“every command obeyed is an old victory won again.”

May 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

I put this on Twitter, but I find that I like it so much I want to make it “official” and store it here, as well. Fell upon Theodor Adorno’s 1962 (I believe it was) radio interview of Elias Canetti, where they discussed the latter’s Crowds & Power. Regular readers of this space will know of my affection for the work, so quoting it anew is perhaps not surprising.

What is different, however, is that my focus tends to square on the Crowds section. I’d completely forgotten about the short bit about “Command” in the Power section. Powerful (er….) stuff here:

Beneath all commands glints the harshness of the death sentence. Amongst men they have become so systematized that death is normally avoided, but the threat and the fear of it is always contained in them; and the continued pronouncement and execution of real death sentences keeps alive the fear of every individual command and of commands in general. (304)

* * *

We submit because we see no hope of fighting; it is prospective victors who give commands. The power behind a command must not be open to doubt; if it has fallen into abeyance it must be ready to prove itself again by force. But it is astonishing how seldom fresh proofs are called for, how long the original proof suffices. Success in conflict is perpetuated by commands; every command obeyed is an old victory won again. (305)

* * *

[T]he ‘free’ man is not the man who rids himself of commands after he has received them, but the man who knows how to evade them in the first place. But the man who takes longest to rid himself of them, or who never achieves it, is undoubtedly the least free.

No normal man feels less free because he obeys his own impulses. Even when they are strongest and their satisfaction is positively dangerous, he feels that his actions spring from himself. But there is no man who does not turn against a command imposed on him from outside; in this case everyone speaks of pressure and reserves the right to vengeance or rebellion. (306)

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