are easier to bear, and seem less intractable.[36]

Philip P. Hallie marks a notable exception to the commonplace avoidance of the subject denounced by Judith Shklar. Firstly, Hallie defines “cruelty” as “the infliction of ruin, whatever the motives”[37] or, in two alternative versions, “the activity of hurting sentient beings”[38] and “the slow crushing and grinding of a human being by other human beings”.[39] He then distinguishes the instances of “cruelty upon humans” between those “fatal cruelties” that are due to nature and the far from uncommon “human violent cruelty” that is due to our fellow human beings.[40] To the latter he adds “implicit” or “indirect” cruelties, i.e. cruelties arising from “indifference or distraction” rather than from evident “intention to hurt”.[41] Thus understood, human cruelty can be further divided into “sadistic” and “practical”: whereas the latter refers to forms of instrumental cruelty, the former is “self-gratifying”.[42] By way of this articulate taxonomy, richer than Tom Regan’s itself, Hallie attempts to encompass and map the vast, polymorphous universe of cruelty, whose intricate nature explains perhaps its little permeability to philosophical analysis. Secondly, Hallie cuts the Gordian knot of cruelty’s intrinsic complexity by referring to it as a paradox, candidly and straightforwardly—in a book’s very title. Why simplifying something that cannot be simplified? Why misrepresenting it, in the attempt to represent it clearly? Hallie has in mind five particular cases of paradoxical cruelty:

  1. Cruelty brought about without any open “intention to hurt”, but in the name of altruism, happiness, justice, etc.[43] “Substantial maiming” can derive from “wanting the best and doing the worst”.[44]
  2. Cruelty caused by genuine “intention to hurt”, but aimed at educating and therefore avoiding worse cruelties, e.g. “in terrorem” [terrifying] literary techniques.[45] As 20th-century French literary scholar André Dinar also observes: “The cruel authors cauterise the wounds that can be healed and mark with hot irons the incurable ones, so to expose their horror”.[46]
  3. “The fascinosum [lure] of cruelty”,[47] as well as its ability to titillate “sexual pleasure”,[48] higher “awareness”,[49] the liberation of sensual “imagination”[50] and “masochistic pleasure”,[51] are all pursued willingly and proactively, very often, by fully conscious persons.
  4. Cruelty implied by the “growth” or maturing of any individual through painful “individualisation” for the sake of “human authenticity”.[52] No person becomes mature, well-rounded and responsible without facing a significant amount and variety of pain in her life, and without learning how to face probable, if not inevitable, later doses of the same bitter medicine.
  5. “Responsive” cruelty enacted in retaliation to “provocative” cruelty,[53]g. penal chastisements and just wars, although “mitigation” is recommended.[54]

Being a devout Christian, Hallie has no desire to promote cruelty. Quite the contrary, his work on this topic begins as an effort to reduce it. Nevertheless, as he deepens his understanding of it, Hallie comes to recognise that not all cruelty ought to be avoided, for its disappearance would be more harmful than its persistence. This is particularly true of the painful processes of growth and maturation, as well as of artistic disclosure of sorrowful truths or extreme sexual elation. Moreover, in an implicit reminder of Beccaria’s own wisdom, Hallie admits that cruelty may be a necessary evil in the public sphere. As baffling as this may be, cruelty seems to find rather easily assorted justifications for enduring in many aspects of life.

Cruelty as Good

Some philosophers have stepped beyond the sole acknowledgment of cruelty’s paradoxical character and entertained plainly the seemingly contradictory notion that it might be good. This is the fifth and last conception of cruelty, which comprises two main groups of thinkers.

In the first group are included those thinkers who have argued that cruelty does not need to have intrinsic value (or disvalue), but instrumental value alone and, as such, that cruelty may be capable of fulfilling a positive function. For instance, cruelty can be a tool to promote the common good. Niccolò Machiavelli is among them. According to him:

Every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed [by the rioting between the Cancellieri and Panciatichi factions in 1502 and 1503].[55]

Jacques Derrida states something analogous when he writes in recent years: “Politics can only domesticate [cruelty], differ and defer it, learn to negotiate, compromise indirectly but without illusion with it… the cruelty drive is irreducible.”[56] Instead of combating cruelty at all costs, one ought to learn how to draw as much good as possible from it. After all, the initiation of social life makes itself use of cruelty: why should its continuation be devoid of it? This is what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari seem to suggest, for example. The acquisition and continuation of the shared semiotic abilities that allow for human communities to develop is never devoid of cruelty. Schooling and socialisation are no free meal: “Cruelty is the movement of culture that is realized in bodies and inscribed on them, belabouring them.”[57] Sharing a similar awareness, Clément Rosset explores the instrumental role of cruelty in the private sphere, rather than the public one, and writes provokingly: “Joy is necessarily cruel”.[58] According to him, “[c]ruelty is not… pleasure in cultivating suffering but… a refusal of complacency toward an object, whatever it may be.”[59] Now, “the ‘cruelty’ of the real… is the intrinsically painful and tragic nature of reality.”[60] For instance:

[T]he cruelty of love (like that of reality) resides in the paradox or the contradiction which consists in loving without loving, affirming as lasting that which is ephemeral – paradox of which the most rudimentary vision would be to say that something simultaneously exists and does not exist. The essence of love is to claim to love forever but in reality to love only for a time. So the truth of love does not correspond to the experience of love.[61]

For Rosset, the answer to cruelty’s paradox lays in the nature of reality, which is ultimately cruel. Rosset’s thought could then be regarded as belonging legitimately to the fourth conception of cruelty as well, i.e. cruelty as paradox. In truth, the distinction between the fourth and the fifth conceptions is not clear-cut, and the same can be said of the distinctions between the other conceptions previously presented (especially between the first and the third, and the second and the third). These distinctions are mostly a matter of different conceptual emphasis, rather than of mutual incompatibility; and as we emphasise the fifth conception, it can be stated that, to a relevant extent, persons are shaped by cruelty and are bound to encounter it also and above all if they wish to derive a modicum of satisfaction from their mortal existence. The only way to live well, for Rosset, who was a Schopenhauer scholar, involves learning to embrace the suffering that life unavoidably unloads upon us. In the field of drama, Antonin Artaud echoes and expands Rosset’s tragic awareness: “Death is cruelty, resurrection is cruelty, transfiguration is cruelty… Everything that acts is a cruelty.”[62] To be is to be cruel—there is no way out of cruelty, which, however, must be conceived anew: “Cruelty is not just a matter of either sadism or bloodshed, at least not in any exclusive way… [It] must be taken in a broad sense, and not in the rapacious physical sense that is customarily given to it.”[63] Although never as clear as Rosset on what this novel understanding of cruelty may be like, Artaud developed a new set of shock- and scandal-filled stage techniques and communication devices, i.e. his Theatre of Cruelty, which was aimed at eliciting higher levels of personal awareness in the audience: “All this culminates in consciousness and torment, and in consciousness in torment”.[64]

In the second group are included those thinkers that have argued that cruelty might be intrinsically valuable, maybe even a virtue, which enriches our lives in a unique way and allows for the full realization of our nature. The most ‘in-famous’ example in this sense is that of the Marquis de Sade, who argues: “Cruelty is imprinted within the animals… that can read the laws of Nature much more energetically than we do; [cruelty] is more strongly enacted by Nature among the savages than it is among civilized men: it would be absurd to establish that it is a kind of depravity”.[65] Sade, who approves also of more refined forms of cruelty (i.e. the civilised libertine’s), infers from the naturalness and unavoidability of cruelty a reversed Rousseauvianism:

Remove your laws, your punishments, your customs, and cruelty will not have dangerous effects any longer… it is inside the civilized domain that it turns into a danger, as those capable of it are almost always absent, either because they lack the force, or because they lack the means to respond to the offences; in the uncivilized domain, instead, if it is imposed over the strong, then he shall be able to react to it, and if it is imposed over the weak, it will not be else than conceding to the strong according to the laws of nature, and this will not be inappropriate at all.[66]

Equally notorious is the case of Friedrich Nietzsche, whom the reader has already met repeatedly in this book. Idealising and idolising primeval societies, barbaric bravery and warrior mores, Nietzsche wishes to:

[E]mpathise with those tremendous eras of “morality of custom” which precede “world history” as the actual and decisive eras of history which determined the character of mankind: the eras in which suffering counted as virtue, cruelty counted as virtue, dissembling counted as virtue, revenge counted as virtue, denial of reason counted as virtue, while on the other hand well-being was accounted a danger, desire for knowledge was accounted a danger, peace was accounted a danger, pity was accounted a danger, being pitied was accounted an affront, work was accounted an affront, madness was accounted godliness, and change was accounted immoral and pregnant with disaster![67]

If Sade reverses Rousseau’s bon sauvage [noble savage (the term was never used by him, but is commonly associated with him)], Nietzsche reverses Seneca’s treatment of cruelty as vice. For Nietzsche, cruelty used to be a virtue in prehistoric or barbaric times, it is a fixed element in the human make-up, and it survives in countless rarefied forms today:

Cruelty is what constitutes the painful sensuality of tragedy. And what pleases us in so-called tragic pity as well as in everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate of metaphysical tremblings, derives its sweetness exclusively from the intervening component of cruelty. Consider the Roman in the arena, Christ in the rapture of the cross, the Spaniard at the sight of the stake or the bullfight, the present-day Japanese flocking to tragedies, the Parisian suburban laborer who is homesick for bloody revolutions, the Wagnerienne who unfastens her will and lets Tristan und Isolde “wash over her” – what they all enjoy and crave with a mysterious thirst to pour down their throats is “cruelty,” the spiced drink of the great Circe.[68]

Given all this, as Nietzsche concludes, cruelty should be recovered in an honest and healthy way, for human beings are cruelty-prone animals that live in the mundane world, not the God-like, spiritualised, ‘fallen’ and heaven-seeking creatures of which religion and philosophy have pointlessly blared about for centuries. Just like all other animals, so do human beings have bodies, selfish selves, and ‘knightly’ instincts calling for competition, predation and domination. Humans are born to race against one another and the most deserving ones, in the end, ought to survive and lead. Any departure from this natural logic is a concession to degeneration and, essentially, an unhealthily indirect manifestation of repressed cruelty, which cannot but harm our species by letting slaves dominate over masters, priests over knights, and ignorant masses over cultured elites. Instead of understanding and embracing the cruel but actual reality of the world, which is the only place where true existential meaning can be found, the degenerate pursue mystification and escapism. Exemplarily, the loathed magician/pope of Nietzsche’s grand and initially ill-received philosophical allegory, i.e. his 1883–91 Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, discovers this hard truth in his delirium, as he realises that his own pantheon of abstract instruments of power (angels, demons, God, etc.) is the utmost and most cruel betrayal of any chance for real fulfilment. Nothing of what he has been preaching during his life, in order to lead his flock, is true and truly valuable: “In vain! / Pierce further! / Cruellest spike! / No dog – your game just am I, / Cruellest hunter! /…/ Speak finally! / You shrouded in the lightning! Unknown! Speak! /…/ Surrender to me, / Cruellest enemy, / – Yourself![69]

Concluding Remarks

This brief overview of the five most common and/or most articulate conceptions of cruelty that can be retrieved in the history of Western thought shows already how diverse the interpretations of this term can be. Cruelty, like many other concepts that we employ regularly in our language, whether in ordinary or technical discourses, is inherently contested, i.e. it allows for a variety of readings, usages and applications. As Michael Polanyi used to argue in the 20th century, it is important for concepts to be adequately ambiguous, insofar as they are meant to grasp a plethora of subsidiary details that we are only tacitly aware of, and of some of which we may become aware by subsequent processes of analysis, elucidation, comparison, critique, reflection, study, etc. These processes may even lead to a breakdown in the applicability of the concept, which is then abandoned in lieu of alternative ones. This abandonment does not mean that the concept is mistaken or useless. Quite the opposite, a concept is correct and useful insofar as we successfully interact with other persons by referring to it, that is, by referring to phenomena by means of it. As a concept in both ordinary and philosophical language, cruelty is no exception to the way in which several conceptions can be produced of any such item, and an array of diverse realisations about human affairs can be unpacked from it by reflecting upon it—in this case, by thinking of the shadow.



[1] Lucius A. Seneca, De Clementia, translated by John W. Basore, London: Heinemann, 1928–35[55 AD], II.iv.1–4. Whenever possible, given the great variety of editions over the centuries of Latin classics, I use the standard referencing system for such sources.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. I.xxiv.1–xxv.2.

[5] Ibid. I.xii.1–4.

[6] Ibid. I.ii.2–iii.3.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920[ca. 1268], <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/>, part II of part II, question 159, art. 1. I utilise here the standard scholarly referencing system for Aquinas’ Summa.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., art. 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, London: Andrew Crooke, 1651, <http://socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/hobbes/Leviathan.pdf>, part I, chapter VI.

[12] As cited in British Moralists 1650–1800, edited by D.D. Raphael, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991, vol. 1, 334–5.

[13] As cited in ibid., vol. 2, 72.

[14] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, part I, chapter XV.

[15] Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, translated by Donald Frame, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998[1580], II, 27.  Given the great variety of editions of Montaigne’s essays, I do not refer to page numbers and use the standard scholarly system instead, i.e. book and essay number.

[16] Ibid., II, 11.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, translated by Thomas Nugent, New York: Cosimo, 2011[1748], book VI, chapter, 12; book XV, chapters 1, 7 & 15; book XXVI, chapter 22.

[19] Cf. Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, edited by Louis Moland, Paris: Garnier, 1877[1769].

[20] Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 6th edition, London: A. Millar, 1790, <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smMS.html>, part V, chapter I, §25.

[21] Ibid., part VI, chapter III, §12.

[22] Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, edited by Edwin Cannan, Indianapolis:  The Online Library of Liberty, 1901[1776], <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html>, book IV, chapter 8, §17.

[23] Ibid., book V, chapter 2, §§116 & 125.

[24] Ibid., book I, chapter 11, §263.

[25] Ibid., book II, chapter I, §27.

[26] Pietro Verri, Osservazioni sulla tortura, Rome: Newton, 18 (translation mine).

[27] Cesare Beccaria, Crimes and Punishments, translated by James Anson Farrer, London: Chatto & Windus: 1880[1764], 140–1.

[28] Ibid., 243.

[29] Condorcet, Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain, Xème & IIème époque, 2004[1793–4], <http://www.eliohs.unifi.it/testi/700/condorcet/index.html> (translation mine).

[30] Immanuel Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf, part II, chapter 2, §3 (translation mine).

[31] Immanuel Kant, Philosophy of Law. An Exposition of the Fundamental Principles of Jurisprudence as Science of Right, translated by W. Hastie, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1887[1796], part II, section I, chapter 49, art. E.

[32] Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices, Cambridge: Belknap, 1984, 237.

[33] Giacomo Leopardi, Operette morali, “Dialogo di Tristano e di un amico”, <http://www.leopardi.it/operette_morali.php>, (translation mine).

[34] Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983, 197–8 (emphases removed).

[35] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York: The Free Press, 1992.

[36] Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices, 3, 7 & 44.

[37] Philip P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1969, 14.

[38] Encyclopaedia of Ethics (edited by Lawrence C. Becker, New York: Garland, 1992), s.v. “Cruelty”, by Philip P. Hallie, 229–31, 229.

[39] Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and How Goodness Happened There, New York: Harper & Row, 1985[1979], 2.

[40] Philip P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty, 5–6.

[41] Ibid., 13–4 & 29–31.

[42] Ibid., 22–4.

[43] Ibid., 15–20.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 20–2.

[46] André Dinar, Les auteurs cruels, Paris: Mercure de France, 1972[1942], 7.

[47] Philip P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty, 70–5.

[48] Ibid., 41 & 46.

[49] Ibid., 43.

[50] Ibid., 42 & 50.

[51] Ibid., 48.

[52] Ibid., 55–8 & 60–2.

[53] Ibid., 33.

[54] Ibid., 79–82.

[55] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by W.K. Marriott, 1908[1515], <http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince00.htm>, chapter XVII.

[56] Jacques Derrida, Without Alibi, translated by Peggy Kamuf, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002[2000], 252.

[57] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, New York: The Viking Press, 1977[1972], 144.

[58] Clément Rosset, Joyful Cruelty: Toward a Philosophy of the Real, translated by David F. Bell, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993[1988], 17.

[59] Ibid., 17–20.

[60] Ibid., 76.

[61] Ibid., 98 (emphases removed).

[62] Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double, translated by Mary Caroline Richards, New York: Grove Press, 1958[1938], 101–3 & 85.

[63] Ibid., 102.

[64] Ibid., 114 (emphasis removed).

[65] Sade, La Philosophie dans le boudoir ou Les Instituteurs immoraux, Paris: Larousse, 1966[1795], 139 (translation mine).

[66] Ibid., 140–1 (translation mine).

[67] Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997[1881], §18.

[68] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002[1886], §229.

[69] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common, 1891[1883–91], part IV, §65, section 1 (generally known and translated as Thus Spoke Zarathustra).

Freedom of the Press – Two Concepts



Within Western democracies there exists a well-established agreement on the importance of a free press, which figures prominently in their constitutions since the nineteenth century. However, disagreement emerged as soon as the limits of this freedom had to be defined. As much as everyone agreed on the necessity of having limits, there seemed to be no accord on where these limits should be. The history of freedom of the press is a history of the debates on the limits and borders of a free press.[1]

There is no “original meaning of freedom of the press,”[2] a formula which is often used in order to give weight to an argument. Our modern understanding of freedom of the press is the result of different historic developments and philosophical ideas from the nineteenth century, which explain the different limits for a free press in the twenty-first century.

In the western world, the two main reasons for limiting freedom of the press are defending state interests and/or personal rights. There is a stronger emphasis in the Anglo-American world towards limiting the free press for reasons of state security than in the Federal Republic of Germany and vice versa when personal rights where are involved. In the first decades after the war, these differences did not play an important role as long the Cold War had a unifying impact on western societies, but with the end of the Cold War differences became apparent. The different perceptions on the limits of a free press were the result of two arguments used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for justifying a free press combined with a different historical context. By tracing the debate in the English-speaking world and in Germany, these two different arguments will become visible.

In 1644 the debate for freedom of expression started in modern times thanks to John Milton’s Areopagitica, where he still argued about God in order to justify his quest for freedom. With the enlightenment God lost his unifying role for society and could no longer serve as justification. Two arguments were brought then forward to justify freedom of the press: One by the continental movement of the enlightenment; the other from within the movement of utilitarianism, and most influentially by John Stuart Mill. Both underlined the importance of truth; however, they differed in their understanding on what truth was good for. This difference in their arguments had a lasting impact on the debate of the limits of freedom of the press. 



Freedom of speech and its limits

Formally the argument for free speech or free press[3] has been the same since John Milton’s time. Freedom was seen as a necessary means of realizing an aim for which wide social acceptance existed.  Milton needed to justify his quest for freedom of expression with an argument understandable to his contemporaries and for a man of the seventeenth century only God provided the basis for this argument. It was Milton´s challenge to connect freedom of expression to God. He did it in two ways. Firstly, in a purely rhetorical way, he linked censorship to the Catholic Church, reminding his reader that it was their invention and therefore unworthy of a country such as England.[4] This argument sounded convincing in a society where he could be sure that the Catholic Church was seen as an enemy. In his second more sophisticated argument, he linked truth to God: “Truth is strong, next to the Almighty”[5] and argued that it is our duty to God to seek truth.[6]

A large part of his argument was dedicated to demonstrating that freedom of expression was necessary to searching for truth. The role of freedom as a means for reaching a higher aim became evident when he set its limits. Freedom, he pointed out, was not intended for “popery, and open superstition”[7]. In other words, as the Catholic Church could not, for Milton, contribute towards truth-finding, they had no right to publicity. For him, the Catholic Church, described as the most “anti-Christian”[8] institution, was by definition excluded from enjoying any freedom of expression.

More broadly, however, Milton outlined with this text the construction of the argument for a free press. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the argument was the same; only God needed to be replaced with something else.



The English way

When Milton wrote Areopagitica, the newspaper had just been invented and it was not so much the journalist – a profession which did not exist in his time – whose freedom he had in mind, but more the righteous intellectual like himself. It was only in the nineteenth century that the newspaper became mass media and the debate on freedom of expression was led under the headline of freedom of the press. The newspaper could hardly be linked to the promotion of God’s truth and, due to the enlightenment, God as an ultimate justification could no more be taken for granted. The argument that Milton had brought forward needed therefore to be adapted to the changing times.

James Mill is a good example on how to do so, by replacing God with the social goals of utilitarianism. As a good friend of Jeremy Bentham, he believed utilitarianism would provide the ultimate fundament for society. In his 1823 essay Liberty of the Press he appealed first of all to common sense, such that everyone must be convinced that a society based on moral principles would achieve the highest happiness for all, which is the crucial criterion of utilitarian ethics. He needed to emphasize this since, unlike Milton, he had to justify the aim that he was striving for, whereas Milton, as a religious man of his time, was able to take God for granted.

However, just like Milton, he had to connect freedom of the press to the best possible society:  

We may then ask, if there are any possible means by which the people can make a good choice, besides the liberty of the press? The very foundation of a good choice is knowledge. The fuller and more perfect the knowledge, the better the chance, where all sinister interest is absent, of a good choice. How can the people receive the most perfect knowledge relative to the characters of those who present themselves to their choice, but by information conveyed freely, and without reserve, from one to another? There is another use of the freedom of the press, no less deserving the most profound attention, that of making known the conduct of the individuals who have been chosen. This latter service is of so much importance, that upon it the whole value of the former depends.[9]


James Mill – like Milton before him – saw a link between knowledge and freedom. The results of the last Pisa survey seemed not to suggest this, though. The difference vis-à-vis Milton consists in knowledge no longer serving God but allowing the creation of the ideal society.[10] An ideal society being for him a moral society and the freedom of the press promoting morality, since the individual would be scared that his sinful ways could be exposed to the public[11]

Everybody believes and proclaims, that the universal practice of the moral virtues would ensure the highest measure of human happiness; no one doubts that the misery which, to so deplorable a degree, overspreads the globe, while men injure men, and instead of helping and benefiting, supplant, defraud, mislead, pillage, and oppress, one another, would thus be nearly exterminated, and something better than the dreams of the golden age would be realized upon earth. Toward the attainment of this most desirable state of things, nothing in the world is capable of contributing so much as the full exercise of truth upon all immoral actions.[12]


In his argument he could no longer refer to religious authority; he had to refer instead to the intellectual authorities of his time in order to strengthen his position.[13] Like Milton, the aim he strived for defined the limits of the freedom:  

It will be said, however, that though all opinions may be delivered, and the grounds of them stated, it must be done in calm and gentle language. Vehement expressions, all words and phrases calculated to inflame, may justly be regarded as indecent, because they have a tendency rather to pervert than rectify the judgment.[14]


His argument sounds in the twenty-first century rather weak since it might provide reason for censorship instead for a free press. Any front-page of the yellow press might fail James Mill’s criteria for decency. 

It was left to his son John Stuart Mill to provide the argument with the biggest impact to the debate. Without the moral tone of his father argued for the necessity of a free press in order to create the best possible society. And his text On Liberty provided the printing press with the argument against “stamp duty” and censorship:

If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


The printing press in England got with Mill a moral justification for their business. And they needed it, since the reputation of the journalist in the beginning of the nineteenth century was rather low seen as a “greedy adventurer”. With Mill they could claim an important social role in the society. By promoting the idea that the media was the fourth estate, a watchdog for the public interest and a speaker of public opinion a remarkable change occurred in the nineteenth century in England – the once distrusted media became an important and recognized player in society. Of course Mill himself was interested in it, since he saw the media also as a tool to promote his ideas as George Boyce concluded: “Like many political philosophers, the Utilitarians directed their ideas to a practical aim; and not only did they provide the press with an ideology but they also had contacts with the press which enabled them to advance their principles.”[15]

Even when it was obvious that the development and use of the freedom was not conducted in “calm and gentle language” as his father James had thought “the myth of the Forth estate continued to prosper” [16].



The struggle in Germany

The debate in Germany differed for a number of reasons: first of all Utilitarianism was never a strong philosophical or political movement in Germany. Mill wanted to reform English society with his liberal ideas, while Hegel left this to the Weltgeist. Nietzsche made it clear what he thought of a philosophy striving for happiness: “Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does.”[17]

Also early German contributions to the debate of press freedom were emerging from the Romantic Movement, and as in the case of Ludwig Börne, had little practical impact:

Public opinion is not the friend of the established order of the bourgeois society, and that makes the freedom of speech all the more necessary. Public opinion is a lake, which, if you curb him and put stays as long rises until he falls foaming over his place, flooded the land and sweeps everything away by itself. But where he is given an unimpeded run because it breaks up into a thousand streams varied speech and writing, which, peaceful flowing through the land, irrigate and fertilize it . The governments that suppress freedom of speech, because the truths they spread, they are annoying, make it as little children, which shut the eyes to be seen. Fruitless efforts! Where the Living Word is feared, since the death of the troubled soul will not bring peace. The ghost of the murdered thoughts frighten the suspicious prosecutor who slew them, no less than this even done in life. The free flow of public opinion, whose waves are the days writings , is the German Rubicon on which bore the lust for power and might ponder whether they pass him and take the expensive country and the world with him in bloody mess , or whether they themselves to defeat and stick out.[18] 


Even if it is beautifully written, the Weltgeist didn’t think Germany ready for it. When social reformers such as Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle, in the middle of the nineteenth century, had finally an impact on society, it was not possible to integrate their ideas into a common struggle for freedom of the press as was the case in England.

In England Mill’s ideas could be integrated and taken up by the media as the Utilitarians provided the press with the arguments needed for claiming their role as the fourth estate. In Germany social reformers positioned themselves in opposition to the press and provided the press with arguments to reject their ideas. Ferdinand Lassalle, one of the founders of the workers’ movement in Germany, claimed: “Our main enemy, the main enemy of the healthy development of the German spirit and the German people, is the press nowadays. (…) Its mendacity, their depravity, their immorality is only outbid by nothing other than perhaps by its ignorance. “[19]

Calling the work of the journalist “prostitution of the spirit”[20] might not have helped improve his standing in the media world. So when Lassalle like Mill called for a free press, the publishing houses were as much on the alert as the government, since he saw not only state interference as a problem, but he questioned also the impact of business interests on freedom of the press: “If someone wants to make money, he may fabricate cotton or cloth or play on the stock market. But that for the sake of filthy gain one is ready to poisoning all the fountains of the spirit of the people and serves the people their spiritual death daily from a thousand tubes – it is the highest crime I can imagine.” [21]

He wished to free the press from advertisements, since he saw in the economic strength of the media an obstacle to its freedom. Lassalle was therefore in line with Karl Marx, who defended freedom of the press in his early writings, underlying that “that the first freedom of the press is not being a business. The writer which degrades it to a material mean deserves as a punishment for this inner lack of freedom also the outer lack of freedom, the censor.”[22] The publisher of the nineteenth century who turned printing into an enterprise could not have taken Börne, Marx or Lassalle on board in their struggle for a free press.



Kant’s heritage

There is however one German philosopher who has had a lasting impact on the debate and on the perception of freedom of the press in Germany: Immanuel Kant. Kant’s argument differs fundamentally from John Stuart Mill’s. Mill is interested in negative freedom, which means absence of regulation to ensure the best possible society; while Kant’s concern is positive freedom,[23] having an enlightened individual able to accept laws made through rational choice. Therefore Kant called for the Enlightenment so that “Man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity” could occur[24]. For Kant this immaturity kept man unfree. In order to achieve enlightenment, Kant asked for the free use of reason: “And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters.”[25] However, Kant’s practical suggestion to allow “public use of one’s reason” is a means; the liberated self is the aim. The debate in the Mittwochsgesellschaft  one of the most important German societies in the eighteenth century that promoted enlightenment – showed this when one of the members concluded: “I believe completely unlimited press freedom would surely be misused, most by the unenlightened, and it cannot therefore be a means of enlightenment.”[26] The members of the society wanted to promote enlightenment and the debate about freedom of the press centered on the question of the extent to which freedom of press might be a means to achieve it.

When, after the first World War, the Weimar republic created its first democratic constitution, freedom of the press was included; however, as Jürgen Wilke remarked:  “In this respect, one can say that although the idea of freedom of expression as a human right entered the Weimar Constitution, but not its traditional utilitarian justification.”[27] 

After the Second World War and its dramatic experiences, the Kantian categorical imperative to treat man “never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end” did materialize by having the “dignity of man” as the first article of the German Basic Law. In a study by Katja Stamm concerning the judgments of the highest courts in Germany, she pointed out that of course press freedom was recognized as a necessity for a functional democratic society, but it also emphasized this Kantian heritage in seeing the value “freedom of expression for the individual development of the personality.”[28]

There is the explanation for German judges limiting freedom of the press when it threatened dignity e.g. as in the case of hate-speech, while for example in the English-speaking world David Irving with his denying of the Holocaust was described as a “free speech martyr”.[29]

It also explains the different reactions to the latest National Security Agencies revelations. Living in a Benthamite panopticum might be safe and happy and, as the British tabloid journalist Paul McMullan expressed it, “Privacy is for peados,”[30] but it signals equally the end of the Kantian autonomous individual.




The discussion of free press in the English-speaking world is about the correct interpretation of John Stuart Mill. In the recently published Free speech. A very short introduction, by Oxford University Press, Mill figures prominently and his ideas are getting a whole chapter in it, while Kant is never mentioned. Contrary to a recently published Eine Ideengeschichte der Freiheit, where Mill is mentioned 23 times, compared to Kant’s 457.

The Kantian link between negative freedom as one’s use of reason in public to the idea of the autonomous individual, which is always an end to itself and cannot be a just a means for a utilitarian better society, allows German journalists and editors to have a self-regulation in place where they underline this Kantian idea of “preservation of human dignity”. The first article of the German journalist code of ethics reads therefore: “Respect for the truth, preservation of human dignity and accurate informing of the public are the overriding principles of the press.”[31] 

In the US, the Hutchins Commission concluded already in 1947 that “Freedom of the press for the coming period can only continue as an accountable freedom. Its moral right will be conditioned on its acceptance of this accountability. Its legal right will stand unaltered as its moral duty is performed.”[32] However, instead of following the findings of the commission, twenty years later freedom of expression was the winning argument for Larry Flint in the legal battle for publications of pornography.

State security, however, seemed to be to a much wider extent an acceptable reason for interfering with press freedom in Britain than in Germany. In 2007 the prosecutors dropped all charges against 17 journalists in Germany for disclosing state secrets, while in England in the same year David Keogh and Leo O’Connor were “jailed under the Official Secret Act 1989 for leaking a secret memo detailing discussions between Tony Blair and George Bush in August 2004 about an alleged American proposal to bomb the Arabic television channel al-Jazeere.”[33]

The differences between the German- and the English-speaking will increase as freedom versus security and privacy continue to be seen under either a Kantian or Millian view.


[1] This was pointed out by Friedrich von Gentz already in 1838: “Die große Spaltung der Meinung hebt erst an, wenn die Frage aufgeworfen wird, welche Art gesetzlicher Schranken die beste und zweckmäßigste sei, um in Rücksicht auf den Gebrauch der Presse, das Interesse der Gesamtheit zu sichern, ohne die Freiheit der Einzelnen zu zerstören.“ Friedrich von Gentz, Die Pre?freiheit in England, 1838, in: Pressefreiheit, p. 144.

[2]  A formula which gives you thousands of search results on google.

[3] I do not distinguish in this paper between freedom of press and freedom of expression as it is not valid for the argument made in this paper.

[4] After which time the Popes of Rome, engrossing what they pleased of political rule into their own hands, extended their dominion over men’s eyes, as they had before over their judgments, burning and prohibiting to be read what they fancied not;(…) And thus ye have the inventors and the original of book-licensing ripped up and drawn as lineally as any pedigree. We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient state, or polity or church; nor by any statute left us by our ancestors elder or later; nor from the modern custom of any reformed city or church abroad, but from the most anti-christian council and the most tyrannous inquisition that ever inquired. John Milton. Areopagitica, The Harvard Classics. http://www.bartleby.com/3/3/3.html last visited 25 April 2014.

[5] Milton. Areopagitica.

[6] “Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity, forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint.” Milton, Areopagitica.

[7] “Yet if all cannot be of one mind–as who looks they should be?–this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which, as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or manners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself:” Milton, Areopagitica.

[8] Milton, Areopagitica.

[9] James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/25/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_88

[10] Also this link can be doubted, see for example Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985).

[11] His argument does not sound very convincing in a world where Paris Hilton and her like are heroes.

[12] James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/26/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_52

[13] There is, indeed, hardly any law of human nature more generally recognized, wherever there is not a motive to deny its existence. “To the position of Tully, that if Virtue could be seen, she must be loved, may be added,” says Dr. Johnson, “that if Truth could be heard, she must be obeyed.” (Rambler, No. 87.)—“Je vous plains, mes Péres,” says Mons. Pascal to the Jesuits, “d’avoir recours à de tels remèdes. Vous croyez avoir la force et l’impunité: mais je crois avoir la verité, et l’innocence. C’est une etrange et longue guerre que celle ou la violence essaie d’opprimer la verité. Tous les efforts de la violence ne peuvent affoiblir la verité, et ne servent qu’à la relever davantage: toutes les lumières de la verité ne peuvent rien pour arrêter la violence, et ne font que l’irriter encore plus. Quand la force combat la force, la plus puissante detruit la moindre: quand l’on expose les discours aux discours, ceux qui sont veritables et convainquants confondent et dissipent ceux qui n’ont que la vanité et le mensonge.” (Lett. Provinc. [23] 12.)—“Reason,” says Burke, “clearly and manfully delivered, has in itself a mighty force; but reason, in the mouth of legal authority, is, I may fairly say, irresistible.” (Lett. on Regicide Peace.) James Mill, Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825). 3/31/2014. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_108 .

[14] The text can be found here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-liberty-of-the-press#Mill_0888_151

[15] “W.T. Stead, (…): A newspaperman must have good copy, and a good copy was ‘oftener to be found among the outcast and the disinherited of the earth than among the fat and well fed citizens.’ Hence, ‘selfishness makes the editor more concerned about the vagabond, the landless man, and the deserted child. (…) It was, for example the sensationalism of the ‘Bitter cry of outcast London’, (…) that led to the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Housing of the poor.”George Boyce, The Fourth Estate: the reappraisal of a concept, in: Newspaper History from the 17th century to the present day, edited by George Boyce, Thomas Curan and Pauline Wingate, Constable, 1978

[16] Boyce, The Fourth Estate, p. 25.

[17] Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Götzen-Dämmerung – Twilight of the Idols 1895, http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html, last visited at 25 April 2014.

[18] „Die öffentliche Meinung ist der bestehenden Ordnung der bürgerlichen Dinge nicht hold, und das macht die Freiheit der Rede um so nötiger. Die öffentliche Meinung ist ein See, der, wenn man ihn dämmt und aufhält, so lange steigt, bis er schäumend über seine Schranken stürzt, das Land überschwemmt und alles mit sich fortreißt. Wo ihm aber ein ungehinderter Lauf gegeben ist, da zerteilt er sich in tausend Bäche mannigfaltiger Rede und Schrift, die, friedlich durch das Land strömend, es bewässern und befruchten. Die Regierungen, welche die Freiheit der Rede unterdrücken, weil die Wahrheiten, die sie verbreiten, ihnen lästig sind, machen es wie die Kinder, welche die Augen zuschließen, um nicht gesehen zu werden. Fruchtloses Bemühen! Wo das lebendige Wort gefürchtet wird, da bringt auch dessen Tod der unruhigen Seele keinen Frieden. Die Geister der ermordeten Gedanken ängstigen den argwöhnischen Verfolger, der sie erschlug, nicht minder, als diese selbst im Leben es getan. Der freie Strom der öffentlichen Meinung, dessen Wellen die Tagesschriften sind, ist der deutsche Rubikon, an welchem die Herrschsucht weilen und sinnen mag, ob sie ihn überschreiten und das teure Vaterland und mit ihm die Welt in blutige Verwirrung bringen, oder ob sie sich selbst besiegen und abstehen soll.“ Ludwig Börne, Die Freiheit der Presse in Bayern, 1818, http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/B%C3%B6rne,+Ludwig/Schriften/Aufs%C3%A4tze+und+Erz%C3%A4hlungen/Die+Freiheit+der+Presse+in+Bayern.

[19] Unser Hauptfeind, der Hauptfeind aller gesunden Entwicklung des deutschen Geistes und des deutschen Volkstums, das ist heutzutage die Presse. (…) Ihre Lügenhaftigkeit, ihre Verkommenheit, ihre Unsittlichkeit werden von nichts anderen überboten als vielleicht von ihrer Unwissenheit.“ Ferdinand Lassalle, Die Presse. Ein Symptom des öffentlichen Geistes, 1863, hier zitiert nch Pressefreiheit, S. 222.

[20] P. 232.

[21] „Wenn jemand Geld verdienen will, so mag er Cotton fabrizieren oder Tuche oder auf der Börse spielen. Aber dass man um schnöden Gewinstes willen alle Brunnen des Volksgeistes vergifte und dem Volk den geistigen Tod täglich aus tausend Röhren kredenze – – es ist das höchste Verbrechen, das ich fassen kann.“ Ferdinand LASAALLE, Die Presse, 1863, hier zotiert nach, Pressefreiheit, S. 232.

[22] „Die erste Freiheit der Presse besteht darin, kein Gewerbe zu sien. Dem Schriftsteller, der sie zum materiallen Mittel herabsetzt, gebuehrt als Strafe dieser inneren Unfreiheit die aeussere, die Zensur.“, Karl Max, Die Verhandlungen des 6. Rheinischen Landtags, in Rheinische Zeitung, Nr. 139, 19 May 1842, hier zitiert nach Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Pressefreiheit und Zensur, edited by Iring Fetcher, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt am Main 1969, p. 92

[23] For the defintitions of negative and positive freedom, see: Isaiah Berlin, Two concepts of freedom.

[24] Immanuel Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?, in: Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1784, pp. 484-485.

[25] Immanuel Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?, in: Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1784, p. 484.

[26] Eckart Hellmuth, Enlightement and Freedom of the Press: The Debate in the Berlin Mittwochsgesellschaft, 1783-1784, p. 431.

[27] „Insofern kann man sagen, dass zwar die Vorstellung von Meinungsfreiheit als Menschenrecht, nicht aber ihre überlieferte utilitaristische  Begründung in die Weimarer Reichsverfassung einging.“ Pressefreiheit, hrsg. Jürgen Wilke, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 1984.  P. 34.

[28] „Hohen Wert der Meinungsfreiheit für die individuelle Entfaltung der Persönlichkeit anerkannt.” Katja Stamm, Das Bundesverfassungs-Gericht und die Meinungsfreiheit, AUS POLITIK UND ZEITGESCHICHTE (B 37-38/2001), http://www.bpb.de/apuz/26023/bundesverfassungs-gericht

[29] David Irving two pages  after dealing with Mill as “from discredited historian to free speech martyr.” Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. By Nigel Warburton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 36.

[30] Paul McMullan lays bare newspaper dark arts at Leveson inquiry, The Guardian 29 November 2011,  http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/nov/29/paul-mcmullan-leveson-inquiry-phone-hacking, retrieved the 7 April 2014

[31] See German press code, first article: http://ethicnet.uta.fi/germany/german_press_code, last visited 29 April 2014.

[32] THE COMMISSION ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS,  A FREE  AND RESPONSIBLE PRESS, A General Report on Mass Communication: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books https://archive.org/details/freeandresponsib029216mbp. Last visited 29 April 2014.

[33] Juilian Petley, Censorship and Freedom of Speech, in: The Media. An Introduction, edited by Daniele Albertazzi and Paul Cobley, Third edition, Pearson Essex, 2010, p. 322.

The Importance of Responsibility in Times of Crisis


The importance of responsibility in Times of Crisis


In this paper I would like to show the importance of the concept of responsibility as the foundation of ethics in times of crisis; in particular within the fields of politics and economics in the modern civilisation, marked by globalization and technological progress. I consider the concept of responsibility as the key notion in order to understand the ethical duty in a modern technological civilisation. We can indeed observe a moralization of the concept of responsibility going beyond a strict legal definition, i.e. in terms of imputability. The paper begins by discussing the humanistic foundations of such a concept of responsibility. It treats the historical origins of responsibility and it relates this concept to the concept of accountability.  On the basis of this historical determination of the concept, I would like to present the definition of the concept of responsibility as a fundamental ethical principle that has increasing importance as the foundation of the principles of governance in modern welfare states. In this context the paper discusses the extension of the concept of responsibility towards institutional or corporate responsibility, where responsibility does not only concerns the responsibility of individuals, but also deals with the responsibility of institutional collectivities. In this way the paper is based on the following structure: 1) The ethical foundation of the concept of responsibility; 2) Responsibility in technological civilisation; 3) Political responsibility for good governance in the welfare state; 4) Social responsibility of business corporations in times of globalization; 5) Conclusion and discussion: changed conditions of responsibility in modern times.

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