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Emotions in History – Lost and Found

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Ute Frevert

Chapter 3. Finding emotions

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  • 1 Meyer, ed., Conversations-Lexicon, vol. 12 (1848), p. 748; Rein, Wilhelm, ed., Enzyklopädisches Ha (...)

1When reflecting on gender and emotions, finally and inevitably, empathy comes into mind. Women, as nineteenth and early twentieth-century authors seemed to believe, were particularly well equipped to feel what others felt. Their nature, the argument went, allowed them to be more “compassionate and benevolent” than men who often appeared “harsh and cold-hearted,” more interested in their own wellbeing than that of others. Women’s delicate bones, nerves, and blood vessels enabled them to sympathise with fellow beings, and closely attend to their weal and woe. In contrast, men were more capable of taking care of general issues and developing a public spirit considered the root of civic virtue and patriotism.1

2Empathy, sympathy, compassion for women, public spirit and civic virtues for men: is this how the moderns ordered and gendered civil society’s emotional resources and moral foundations? Or were there other ways of aligning feelings and actions, collective and individual passions? How and why did empathy matter at all to a modern society praising self-love, individual interest and personal achievement over the common good? What was considered good about sharing other people’s emotions? And what kind of behaviour should this sharing generate?

Empathy and compassion

  • 2 Decety, Jean and William Ickes, eds., The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Pr (...)

3Present-day psychologists and neuroscientists lead us to distinguish between empathy, compassion and emotional contagion. The latter happens to babies who start crying when they hear other babies cry. They share their unpleasant feelings unknowingly. Only after human beings have learnt to differentiate between Me and You or Them, are they capable of empathy. They become aware that their emotional state is triggered by the emotional state of another person (or animal). Compassion in turn is defined as a pro-social emotion also invoked by another person. Feeling compassionate towards that person, however, does not imply feeling what the other one feels. Even if I do not experience the other’s pain, I can still be committed to helping and improving their situation.2

  • 3 Trivers, Robert L., “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism,” Quarterly Review of Biology 46, no. 1 (...)
  • 4 Ockenfels, Axel et al., “Altruismus, Egoismus, Reziprozität,” in Soziologische Theorie kontrovers, (...)
  • 5 Calhoun, Craig, “A World of Emergencies: Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order, (...)

4The fact that neuroscience has recently focused on empathy as a preferred research topic is not surprising. Even before discovering the mirror neuron system that, through understanding other people’s or animals’ movements and intentions, navigates our own, emotions have been on the brain scientists’ agenda. Other disciplines have followed and ennobled emotions as an academic topic. Evolutionary biologists seek to explain feelings of benevolence and altruistic behaviour as compatible with natural selection because they benefit the organism.3 Economists were quick to seize upon this and, aided by neuroscientists, have modelled conditions under which altruism outperforms selfish attitudes.4 Social scientists have become interested in the ways in which compassion is conveyed across borders and channelled into practical humanitarian work.5

5Beyond academe, empathy and compassion hold their ground in numerous social practices and formats. People donate funds for those who have suffered from hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes or civil war. Compassion travels widely and connects Europeans with people living in faraway places. Being compassionate has become something like the gold standard of humanity, a moral quest which commands high authority and asks for immediate action. As such, it crept into the political programme of former US president George W. Bush who chose to speak of his government’s “compassionate conservatism”: “It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results.”6 More than a century earlier, Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of Imperial Germany, had described his social policies as “practical Christianity.” Social legislation, he argued, was to “ensure kindlier treatment” to the poor and keep alive their “sense of human dignity.”7

  • 8 Ritter, Joachim and Karlfried Gründer, eds., Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (Basel: Schwa (...)
  • 9 Müller, Gottfried, “Die Barmherzigkeit Gottes: Zur Entstehungsgeschichte eines koranischen Symbols (...)
  • 10 Emotional Awareness. Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion: A Conversat (...)

6Compassion, coupled with concepts of neighbourly love and human dignity, is thus obviously not a novel idea. It was already known and practiced, as Bismarck testifies, during the nineteenth century. It goes back, some argue, even further and seems as old as mankind. Eighteenth-century philosophers suggested sympathy and compassion to be natural human faculties which made them eternal and primordial. Medieval Christianity had praised compassio and misericordia as major virtues secondary only to the love of God. Those who were compassionate took other people’s misery to heart and came to their rescue, out of love. Such attitudes and behaviour were considered good and rational, i.e., complying with ratio humanae vitae.8 Other religions hold similar views. The Koran continuously refers to compassion and mercy (rahma) as major characteristics of God and as crucial virtues of the Islamic community.9 Central to the Buddhist tradition are age-old meditative practices and techniques (shamatha) that focus on empathy. The person who meditates is advised to consider every human being as their teacher or mother, as someone very dear to them. This is supposed to enhance their compassionate perception and outlook.10

Social emotions in eighteenth-century moral philosophy

  • 11 Ritter and Gründer, eds., Wörterbuch, vol. 5 (1980), quote col. 1412; Hutcheson, Essay, p. 56; Hum (...)

7Training oneself to feel compassion, or bowing to compassion as an authoritative virtue, though, was not on the mind of those who, in the eighteenth century, elevated it to a crucial component of “the common good and welfare.” For British moral sense philosophers as well as for French proponents of sensibility, pity and compassion were taken for granted. In 1728, Francis Hutcheson extolled them as “publick” affections about “the State of others.” They “extend to all perceptive Natures, when there is no real or imagined Opposition of Interest. We naturally desire the absent Happiness of others; rejoice in it when obtained, and sorrow for it when lost.” David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature published in 1739-40 saw the “passion of pity” arising from the “general principle of sympathy.” Rousseau, for his part, conceived of pitié as an immediate, genuine emotion, caused by the aversion to see others suffer.11

8Sympathy, as an overarching concept, was the cornerstone of moral philosophy invented by the Scottish Enlightenment. It laid the groundwork for social communication and cohesion, and it promoted a common morality among members of a given society. How this should and could work was described in great detail and allegedly based on empirical evidence. Hume took great care to point out that his observations did not depend “on any hypothesis of philosophy” but referred to “plainest experience.” The latter proved that “the passions and sentiments of others […] appear at first in our mind as mere ideas, and are conceiv’d to belong to another person.” The ideas are then “converted into the very impressions they represent.” They acquire “such a degree of force and vivacity, as to become the very passion itself, and produce an equal emotion, as any original affection.” The process of conversion thus “make[s] us enter into the sentiments of others.”

  • 12 Hume, Treatise, pp. 367–70; Frazer, Michael K., The Enlightenment of Sympathy (Oxford: Oxford Univ (...)

9What caused and supported this was “resemblance.” Since all human beings resembled one another, both in the “fabric of the mind, as with that of the body,” they could embrace the opinions and affections of others “with facility and pleasure.” Increasing resemblance would engender increased sympathy. In this respect, similar “manners, or character, or country, or language” allowed for stronger sympathy. Conversely, the “great uniformity” of humours and ideas found among members “of the same nation” arose from sympathy rather than “from any influence of the soil and climate.” Resemblance thus facilitated sympathy which in turn fostered social integration and moral consensus. Accordingly, “the sentiments of others have little influence when far remov’d from us.” Contiguity was necessary to communicate them.12

10While sympathy played basso continuo in Hume’s famous treatise, it trumpeted Adam Smith’s equally important Theory of Moral Sentiments. Published in 1759, its first chapter immediately got to the point “of sympathy.” Chapter two went on to speak “of the Pleasure of mutual Sympathy.” Even more explicitly and consistently than Hume, Smith introduced sympathy as a natural principle underlying and buttressing man’s ability to be a moral person and live in harmony with others. Similarly to Hume, Smith stressed the importance of imagination: in order to sympathise, a person had to change places with the one who suffered or felt joy, disgust, wonder, fear. Only by putting himself in the shoes of the other could one conceive or “be affected by what he feels.” What Smith called “fellow-feeling” enabled the person to “enter into the sentiments” of others and feel what they felt.

11For spectators with “delicate fibres and a weak constitution of body”—women, above all—this kind of fellow-feeling apparently came easy. But even “men of the most robust make” could experience it, as proven by empirical observation. (Smith, too, put great emphasis on being an empiricist). This would work even better if the one, who, in the first place, felt a certain emotion, tuned down its expression to a degree that could be more readily consumed by others. Here, Smith introduced a new concept: reciprocity and self-inspection. A was called upon to see his passion with B’s eyes which immediately “abates the violence of what he [A] felt” before. Instead of overwhelming and overcharging B in his ability and willingness to sympathise, A thus brought down “his emotions to what the spectator [B] can go along with.”

Self-love and sympathy

  • 13 Smith, Adam, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Amherst: Prometheus, 2000), pp. 3–30.

12Smith was quick to point out the conditions that allowed for such delicate procedures of reciprocal perspective-taking: “society and conversation.” In the presence and under the observation of peers, “men of the world” were prompted to abate their passions, restore “the mind to its tranquillity” and achieve the “equality of temper” rendering civil society a pleasant place. Sympathy thus worked both ways: it produced fellow-feelings like pity and compassion, but it also forced people to reflect on their own feelings and take a different viewpoint. According to Smith, the reciprocity of sympathy engendered two sets of virtues: “the soft, the gentle, the amiable virtues, the virtues of candid condescension and indulgent humanity” on the one hand, and “the great, the awful, and respectable, the virtues of self-denial, of self-government” on the other. Civil society needed both: indulgent humanity and “that command of the passions which subjects all the movements of our nature to what our own dignity and honour, and the propriety of our own conduct, require.”13

13Why did Smith and Hume put so much weight on those amiable virtues, and why did they highlight sympathy and fellow-feeling, in particular? Did this not run counter to modern society’s basic rules that Smith himself spelt out so powerfully and lucidly only a few years later? To this very day, Adam Smith is predominantly known and remembered as the author of The Wealth of Nations which, published in 1776, laid the foundations of modern economic theory. At the onset of Britain’s industrial revolution, Smith championed free market economies as beneficial both to a country’s internal development and to global cooperation. These economies, he argued, relied heavily on people’s self-interest and the liberty to pursue it, in cooperation with others. Though triggered and practiced through selfish motives, cooperation ultimately served the interest of all, advanced general well-being and increased the wealth of a nation (and, for that matter, of all nations).

  • 14 dem, The Wealth of Nations, ed. Andrew Skinner (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 119.

14Where was the place of sympathy in a model that praised and glorified self-interest? To recall Smith’s famous passage: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own inter-est. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”14 Then how did Smith get from sympathy to self-interest and self-love, and vice versa? Do these concepts not contradict and mutually exclude each other? Not for Smith: self-love and self-interest, as he saw it, did not preclude pity and compassion at all, but rendered them possible.

15Smith, like many others, drew on the modern concept of the individual that declared himself (it was always a “he,” and never a “she” in those days) as the ultimate bearer of freedom and self-determination. Self-interest was his motivation, and his goal was self-realisation, the free and independent practice of talents and strengths. In order to achieve that goal, however, a man needed other men with whom he competed and collaborated in the common quest for self-perfection. Sympathy allowed him to engage in this social enterprise and imbue society with “moral sentiments” that guaranteed its stability and cohesion as much as they fostered individual happiness.

16This approach rested on two major premises: first, on the acceptance that self-love was not in itself despicable. Instead, it was held to be a natural and necessary emotion promoting the survival and well-being of the individual. This marked a crucial departure from pre-modern, mainly Christian ideas that tended to devalue and criminalise self-love and self-interest as immoral, as a sin before God and people. During the eighteenth century, self-love acquired a noble, civilising role, as a legitimate and even desirable emotion that, under certain circumstances, could be beneficial for society as a whole.

  • 15 Ibid., p. 117.

17This is where the second premise applied: self-love and self-interest had to be balanced in relation to other needs and necessities. They were to be controlled and restrained, at times, and had to be incited and enhanced, at others. This is exactly what happened in social communication, or, more specifically, in the market. Men, as Adam Smith observed, shared a “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.”15 Bartering and exchange made them highly dependent on each other. In fact, their mutual dependence did not stop on the level of goods; it went further in the realm of passions and emotional transactions.

  • 16 Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 13. As to other ideas on how to solve the “celebrated Adam S (...)

18Passions (recognised as major forces behind human motivation and action) both increased men’s vulnerability and indentured them to others. At this point, sympathy entered the stage. While “the agreeable passions of love and joy” did not demand “auxiliary” assistance, “the bitter and painful emotions of grief and resentment” did. They “strongly require,” so Smith contended, “the healing consolation of sympathy.” The latter thus served the recipient, but it also added to the well-being of the giver who found pleasure in being able to sympathise.16

Suffering and pity

19Although sympathy was by no means restricted to pity and compassion, it was particularly pressing in case of suffering. Those who grieved for the loss of a beloved person, or fumed with rage, were in dire need of someone who shared their sentiments and offered them practical assistance and words of comfort. Where the reciprocal process of perspective-taking worked, it helped them to calm down their strong and violent feelings. Even if it failed, sympathy did wonders, as captured in proverbial language: “Misery loves company,” “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved,” “geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid.”

  • 17 Rousseau, Discours, pp. 84–87.

20In many ways, Smith’s argument was similar to how Rousseau, across the Channel, thought about pity and compassion. Writing in 1755, he regarded pitié as natural and universal: “it is the pure emotion of nature, prior to all kinds of reflection” and reason. As such, it was one of the two principles that guided the “operations of the human soul”: men cannot see another human being (or animal) suffer. Pitié thus accompanied and restrained the second principle: the concern for one’s own “welfare and preservation.”17

21For Rousseau as much as for Smith, self-love and compassion were “natural” capacities of each and every human being, and the two had to be brought into “agreement and combination.” Here is where the differences began. Whereas Rousseau thought of civil society as a stage in human development that hampered man’s natural inclination to be compassionate, Smith vigorously disagreed. For him, civil society and a free-market economy went hand-in-hand with all kinds of sympathy. What he called “fellow-feeling” referred to “any passion whatsoever” and was not limited, as with Rousseau, to the suffering of pain and death. So while Rousseau evoked the dream of a paradise lost, Smith envisaged the future (in the present) as a state that happily aligned the progressive, forward-pushing force of self-interest with the comforting, sideways-looking power of sympathy.

22Writing at about the same time, albeit in different places, might (at least partly) explain the contrast of opinion. Rousseau attacked the political and social order that he saw reigning on the European continent: Absolutism and chasms of social inequality. Smith, in turn, lived in Britain where politics were less oppressive, society was more open and mobile, and capitalism was already on the way. Hence the future looked more promising than the past, whereas for Rousseau, the future (after the downfall of despotism) was about getting closer to the benign state of nature, abolishing the division of labour (which Smith considered to be the source of economic progress) and the institution of private property.

Fraternité and the French Revolution

23Twelve years after Rousseau’s death, the French Revolution did put an end to the authoritarian (if not despotic) Ancien Régime. It failed, however, to finish off what the philosopher had held responsible for the wretched state of society: property, division of labour, social inequality. Still, it popularised two important innovations that both Smith and Rousseau had on their minds: the idea of universal human rights and the concept of fraternité. Those concepts proved to be milestones in the development of a modern social and global order, and both relied heavily on what Smith and Hume had called sympathy.

24At first sight, they seemed to have much in common with traditional Christian notions of brotherhood. Fraternité, as evoked by the revolutionaries, was reminiscent of the semantics of brotherly love and the love of neighbour. Since early Christianity, following the Jewish example, fellow believers had addressed each other as brothers, thereby stressing the bonds of mutual love which their shared faith had fostered between them. The Middle Ages saw the development of special fraternitates comprised of monks living in different monasteries but belonging to the same spiritual community. Their model inspired merchants and craftsmen to establish similar confraternitates or guilds combining religious and secular purposes. It also inspired German peasants who in 1524-25 revolted against feudal privileges and despotism. They called each other “Christian brothers” and invited others to join their “Christian union and Bruderschaft.” The latter was thus not, as with monks and burghers, confined to certain institutions, but moved beyond them.

  • 18 Quotes in Schieder, Wolfgang, “Brüderlichkeit,” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, eds. Otto Brunner (...)

25In the eighteenth century, this movement gathered pace. Freemasons took the lead and established a cult of brotherhood that departed from earlier models and traditions in two important ways. First, it was profoundly secular. Masonic lodges were decidedly irreligious and open to men of different faiths. Catholics, Protestants and Jews could and did join them to experience a brotherhood that life outside the lodges denied them. Second, freemasonry’s idea of brotherhood cut across social borders. It integrated men of different social backgrounds; more precisely, it bridged the gap between the aristocracy and members of the well-to-do and well-educated middle classes. In the intimacy of the lodge, protected by its aura of secrecy, they could indulge in rituals of community and communication that were impossible and inconceivable in wider society. What counted, was man in his natural goodness rather than birthright and social rank. By exclusively applying the “spirit level of nature,” freemasons appreciated each other as brothers, no more and no less.18

  • 19 Schiller, Friedrich, “Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?,” (1789) in (...)

26But what about those who did not belong to the community of Masonic brothers? Were they not also brothers, if nature set the tone? In principle: yes. In practice: no. The principle was in the good hands of Friedrich Schiller who, in 1786, wrote the poem that became known worldwide after Ludwig van Beethoven set it to music in his Ninth symphony. Here, Schiller who sympathised with freemasonry praised joy as the unifying force that turned all men into brothers. Taken together with the poet’s outspoken cosmopolitanism, this was a clear commitment to brotherhood and brotherly love encompassing all humankind. In real life, though, things looked somewhat different. The Masonic lodges practiced brotherhood only amongst their own members, and Europe was far from being a peaceful, harmonious “family.” Instead of the cosmopolitan ties that should connect “all intelligent people,” “antagonistic egoism” defined the relations between states and nations. As much as Schiller wanted to believe in the telos of history precipitating “our humane century,” it required more than healthy optimism to see it coming.19

  • 20 Hunt, Lynn, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, (...)
  • 21 Schieder, “Brüderlichkeit,” pp. 565–67.

27Six weeks after the young professor had delivered his inaugural lecture on universal history at Jena University, the Paris crowd destroyed the symbol of the Ancien Régime. Immediately, fraternité was presented as one out of three main principles informing the ambitious project of shaping a new society. While egalité and liberté set rather abstract goals, fraternité gained an immediate appeal. It acted as a peacemaker prompting citizens to realise liberty and equality among themselves. Its practices—embracing, taking oaths, declaring love—were meant to reaffirm the positive spirit of community unbound by revolutionary action. Those who convened at the Champ de Mars to celebrate the first anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille pledged to remain united à tous les Français by the indissoluble ties of fraternité. The new French nation born from the fire of revolution thus conceived of itself as a nation of brothers linked by brotherly love, care, and solidarity.20 At the same time, it extended brotherhood beyond its geographical borders, with or without the consent of other nations. For those who refused to fraterniser, fraternité was introduced by military force.21

Fig 9. “Les Douceurs de la fraternité” (1794).

28Similar to the British idea of sympathy, the French notion of revolutionary fraternité departed from earlier traditions, patterns and practices and opened a new chapter of thinking about compassion and brotherly love. What had distinguished sympathy from the Christian notion of misericordia was threefold: first, its secular character, second, its reciprocity, and third, its alleged naturalness. Being secular meant that sympathy was neither restricted to those sharing the same faith (“Christian brothers”) nor imposed as a demand by one’s faith. Reciprocity ruled out the distinction between the “active” person who offered compassion, and the “passive” recipient of that feeling. It put both on a par and allowed them to constantly change places, whereas the religious virtue of compassio had left the active/passive divide untouched. Furthermore, compassio was an abstract normative pledge caused by the love of God and mankind and expected from men rather than being naturally felt. In contrast, sympathy sprang from human nature, it was a genuine human trait and, as such, universally shared. All over the world, men felt it, regardless of faith, class, nation, or gender. Its universality enabled it to travel and connect people from faraway places. Instead of being reduced to the “love of thy neighbour” (Nächstenliebe) as preached by Christianity, sympathy could, and would, extend worldwide.

Human rights

29Still, it was easier to experience and enact when the other was not too far away, as Hume had remarked. This held equally true for fraternité, as the French were soon to acknowledge. It also held true for the principle of human rights that the French Revolution borrowed from its American forerunner. In order to justify the American colonies breaking away from the British Empire, the 1776 Declaration of Independence had referred to the “self-evident” truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The 1789 French Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen echoed those truths by first stating that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” and second qualifying the latter as “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.” Although the Déclaration was bold and progressive, its omissions were obvious. Women immediately understood that they were collectively excluded, as were the slaves in French colonies. The “natural, unalienable and sacred rights of man” thus did not even pertain to all those who were living on French soil. Only he who was considered citoyen by virtue of his gender, legal status and nationality, could enjoy those rights—and the fraternité that active citizenship implied.

  • 22 Hunt, Lynn, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007).

30Nevertheless, the gospel spread fast and wide and it encouraged those excluded to press for inclusion. In 1791, the female activist Olympe de Gouges published a Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne (and was guillotined two years later); at the same time, slaves in San Domingo rebelled and finally earned individual freedom as well as national independence in 1804. The promise and vision that the French National Assembly had sent out in 1789 stayed alive, even if it proved hard to implement. It inspired the quest for emancipation brought forward by European Jews, it pushed the case of His Majesty’s (George IV) Roman Catholic subjects, and it provided ammunition to women’s movements.22

31Those movements were initiated by social groups that felt deprived of the “rights of man.” Picking up the new gospel, they argued and fought against all kinds of restraints and discriminations that prevented them from enjoying personal liberty, property, and security. Their success, though, depended on the support of others. Even if all Jews or Catholics or women had been united in their quest for inclusion, they would not have been able to enforce it against the will of the powerful. They needed, so to speak, their consent, or, to put it less strongly, their compliance. This is where sympathy (or fraternity) played a part.

Abolitionism and the change in sensibility

  • 23 Brown, Christopher L., Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University (...)

32How this worked can be studied particularly well for those movements developing in support of people or beings who seemed to be excessively exposed to human injustice and oppression. Abolitionism provides a good example. Its roots date back to the late eighteenth century when the first anti-slavery groups formed, first in Philadelphia, and later in Britain. Strongly inspired by religious beliefs in human equality, Quakers and Evangelical Anglicans started to campaign for abolishing the slave trade. They organised mass petitions and successfully boycotted slave-grown products like sugar. After the British government had given in and made slave trade on British ships illegal, they went on to push for a “prompt extinction of British colonial slavery,” mainly in the Caribbean. They spoke at lectures and meetings, they helped slaves to escape and gave them shelter. In 1832-33, 1.5 million Britons signed antislavery petitions submitted to the London parliament which eventually passed the Slavery Abolition Act. As of 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated.23

  • 24 As to the “sensualist” turn of the eighteenth century, see Williams, Elizabeth, The Philosophical (...)
  • 25 Koschorke, Albrecht, Körperströme und Schriftverkehr: Mediologie des 18. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Fin (...)

33Abolitionism instigated the first mass movement in modern history engaging people of all classes, age, and gender. Although it bore religious overtones, it spoke to more secular-minded citizens as well and resonated with a wide constituency. Its language was clearly informed by the mode of sensibility that had developed since the 1740s. In its wake, the Cartesian cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) was supplemented by the motto Je sens donc je suis (I feel, therefore I am).24 Ennobling feelings and sensations as means of perception and judgment caused a surge of cultural practices and techniques favouring introspection and sublimation.25 How to feel and how to share one’s feelings with like-minded people became a major concern for those men and women who claimed to be sensible and compassionate. Sensibility, sensibilité, Empfindsamkeit generated a public craze that was equally relevant for Britain, North America, France and German-speaking Central Europe. Nurtured by popular novels, it spread into personal notebooks, diaries, and letters, media that were by no means confined to women and/ or adolescents. The culture of sensibility was originally embraced by men, too, as much as it reached out to people of different social backgrounds. Apart from the rising middle classes, it appealed to members of the aristocracy and gentry, even though—or rather because—it often involved criticism of the alleged lack of sincerity and authenticity within the noble circles.

Fig 10. Anti-slavery medallions (late 18th and probably 19th century).

  • 26 Kant, Anthropology, p. 132. This kind of contemporary criticism is echoed by Mullan, John, Sentime (...)
  • 27 Mackenzie, Henry, The Man of Feeling (1771), ed. Brian Vickers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2 (...)

34By the end of the eighteenth century, the cult of true and deep feeling became increasingly contested by those who found it lacking in strength and activity. For Kant, “the ineffectual sharing of one’s feelings in order to appear sympathetically in tune with the feelings of others” was unmanly. In order to be “effectual” and taken “to heart,” sympathy had to acquire an energetic quality.26 This is exactly what happened in the various reform movements springing up at around the same time, without, however, being noticed and appreciated by Kant and other castigators of weak, feminine sensibility. Their members and supporters indeed put feelings to action thus defying the man-of-feeling image as quoting poetry and shedding tears over the sad fate of a novel’s hero or heroine.27

35Although abolitionism was by far the most inclusive of those reform movements, there were many others that similarly built on men’s and women’s capacity and willingness to put themselves in the place of other, less fortunate beings. In 1774, for instance, High Sheriff John Howard provided testimony of the wretched situation of English prison inmates to the House of Commons that immediately passed legislation to improve it. Three years later, Howard published an account of his long-term investigations on the state of prisons in England, Wales and other European countries. It found an eager readership and put prison reform on the wider humanitarian agenda. Edmund Burke, the influential Whig politician and public orator, heralded Howard as an original reformer full of “genius” and “humanity,” who was ready to “take the gauge and measure of misery, depression and contempt; to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken.”28 A few years later, Elizabeth Fry took a special interest in female prisoners and helped to found an association actively campaigning to reform their conditions. This led, in 1821, to the creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners which was among the first nationwide women’s organisations in Britain. Elizabeth Fry then pioneered a training school for female nurses thus providing Florence Nightingale with a personal and institutional role model.29

36Far from indulging in passive sympathy and silent contemplation, women, alongside men as well as on their own, spoke out and took action when affected by the misery of others. While such sentiments and affections might have been around in earlier times, the nineteenth century saw them gaining momentum and inspiring philanthropic and professional associations. Imbued with the spirit of reform and self-help, civil society encouraged citizens to take matters into their own hands and bring “progress” to those who seemed in dire need of it. The cult of sympathetic feeling fuelled social concern and generated movements that proved vital in introducing social change.

Sympathy, lexical

  • 30 Zedler, ed., Universal Lexicon, vol. 41 (1744), col. 744.
  • 31 Diderot, Denis and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des scien (...)
  • 32 Larousse, Pierre, ed., Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (Paris: Administration du Grand (...)
  • 33 Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyklopädie für die gebildeten Stände [Brockhaus], 9th ed. (Leipzig: Bro (...)

37Rather than disappearing from the agenda of modern society, sympathy and compassion thus entered it on a new scale and with far greater urgency than before. This is reflected, among other forms, in encyclopaedias. By the mid-eighteenth century, sympathy had mainly been described as a physiological, cosmic or magical connection. Zedler’s Universal Lexicon in 1744 defined it as a natural concept of “hidden correspondence of two entities,” namely planets, plants, and animals.30 Two decades later, the French Encyclopédie discussed the physiological proofs of sympathy, defined as “this communication that body parts have with one another, which keeps them in an inter-dependency, in one position, in a mutual suffering, and carries to one part the pain and diseases that afflict the other.” Sympathy was solely about pathologies here, and only in passing did the author acknowledge that pleasant feelings could be communicated as well.31 From then on, though, it gradually gained a more complex social and moral meaning. A century after Diderot and d’Alembert, Pierre Larousse’s Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIX siècle took it to be, above all, a “natural inclination to share feelings and impressions that others experience.”32 In a similar vein, the 1847 edition of the German Brockhaus placed the “psychic” dimension of Sympathie above physiology: Mitempfindung (empathy) was introduced as the “spontaneous imitation of somebody else’s sentiment.” By feeling “Mitfreude und Mitleid” (sympathetic joy and compassion), we participate in this sentiment “as if we felt it ourselves.”33 This definition remained basically the same until today.

  • 34 Zedler, ed., Universal Lexicon, vol. 21 (1739), col. 552.
  • 35 Der große Brockhaus: Handbuch des Wissens, 15th ed. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1928–1935), vol. 12 (1932 (...)

38Furthermore, lexica mirror the growing moral importance of sympathy/empathy, and compassion. As early as 1739, Zedler declared that Mitleidigkeit (compassion) could very well co-exist with “rational self-love.” He also stated that compassion was to have an active component. Rather than just contemplating and feeling sorry for the calamities that befell a friend, “reasonable compassion” should strive to restore the “good spirit and pleasure of the one who suffers.”34 Zedler here anticipated what intellectuals disliked about the “sensibility craze” by the end of the eighteenth century. As late as 1932, the difference between true and “false” compassion was evoked; “moral value” was only granted when compassion elicited help— which, in 2006, was further specified as “active help, lenience, and deference.”35

  • 36 Chismar, Douglas, “Empathy and sympathy: The important difference,” Journal of Value Inquiry 22, n (...)
  • 37 Lipps, Theodor, Leitfaden der Psychologie (Leipzig: Engelmann, 1903); idem, “Das Wissen von fremde (...)
  • 38 Vignemont, Frederique de and Tania Singer, “The Empathic Brain: how, when and why,” Trends in Cogn (...)

39So it was not enough just to feel what the other felt. This is what we nowadays call empathy—a word that entered the lexicon only a few decades ago. Since then, Anglo-Saxon philosophy and psychology have switched from the notion of sympathy to the concept of empathy. Yet, it is not always clear what the distinction really is about, and often the terms are used interchangeably.36 For the sake of clarity, it makes sense to reserve empathy for what Einfühlung means in German. Einfühlung became prominent in psychology and aesthetic theory in the early twentieth century. It meant, by and large, that we can only know about our fellow human beings by entering their emotional state. By sharing their position and expressions, we yield sentiments in ourselves that we might project back onto them. Empathy in this sense does not involve, let alone require, any positive regard of the other.37 In contrast, sympathy, as it has been used since the eighteenth century, couples empathy with a pro-social, cooperative and benevolent attitude towards the other person.38

Schopenhauer’s Nächstenliebe versus Nietzsche’s Fernsten-Liebe

  • 39 Schopenhauer, Arthur, “Preisschrift über die Grundlage der Moral,” in idem, Die beiden Grundproble (...)

40Empathy, then, serves as the basis for emotions like sympathy or compassion to arise. But unlike empathy, sympathy and, even more so, compassion, has a goal: to intervene and to help. It is exactly this goalorientation that became so prominent during the nineteenth century. Growing numbers of people started to turn compassionate feelings into active social service. They organised philanthropy on a large scale, they formed associations to reform social conditions, and they launched social movements to improve the lives of others and their own. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mirrored this development when he, in 1839, declared compassion to be one of the three prime factors determining human behaviour (the other two being egotism and spite). Compassion, i.e., the direct, unmitigated concern for the suffering of another person, served as the true basis of morality, of justice and Menschenliebe or caritas. Schopenhauer called it a “mysterious” phenomenon since it escaped reason why one should completely identify with another person and, at least momentarily, lift the barrier between Me and You. Still, he found ample proof of it in everyday life: on a micro-social level, when a person gave his life for someone that he hardly knew; and on a grand scale, when Britain decided to abolish slavery, and the British government raised 20 million pounds to compensate registered slave owners. He also mentioned various initiatives to protect animals from human cruelty which had first been organised in Britain and, from the 1850s, had spread to Germany as well.39

  • 40 Schopenhauer, “Preisschrift,” p. 274.

41Even though Schopenhauer did not succeed in winning the prize of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, to which he had submitted his reflections on “moral foundations,” his argument, largely borrowed from Rousseau, proved very influential. It coincided with the Zeitgeist, both in stressing active deeds and in its claim to make the world a better place. Furthermore it tried, just as Rousseau had, to locate compassion (and morality) in human nature rather than in religious norms. Far more radically than Rousseau, Schopenhauer denied the authority of Christianity on notions of charity and benevolence. Religion, he argued, had relatively little impact on morality.40 Instead, the latter derived from human nature itself, which was, by definition, universal and timeless.

  • 41 Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Jenseits von Gut und Böse,” § 202, 222, 293 in idem, Sämtliche Werke: Kriti (...)

42Some decades later, Friedrich Nietzsche ferociously attacked what had developed into a secular, as he saw it, “religion of compassion.” The democratic age had dictatorially put compassion—“down to the animal, up to God”—on the public and political agenda. It had institutionalised a morality of general compassion, a “mortal hatred” against suffering and an “almost feminine incapability” to watch living beings suffer. While European societies apparently considered this to be the climax and epitome of human civilisation, Nietzsche took his distance. He thoroughly despised what he called the “morality of gregarious animals,” and identified compassion as the greatest threat to the “new” morality he envisaged for a post-democratic age of noble heroism41.

  • 42 Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Menschliches, Allzumenschliches,” § 50, ibid., vol. 2, pp. 70–71; “Also spr (...)

43Leaving those visions aside (though they appealed to many contemporaries), we may nevertheless find some important truths in Nietzsche’s reflections and observations. Writing in the 1880s, the philosopher was witnessing (and rebelling against) a powerful contemporary trend of compassionate behaviour. Calling it weak and feminine brought to the fore his own fantasies of masculine strength and dominant morality. At the same time, Nietzsche clairvoyantly emphasised features of compassion that had escaped “old” moralists like Schopenhauer. First, he pointed to the (conscious or unconscious) intentions of those who inflicted “pain” on others by their own weakness and suffering. The “thirst to be pitied” was nothing but taking pleasure in one’s own ability to exert power over others. Second, Nietzsche offered crucial insights into the psychology of benevolence. Feeling and acting pity was even more closely connected to power than asking for pity. Those who sacrificed life and limb did so because they desired power or wanted to sustain it. Everybody who suffered was a delightful gift for people neither proud nor noble but content with what normal, mediocre life had to offer. In this vein, “compassion is generally praised as the virtue of prostitutes.” It appealed to those who were not strong and courageous enough to go “their own way” but depended on the love and gratitude of others. Third, their compassion actually shamed the person who received it, by violating their pride. Shaming, though, was tantamount to poor morality; conversely, the most humane behaviour was about sparing somebody shame.42

  • 43 Nietzsche, “Zarathustra,” ibid., vol. 4, pp. 77–79, quote p. 78.

44Instead of immersing oneself in shameful and emasculating Nächstenliebe, Nietzsche promulgated Fernsten-Liebe, i.e., love for those who were far away and not easily accessible. Fernsten-Liebe, he argued, escaped both the pitfalls of projecting love that one did not feel for oneself onto one’s neighbour, and the perils of exclusion. “Those further away have to pay the price of your neighbourly love. When five of you are together, a sixth has to die.”43

Compassion and its shortcomings

45Highlighting the exclusionary power of charity and brotherly/neighbourly love, Nietzsche struck the right chord. More than a century earlier, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn had made a similar argument. Translating Rousseau’s Discours on human inequality into German, he critically engaged with his arguments on nature, civil society and compassion. The notion that men were originally inclined, as Rousseau believed, to feel pity did not seem convincing to Mendelssohn. Men took pleasure in “harmony and order,” in perfection. So they were in pain when they encountered deficiencies and privation, and felt an urge to make things better. This is what Mendelssohn called Mitleiden, compassion. At the same time, he was well aware of compassion’s condescending quality. A person who pitied another person was usually closer to perfectibilité and wanted the other to move up as well. Even Rousseau’s natural pitié thus imposed a hierarchical relationship, an asymmetry between those who offered it and those who received it.

  • 44 Mendelssohn, Moses, “Sendschreiben an den Herrn Magister Lessing in Leipzig,” (1756), in Jean-Jacq (...)

46Mendelssohn, a tolerated Jew in Prussia, did not strive for pity. Pity merely left him at the hands of superiors who looked down on him and whose benevolence reminded him of his own shameful inferiority. What he chose instead and what really mattered to him, was love: love of the fellow human being who reflected God’s own perfectibility. Love drove man to seek the company of others, enjoy their virtues, and perform the never-ending work of perfecting.44 Hence, love was far more symmetric and reciprocal than compassion. While love formed bonds of equality, compassion presupposed the one who was compassionate to be better off and more well-equipped to help than the one on the receiving end. This was something that Mendelssohn, who could have easily put himself into the bottom position, was extremely sensitive about. Opting for love and sociability (Geselligkeit) instead of pity and nature seemed to offer more secure prospects for the member of a minority facing constant threats of discrimination, expropriation, and expulsion.

  • 45 Hume, Treatise, p. 369; Schings, Hans-Jürgen, Der mitleidigste Mensch ist der beste Mensch: Poetik (...)

47Apart from being asymmetrical and potentially condescending, pity and compassion proved to be emotions hard to share among people who had few things in common or did not even know each other. Hume had already remarked on how important contiguity was for sympathy to arise. Mendelssohn’s dear friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who, in Rousseau’s wake, considered compassion to be the highest virtue, was equally aware that it was far easier to be evoked for people who were just like us and with whom we could easily identify. Sameness (resemblance, for Hume) and closeness helped, since very few people seemed morally prepared and able to identify with just anyone on grounds of bare humanity. Even if, as the encyclopédistes had claimed, sensibility was “la mère de l’humanité,” fellow-feeling appeared to be much less in supply in real life than philosophers might imagine.45

Counter-forces and blockades

  • 46 Stocking Jr., George W., Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987); Burke, John G., “The (...)

48In fact, there were multiple causes that blocked sympathy, pity, and compassion. In addition to spatial distance and sheer ignorance, moral opinions and prejudices maintained their ground. The fashionable idea of cosmopolitanism and universal brotherly love exposed among others by Schiller, encountered strong opposition by those who championed the new concept of nationhood. Fraternité, as defined during the French Revolution, was first and foremost concerned with binding French citizens together. Patriotism, the love of fatherland and nation, worked in similar ways, often at the expense of internal and external enemies. Anthropologists attempting to classify the populations of the world increasingly dismissed Johann Gottfried Herder’s positive appreciation of different cultures and people. According to Herder, all cultures counted as equal and should be valued in their own right. To those who disagreed, some people seemed to be more animal-like than others, which justified the former’s repression and the latter’s dominance. In the course of the nineteenth century, inferiority and superiority became more and more racialised, putting enlightened ideas of progress and development to rest. Inferior races, in this logic, were never to reach the stage and position that superior races had attained. Though their lot could doubtlessly be improved, they would always lag behind.46

  • 47 As to the concomitant emergence of sympathy and racism informing the civilising mission of the Bri (...)

49This kind of structural depravity made it extremely difficult to embrace them with sympathy and brotherly love which, as Schiller had known only too well, presupposed basic equality. Instead, it turned them into objects of pity associated with asymmetry, hierarchy, and condescension. When European missionaries, administrators and educators embarked on their “civilising mission” in Africa and Asia, they were convinced that the colonial subjects were to benefit from their work. Exposing them to the “manly” compassion that went along with active and energetic assistance would eventually liberate indigenous people from traditional prejudice and primitive customs—without, however, completely eradicating racial difference and inequality. At the same time, it reinforced the Europeans’ sense of superiority and empowerment. Compassion should, as Nietzsche observed, endear that power to the powerless and be returned by love and gratitude. If it failed to do so, as in the Indian uprising of 1857, the powerful resorted to other means.47

50Those other means, namely unrestrained violence and repression, were ubiquitous when and where Europeans (and non-Europeans) went on a colonising mission devoid of any civilising purpose. When Himmler in 1943 explained to his SS officers why they had to slaughter Slavs and Jews, he deliberately dismissed and mocked Herder’s notion of cultural equality (“written down in inebriation”). He called Russians, Poles, and Jews not just inferior, but subhuman races that had to be either enslaved or annihilated. Extending German decency (Anständigkeit), good nature and Gemüt (soul) to these foreign, non-Germanic people was utterly wrong and dangerous. Honesty, decency, loyalty and comradeship exclusively applied to “members of our own blood.” It was only they who deserved the SS man’s unconditional love, sacrifice, and sympathy.48 Two years earlier, Hans Frank, General Governor of occupied Poland, had likewise requested his staff: “steel yourselves against any compassionate considerations.” Compassion should “principally be reserved” for German people. Jews were simply to “disappear,” and no German should, as some obviously did, criticise this as “cruel” and “harsh.”49

  • 50 Krünitz, ed., Encyklopädie, vol. 75 (1798), pp. 348–50.

51In this case, sympathy and compassion were blocked by depriving others of basic humanity. As subhuman races, beasts and bacilli, Jews and Slavs were not deemed worthy of human sentiment and sensibility. Since they were depicted as genuinely bad, treacherous, and dangerous, they had actually earned harsh treatment. The propaganda strategy was built on the long-standing opinion that only good and innocent people befallen by misery and hardship deserved compassion. In contrast, those whose sufferings were caused by their own misdemeanours could not lay claim to our pity. As early as 1798, this “general attitude” was rebuked by some writers, demanding pity, above all, for those who had incurred guilt due to their own “follies, vice and blame.” A true Menschenfreund and philanthropist owed compassion to every human being regardless of the other’s character and conduct.50

  • 51 Whitman, James Q., “What is wrong with inflicting Shame sanctions?,” Yale Law Journal 107, no. 4 ( (...)
  • 52 Kant, Anthropology, pp. 134–35; Krünitz, ed. Encyklopädie, vol. 75 (1798), pp. 158–59; Ersch and G (...)

52Such generosity, however, was not particularly widespread among contemporaries. To pity a criminal who had brought misery to others and in return suffered punishment and humiliation, seemed very far from reality. As late as the 1860s, executions in Britain usually drew huge crowds rejoicing in “brutal curiosity,” as the journalist and writer William Thackeray reported in 1840. Shameful sanctions like the garrote in France or Germany found approval among urban spectators, instead of provoking “feelings of charity and pity.”51 What moved bystanders to attend public spectacles of humiliation and punishment became a hotly debated topic. Kant and others admitted that “it is not exactly the nicest observation about human beings that their enjoyment increases through comparison with others’ pain.” At the very moment when they spontaneously rushed to help someone, they were “happy not to be entwined in the same fate. This is why people run with great desire, as to a theatre play, to watch a criminal being taken to the gallows and executed. For the emotions and feelings which are expressed in his face and in his bearings have a sympathetic effect on the spectators and, after the anxiety the spectators suffer through the power of the imagination (whose strength is increased even further by means of the ceremony), the emotions and feelings leave the spectators with a mild but nevertheless genuine feeling of relaxation, which makes their subsequent enjoyment of life all the more tangible.”52

Fig 11. Print “François Pierre Billard condamné au Carcan par arret du Parlement le 18 février 1772 et banni à perpétuité” (ca. 1771-1774)

53In present-day language, it would have been empathy leading spectators to experience the shame and anxiety of the person humiliated and executed. Empathy is, so to speak, value-neutral. It is not always accompanied by feelings of deep sorrow, nor does it necessarily trigger emotions like revenge and gratification. More often than not, empathy involves the thrill of knowing for sure that one’s own fate is different from (and better than) that of the person observed from a position of relative security and well-being. Fellow-feeling in this and related cases (like watching horror movies or documentaries of real atrocities today) goes hand in hand with the certitude that we are just onlookers and are spared the fate of the person(s) concerned. As much as people experience anguish, anxiety and disgust at the sight of those who suffer, they also feel pleasantly “relaxed” in the Kantian sense since they are not directly involved.

54In order to turn this kind of empathy and “pleasant sadness” into active, engaging sympathy or compassion, or into equally active resentment or satisfaction, another trigger was needed. It depended heavily on how the event was framed: on its “ceremonial” and ritualistic character, on what was known about the person who suffered, and about the reason why he/she suffered, on the social and cultural proximity between them and the spectators, as well as how the spectators conceived of the legitimate or illegitimate power of those who inflicted this suffering.

Suffering, pity, and the education of feelings

  • 53 Nietzsche, “Jenseits von Gut und Böse,” § 225, 222, pp. 160– 61, 156.
  • 54 Sznaider, Natan, Über das Mitleid im Kapitalismus (Munich: Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000), pp. 30–3 (...)
  • 55 Koselleck, Reinhart, Preußen zwischen Reform und Revolution, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Klett, 1975), pp. (...)

55Suffering as such, as Nietzsche observed, subsequently became a problem for modern morality. While the philosopher considered it a sine qua non for elevating man to greatness, high spirit, and arcanum, “the world” of “modern ideas” strove to abolish suffering altogether.53 Philanthropic and reform movements sought to eradicate grief and misery from human life and experience rather than contenting themselves with alleviating and soothing suffering, as religion had tried for ages.54 The ban on torture and slavery, the ongoing debate about the wrongs of corporal punishment in schools, prisons, and armies, the campaign against public executions and humiliating practices like floggings or running the gauntlet were all targeted by those who put empathy to the active test of civil society. Corporal punishment not only inflicted pain, it also humbled and degraded a person in the eyes of others. In addition, it took away one’s sense of honour and self-esteem and debased, as Prussian legal reformers warned in the 1790s, “morality” and the “character of the nation.”55

  • 56 Molènes, Alexandre Jacques Denis Gaschon de, De l’humanité dans les lois criminelles, et de la jur (...)

56Instead, the latter had to be cultivated as much as possible and lifted to civilised standards. Although the state could not directly govern and regulate the citizens’ hearts and minds, it could at least discourage them from behaving in ways deemed morally dubious and socially dangerous. And it could, in its own right, abstain from legal practices that evidently hurt public and private morality. Putting criminals in yokes, for example, was a measure reproved by l’humanité, as the French public prosecutor and chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, Alexandre de Molènes, wrote in 1830. But it was not just the criminals’ humanity that was violated by such a shameful sanction. The humanity of those who watched the spectacle was equally at stake. As Molènes and others criticised, the public, state-sanctioned display of cruelty conditioned the audience to “tread pity underfoot,” defy shame and “forget all sentiments of human dignity.”56 Those who came to watch the dreadful procedure in great numbers, obviously indulged in the sight of someone being rightfully punished and humiliated. This seemed increasingly unacceptable as it nourished Schadenfreude instead of compassion and civil conduct.

  • 57 Rousseau, Discours, pp. 90, 88 (love as a „fictitious“ sentiment „born of social usage“).
  • 58 Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, pp. 27, 45.

57So, even if it were a natural sentiment, as British, French and German philosophers claimed, compassion definitely needed to be enhanced and cultivated. Just like other feelings, it depended on education and refinement. Rousseau singing the gospel of pure nature, nevertheless acknowledged that “temperaments,” allowing feelings to flourish or not, varied greatly according to the manner in which a person had been raised. He also admitted that moral sentiments like love were “factice né de l’usage de la société.”57 In a similar vein, Adam Smith championed a moral economy of emotions carefully calibrated and fine-tuned to the needs of civil society. Passions, affects, and appetites had to be “dignified” and had to undergo constant “recollection and self-command.” This was not just about repressing or containing emotions or “bringing them down” to moderate standards so that “others can enter into” them. It was also about nurturing emotions held to be indispensable and socially desirable. As much as outright fury and anger were considered despicable, the lack of indignation in cases of grave injury appeared equally “contemptible.” A person “who tamely sits still and submits to insults” did not receive sympathy, but was required to show some resentment if he wished to gain his peers’ approval and support.58

  • 59 Nietzsche, “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft,” § 47, pp. 412–13.

58Upon closer examination, then, there is nothing “natural” about emotions, not even about sympathy and compassion. The very moment a human being comes into the world, emotions start getting taught, trained, and economised to suit society’s cultural framing. From early childhood, display rules become communicated and practised so that, as Nietzsche lucidly observed, they influence what is felt and how it is felt. Even if those rules merely aim at moderating the passion’s “language and gestures,” they eventually change the passion proper.59

Modern dilemmas

  • 60 Luhmann, Niklas, Liebe als Passion (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1982), p. 9.

59Within the greater picture of the modern economy of emotions, compassion evidently occupies an important place. Moral and social reformers in Europe turned it into a cornerstone of civil sensibilities, and introduced various practices and regulations to feed and sustain it. Building on older notions of Christian love and benevolence, they strove to secularise compassion both as a so-called natural sentiment and a responsibility shared by all citizens. They founded philanthropic and humanitarian associations, promoting compassion on a large scale. They turned to the public, canvassing for support by appealing to the “fellow-feeling” of fellow-citizens. In this vein, compassion became what sociologist Niklas Luhmann called a communicative or symbolic code allowing and encouraging people to form and express appropriate feelings.60

60That code, however, did not always encounter approval. Although compassion had been “invented” as a truly democratic emotion based on the equality of mankind, this was soon questioned and refuted. Many a social movement that sprang up during the nineteenth century did not demand compassion, but justice. Rather than drawing on the compassionate support of others, its members were eager to rely on, and help themselves. In such a context, sympathy and compassion lost their inclusive meaning and were limited exclusively to those who shared common interests, desires, and needs. The labour movement, for instance, reserved sympathy only for workers who had formed bonds of fraternity and solidarity among each other. They felt no sympathy for the capitalist entrepreneur, and they did not expect his sympathy. Class society and class struggle more or less caused the concept of general and universal sympathy and compassion to collapse. Practices of self-help, mutualité, and solidarity among workers of similar backgrounds turned out to be far more important than the philanthropic services of middle-class men and women.

  • 61 Winter, Jay, Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yal (...)

61Eventually and ever more so, it became obvious that empathy, sympathy, compassion, and pity were burdened by a structural dilemma. On the one hand, modernity took them to be natural, universal, and democratic emotions supposed to unite people regardless of their social and ethnic status. This was the line of thought that informed the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and, in their wake, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.61 It also informed those social movements that pressed for the abolition of slavery, torture, and shame sanctions. Furthermore, it was the driving force behind associations aiming to prevent cruelty against animals or children.

62On the other hand, the argument that sympathy was natural and universal was riddled with serious flaws. If it rested, as Smith, Rousseau or Schopenhauer claimed, on a person’s imagination of what others might feel, it was logically restricted to one’s own universe of feelings. Strictly speaking, imagination works in two steps: first, the person imagines how they would feel in a given situation (say, under torture or in slavery), and second, they imagine the other to feel just like they would. The problem here is that we can imagine certain situations better than others. This is why we feel socially inclined to sympathise more with those people with whom we can identify, than with others who live in different worlds. Even if we managed to identify with the latter, we would presumably get it wrong, and our compassion would be misled. To give an example: a non-Muslim Western woman might feel awkward seeing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab and putting herself in the other’s shoes—but does this allow her to assume that the Muslim woman has the same feelings?

63This is where we encounter the limits of empathy, sympathy and compassion as epistemological and political caveats. Those limits not only pose the question on what grounds we can identify with, and feel compassion for, strangers; they also challenge us to find practical ways of acting compassionately beyond the borders of our small worlds. Modernity has solved the first problem by declaring compassion a social norm that rests on the assumption of universal human rights as they were postulated in 1776, 1789 and, above all, in 1948. In order to be put into practice, though, these universal rights need to draw upon real people’s sympathy and compassion. Despite philosophers’ claim to the contrary, fellow-feelings do not come naturally. Even if, as neuroscientists try to demonstrate, empathy is a universal feature of human beings, it has to be translated into pro-social behaviour. Culture and social practices are of vital importance when it comes to feeling compassion towards strangers, acting compassionately and energetically protecting human dignity. People need strong additional incentives to do what nature allows them to do. They need supportive environments, both materially and in terms of values and ideas. They need role models, and they need the space to test and experiment with various forms of empathic action.

64Historically, Europeans have found different solutions to this puzzle. Firstly, they refused the general norm and avoided its pressure by restricting compassion to well-defined groups only. This applied to charitable and philanthropic associations deliberately operating on a small scale. Taking care of the local poor, improving the condition of maltreated children or animals or collecting money for the victims offire or flooding comforted the moral conscience of the middle classes and contributed to social harmony and stability. In their vast majority, those practices relied on interpersonal communication; the “objects” of compassion were known to those who acted in a compassionate way. Even if they were socially or ethnically different, they were no strangers: they belonged in the same town, region or nation.

  • 62 Meyers Lexikon, 8th ed., vol. 7 (1939), p. 1455.

65When the idea of the nation as an “imagined community” (Benedict Anderson) gained political prominence during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, nationalism tended to reserve compassion for members of the national community—and, potentially, for those who “fraternised” with that community. An extreme model of nationalist inclusion and exclusion came to the fore during the interwar period. In 1939, a German lexicon defined Mitleid (compassion) as “instinctive empathy” (Miterleben, Mitfühlen, Sichhineinversetzenkönnen) that was felt only toward Gemeinschaftsgenossen, i.e. toward those living in one’s own community.62 Those who lived outside this community or were expelled from it could neither hope for instinctive empathy nor expect distinctive compassion. Instead, they were exposed to unforeseen brutalities (which, then, triggered a new interest in human rights and led to the 1948 UN Declaration).

66Secondly, modern societies witnessed another form of restricted or particular compassion: self-help movements relying on notions of in-group solidarity rather than asking for the compassion of others. Instead of feeling empathy for strangers of any kind, those movements limited compassion first and foremost to their own kind. Within capitalist democracies, this strategy helped them gain strength and bargaining power. At the same time, however, they tried to tear down nationalist barriers and demarcations. The labour movement as much as women’s and peace movements deliberately reached out to like-minded people all over the world. They went global, in this sense, but not universal.

Humanitarianism and its crises

  • 63 Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, quote p. 220 (my italics). This confirms the notion of the sacralisat (...)

67Thirdly, this was left to modern humanitarianism emerging in the late eighteenth century and gaining momentum mainly after WWI. It claimed to radically differ from former notions of charity and misericordia by being both universal and actively engaged in the aim to eradicate misery. Humanitarianism was highly interventionist and operated on a global scale. It no longer accepted the idea of the stranger, but propagated the concept of the brother (and later, the sister). The grounds on which brotherhood and sisterhood were offered—and, for that sake, traded—changed considerably over the course of time. Religious beliefs gradually lost importance and authority, in most parts of Europe. They were replaced by more secular notions of human rights that belonged to, and had to be defended by, everyone. Notwithstanding their secular character, however, those rights were declared “natural, inalienable and sacred” by the French National Assembly in 1789, testifying to the unabated relevance of religious language even among revolutionaries63.

68The first transnational humanitarian movements focused on the abolition of slavery, and they proved enormously influential. More followed soon: in 1863, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant founded the Red Cross which quickly became a truly international institution (and, approximately sixty years later, spurred the foundation of the Red Crescent). 1959 saw the birth of Terre des Hommes and its struggle against child labour, child prostitution and malnourishment.

69Since 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières have been working in conflict areas and refugee camps offering basic health care. At about the same time, organisations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch were established, raising public awareness of human rights violations. What all these movements and organisations have in common is their impartiality and political neutrality: they do not take sides, but focus, instead, on trying to help victims regardless of their background.

  • 64 Calhoun, Craig, “The Imperative to Reduce Suffering: Charity, Progress, and Emergencies in the Fie (...)
  • 65 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice (London: Allen Lane, 2009), pp. 403–7.
  • 66 Rifkin, Jeremy, The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis ( (...)

70With the citizens’ willingness to donate money for its causes, humanitarianism has become a huge enterprise worth ten billion dollars every year, tendency rising. Private voluntary associations, UN offices, and national agencies are all active players in the global market of emergency relief and humanitarian assistance.64 They seem to embody what the economist Amartya Sen has recently called, with reference to Adam Smith’s “impartial spectator,” the non-parochialism of distant, though empathic perspectives.65 And they give credence to what others chose to call the “empathic civilisation” and its “race to global consciousness.”66

71Yet, this new secular religion has also got its dark sides. On the one hand, it is far less universally committed than claimed. Donating money, for instance, follows special trends and selection procedures which may be politically and culturally biased. When in January 2010 much of Haiti’s infrastructure was destroyed by an earthquake killing and injuring more than half a million people and leaving another million homeless, money was donated to a far greater extent in comparison to Pakistan which experienced dramatic flooding later that year. This has been attributed, among other reasons, to Pakistan’s negative image associated with terror, corruption and religious fanaticism. Media bear a huge impact on how such images are constructed, circulated and communicated. What they broadcast, and for how long, directly influences people’s inclination to feel pity and responsibility. Exposure to dramatic pictures and messages motivates people to act in a more generous manner.

  • 67 As discussed in Boltanski, Luc, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics (Cambridge: Cambri (...)
  • 68 Berlant, ed., Compassion, p. 10; Dean, Carolyn J., The Fragility of Empathy After the Holocaust (I (...)

72On the other hand, the media’s influence is ambivalent, at best.67 As much as global journalism seeks to generate empathy with distant suffering, it spreads pictures of violence that produce the opposite results: apart from inciting acts of imitation, these pictures have emotional side-effects hardly compatible with empathic, pro-social outlooks and behaviour. They may, as eighteenth-century philosophers argued, elicit many kinds of pleasure, including a sense of Schadenfreude. In an age before mass communication and ubiquitous visualisation, however, philosophers could not imagine that such pictures might eventually overburden and exhaust empathy and compassion. They might even kindle a certain aversion to explicit moral claims to engage with the suffering of others, and lead, instead, to chagrin and withdrawal.68

Notes

1 Meyer, ed., Conversations-Lexicon, vol. 12 (1848), p. 748; Rein, Wilhelm, ed., Enzyklopädisches Handbuch der Pädagogik, 2nd ed. (Langensalza: Beyer 1903–1911), vol. 5 (1906), p. 43.

2 Decety, Jean and William Ickes, eds., The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009).

3 Trivers, Robert L., “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism,” Quarterly Review of Biology 46, no. 1 (Mar. 1971): pp. 35–57. As to altruism’s rise as a moral concept in the nineteenth century, see Dixon, Thomas, The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

4 Ockenfels, Axel et al., “Altruismus, Egoismus, Reziprozität,” in Soziologische Theorie kontrovers, eds. Gert Albert and Steffen Sigmund (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 2011), pp. 119–53; Harbaugh, William T. et al., “Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations,” Science 316, no. 5831 (Jun. 2007): pp. 1622–25.

5 Calhoun, Craig, “A World of Emergencies: Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 41, no. 4 (Nov. 2004): pp. 373–95; Barnett, Michael, “Humanitarianism Transformed,” Perspectives on Politics 3, no. 4 (Dec. 2005): pp. 723–40. For a philosophical viewpoint, see Goldie, Peter, “Compassion: A Natural, Moral Emotion,” in Die Moralität der Gefühle, eds. Sabine A. Döring and Verena Mayer (Berlin: Akademie, 2002), pp. 199–211.

6 See the White House fact sheet on Compassionate Conservatism: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/04/20020430.html (last access: Dec. 20, 2010); Berlant, Lauren, ed. Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004), esp. pp. 1–4.

7 Documents of German History, ed. Louis L. Snyder (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1958), pp. 246–47. (Bismarck’s speech of 1881).

8 Ritter, Joachim and Karlfried Gründer, eds., Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie (Basel: Schwabe, 1971–2004), vol. 5 (1980), col. 1410–1416; for classical Greek and Roman notions of pity as well as on early Christianity, see Konstan, David, Pity transformed (London: Duckworth, 2001).

9 Müller, Gottfried, “Die Barmherzigkeit Gottes: Zur Entstehungsgeschichte eines koranischen Symbols,” Die Welt des Islams 28, no. 1/4 (1988): pp. 334–62; Küng, Hans and Josef van Ess, Christentum und Weltreligionen: Islam, 7th ed. (Munich: Piper, 2006). My thanks go to Angelika Neuwirth to whom I owe these references.

10 Emotional Awareness. Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion: A Conversation between The Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman (New York: Henry Holt, 2008), ch. 5.

11 Ritter and Gründer, eds., Wörterbuch, vol. 5 (1980), quote col. 1412; Hutcheson, Essay, p. 56; Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Ernest C. Mossner (London: Penguin, 1985), pp. 417– 18; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Discours sur l’Origine et les Fondements de l’Inégalité parmi les Hommes, ed. Angèle Kremer-Marietti (Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1963), p. 84.

12 Hume, Treatise, pp. 367–70; Frazer, Michael K., The Enlightenment of Sympathy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), ch. 2.

13 Smith, Adam, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Amherst: Prometheus, 2000), pp. 3–30.

14 dem, The Wealth of Nations, ed. Andrew Skinner (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 119.

15 Ibid., p. 117.

16 Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 13. As to other ideas on how to solve the “celebrated Adam Smith Problem,” see Hirschman, Albert O., The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 109–13; Dwyer, John, “Ethics and Economics: Bridging Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 4 (Oct. 2005): pp. 662–87.

17 Rousseau, Discours, pp. 84–87.

18 Quotes in Schieder, Wolfgang, “Brüderlichkeit,” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, eds. Otto Brunner et al., vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1972), pp. 552–81.

19 Schiller, Friedrich, “Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?,” (1789) in Schillers Werke, ed. Joachim Müller, vol. 3 (Berlin: Aufbau, 1967), pp. 273–95, quotes pp. 283–84.

20 Hunt, Lynn, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), ch. 3.

21 Schieder, “Brüderlichkeit,” pp. 565–67.

22 Hunt, Lynn, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007).

23 Brown, Christopher L., Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Carey, Brycchan, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–1807 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Drescher, Seymour, The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Davis, David B., Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

24 As to the “sensualist” turn of the eighteenth century, see Williams, Elizabeth, The Philosophical and the Moral: Anthropology, Physiology, and Philosophical Medicine in France, 1750–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Vila, Anne, Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine in 18th century France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Barker-Benfield, Culture of Sensibility, ch. 1.

25 Koschorke, Albrecht, Körperströme und Schriftverkehr: Mediologie des 18. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Fink, 1999), pp. 64–82.

26 Kant, Anthropology, p. 132. This kind of contemporary criticism is echoed by Mullan, John, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

27 Mackenzie, Henry, The Man of Feeling (1771), ed. Brian Vickers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Ellis, Markman, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). As early as 1985, Thomas L. Haskell discussed this as a “real change in sensibility,” “associated with the rise of capitalism” (idem, “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility,” American Historical Review 90, no. 2/3 (Apr./Jun. 1985): pp. 339– 61, 547–66).

28 http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REhoward.htm (last access: Jan.1, 2011); Howard, Derek Lionel, John Howard: Prison Reformer (New York: Archer House, 1963); see Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), for a critical view.

29 Prochaska, Frank K., Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), ch. 5; Summers, Anne, Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses, 1854– 1914 (London: Routledge, 1988), ch. 1; Himmelfarb, Gertrude, Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (New York: Knopf, 1991).

30 Zedler, ed., Universal Lexicon, vol. 41 (1744), col. 744.

31 Diderot, Denis and Jean le Rond d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des metiers (Paris: Briasson, 1751–1765), vol. 15 (1765), p. 736.

32 Larousse, Pierre, ed., Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (Paris: Administration du Grand Dictionnaire Universel, 1866– 1876), vol. 14 (1875), p. 1316.

33 Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyklopädie für die gebildeten Stände [Brockhaus], 9th ed. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1843–1848), vol. 14 (1847), p. 48.

34 Zedler, ed., Universal Lexicon, vol. 21 (1739), col. 552.

35 Der große Brockhaus: Handbuch des Wissens, 15th ed. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1928–1935), vol. 12 (1932), p. 618; Brockhaus, 21st ed., vol. 18 (2006), p. 560.

36 Chismar, Douglas, “Empathy and sympathy: The important difference,” Journal of Value Inquiry 22, no. 4 (1988): pp. 257–66; Olinick, Stanley L., “A Critique of Empathy and Sympathy,” in Empathy, eds. Joseph Lichtenberg et al., vol. 1 (Hillsdale, NY: Analytic Press, 1984), pp. 137–66.

37 Lipps, Theodor, Leitfaden der Psychologie (Leipzig: Engelmann, 1903); idem, “Das Wissen von fremden Ichen,” Psychologische Untersuchungen 1 (1907): pp. 694–722; Ritter and Gründer, eds., Wörterbuch, vol. 2 (1972), col. 396–99; Chismar, “Empathy,” pp. 257–59; Curtis, Robin and Gertrud Koch, eds., Einfühlung: Zu Geschichte und Gegenwart eines ästhetischen Konzepts (Munich: Fink, 2009).

38 Vignemont, Frederique de and Tania Singer, “The Empathic Brain: how, when and why,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10, no. 10 (Oct. 2006): pp. 435–41.

39 Schopenhauer, Arthur, “Preisschrift über die Grundlage der Moral,” in idem, Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (Zürich: Diogenes, 1977), pp. 248–49, 269, 283. As to the concomitant rise of altruism in Victorian Britain, see Dixon, Invention of Altruism; for compassion turning into a secular religion of “humanism” in Victorian Britain, see Himmelfarb, Poverty.

40 Schopenhauer, “Preisschrift,” p. 274.

41 Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Jenseits von Gut und Böse,” § 202, 222, 293 in idem, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, eds. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Munich: dtv/de Gruyter, 1988), vol. 5, pp. 124–26, 156, 236); “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft” § 271, 274, 338, ibid., vol. 3, pp. 519, 565–68.

42 Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Menschliches, Allzumenschliches,” § 50, ibid., vol. 2, pp. 70–71; “Also sprach Zarathustra,” ibid., vol. 4, pp. 113–16.

43 Nietzsche, “Zarathustra,” ibid., vol. 4, pp. 77–79, quote p. 78.

44 Mendelssohn, Moses, “Sendschreiben an den Herrn Magister Lessing in Leipzig,” (1756), in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Abhandlung von dem Ursprung der Ungleichheit unter den Menschen, ed. Ursula Goldenbaum (Weimar: Böhlaus Nachfolger, 2000), pp. 235–50, quote p. 239; Meyer-Kalkus, Reinhart, “Apotheose und Kritik des Mitleids: Lessing und Mendelssohn,” Berliner Debatte Initial 17, no. 1–2 (2006): pp. 36–49.

45 Hume, Treatise, p. 369; Schings, Hans-Jürgen, Der mitleidigste Mensch ist der beste Mensch: Poetik des Mitleids von Lessing bis Büchner (Munich: Beck, 1988), ch. III; Diderot and d’Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, vol. 15 (1765), p. 52.

46 Stocking Jr., George W., Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987); Burke, John G., “The Wild Man’s Pedigree: Scientific Method and Racial Anthropology,” in The Wild Man Within, eds. Edward Dudley and Maximillian E. Novak (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973), pp. 259–80; Zimmermann, Andrew, Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

47 As to the concomitant emergence of sympathy and racism informing the civilising mission of the British Empire, see Rai, Amit S., Rule of Sympathy: Sentiment, Race, and Power 1750–1850 (New York: Palgrave, 2002); Pernau, Margrit, “An ihren Gefühlen sollt Ihr sie erkennen: Eine Verflechtungsgeschichte des britischen Zivilitätsdiskurses (ca. 1750–1860),” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 35, no. 2 (Apr.–Jun. 2009): pp. 249–81.

48 http://www.nationalsozialismus.de/dokumente/texte/heinrich-himmler-posener-rede-vom-04-10-1943-volltext.html (last access: Dec. 20, 2010).

49 Krausnick, Helmut, “Judenverfolgung,” in Anatomie des SS-Staates, eds. Hans Buchheim, Martin Broszat and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, vol. 2 (Munich: dtv, 1989), quotes pp. 333–34.

50 Krünitz, ed., Encyklopädie, vol. 75 (1798), pp. 348–50.

51 Whitman, James Q., “What is wrong with inflicting Shame sanctions?,” Yale Law Journal 107, no. 4 (Jan. 1998): pp. 1055– 92, quotes p. 1074 (Thackeray), 1076 (French Code Pénal Progressif, 1832). For German penal practices and legal debates see Evans, Richard J., Tales from the German Underworld: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), ch. 2; Foucault, Discipline.

52 Kant, Anthropology, pp. 134–35; Krünitz, ed. Encyklopädie, vol. 75 (1798), pp. 158–59; Ersch and Gruber, eds. Encyclopädie, sect. 1, part 56 (1853), p. 24, talks about the “pleasant feeling” to be free of suffering while sympathising with others’ suffering.

53 Nietzsche, “Jenseits von Gut und Böse,” § 225, 222, pp. 160– 61, 156.

54 Sznaider, Natan, Über das Mitleid im Kapitalismus (Munich: Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000), pp. 30–33; Orwin, Clifford, “Mitleid: Wie ein Gefühl zu einer Tugend wurde,” Merkur 63, no. 716 (2009): pp. 1–9.

55 Koselleck, Reinhart, Preußen zwischen Reform und Revolution, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Klett, 1975), pp. 641–59, quotes p. 642 (Großkanzler Carmer and Justizrat Svarez). As to the arguments against capital punishment, see Evans, Richard J., Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600–1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); Spierenburg, Pieter, The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). As to torture, see Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, ch. 2.

56 Molènes, Alexandre Jacques Denis Gaschon de, De l’humanité dans les lois criminelles, et de la jurisprudence: sur quelques-unes des questions que ces lois font naître (Paris: Lacquin, 1830), p. 401: “Renonçons donc à ce supplice que l’humanité réprouve, qui accoutume la populace à fouler aux pieds la pitié, qui lui apprend comment on brave la honte, et qui lui fait oublier tout sentiment de la dignité de l’homme.” See similar comments in Evans, Tales, pp. 132–33.

57 Rousseau, Discours, pp. 90, 88 (love as a „fictitious“ sentiment „born of social usage“).

58 Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, pp. 27, 45.

59 Nietzsche, “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft,” § 47, pp. 412–13.

60 Luhmann, Niklas, Liebe als Passion (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1982), p. 9.

61 Winter, Jay, Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), ch. 4; Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig, ed., Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

62 Meyers Lexikon, 8th ed., vol. 7 (1939), p. 1455.

63 Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, quote p. 220 (my italics). This confirms the notion of the sacralisation of human life as defended by Joas, Hans, “La dignité humaine: religion de la modernité?,” in L’ individu social, ed. Monique Hirschhorn (Laval: Presses de l’université Laval, 2007), pp. 13–29; idem, “The Emergence of Universalism: An Affirmative Genealogy,” in Frontiers of Sociology, eds. Peter Hedström and Björn Wittrock (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 15–24.

64 Calhoun, Craig, “The Imperative to Reduce Suffering: Charity, Progress, and Emergencies in the Field of Humanitarian Action,” in Humanitarianism in Question, eds. Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), pp. 73–97; as to post-WWII humanitarianism, see the special issue of Journal of Contemporary History: Relief in the Aftermath of War, ed. Jessica Reinisch, vol. 43, no. 3 (Jul. 2008), pp. 371–551.

65 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice (London: Allen Lane, 2009), pp. 403–7.

66 Rifkin, Jeremy, The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (New York: Tarcher, 2009).

67 As discussed in Boltanski, Luc, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), part III.

68 Berlant, ed., Compassion, p. 10; Dean, Carolyn J., The Fragility of Empathy After the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).

Table des illustrations

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Légende Fig 11. Print “François Pierre Billard condamné au Carcan par arret du Parlement le 18 février 1772 et banni à perpétuité” (ca. 1771-1774)
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