Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pertinent Words from Bonhoeffer on the Strong and the Weak

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 6 (Clifford J. Green, ed.; Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott, trans.; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 192-3.
“Even where one avoids [a] radical version of the idea, the right to life of those who are socially valuable is evaluated differently from the socially worthless, even though in both cases nothing but innocent life is involved. But this different valuation evidently cannot be carried out in life, because it would have impossible consequences. It would forbid [what one takes for granted,]* namely, the risking of socially valuable lives on behalf of lives that might be socially less valuable, for example, in war or in any situation in which life is at risk. This is enough to indicate that those of social value make no distinctions about rights of life. Precisely they will be ready to risk their own lives for those whom society values less – the strong for the weak, the healthy for the sick. Precisely those who are strong will not ask about the utility for themselves of the weak – although the weak might do so. Instead, the need of the weak will lead the strong to new tasks that develop their own social value. The strong will see in the weak not a lessening of their strength, but an incentive to higher deeds. The idea of [destroying the life]** of one who has lost social utility comes from weakness, not from strength.”
* I often wonder if this can be taken for granted anymore.
** Destruction can be both active, in the sense of seeking to destroy an enemy, or passive, in the sense of failing to prevent the destruction of something that it was within your power to prevent.

Just food for thought.

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