The Case for Revenge – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
A surefire way to establish one’s moral superiority—certainly in our society and in most Western nations—is to renounce any interest in revenge. No matter the damage done, the outrageousness of the conduct, or the magnitude of loss, most people will reflexively wave off any suggestion that vengeance is what they desire. Indeed, they will indignantly deny having a vengeful streak, as if nothing could be so shameful as the simple wish to settle a score. Take your pick of maxims: “Vengeance is beneath me”; “I’m not out for revenge, I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else”; “All I care about is justice, not revenge.”
That’s what President George W. Bush told the nation shortly after 9/11. “Ours is a nation that does not seek revenge, but we do seek justice.”
The president knew that line would draw applause, and it did. Why? Because we’ve been trained to believe that justice is a sign of refinement, while vengeance is a barbaric holdover from a primitive past. So we couch our vengefulness in the language of the law, and cast our lot with the rule of law, with all its emotional detachment and cool dispassion. Leave revenge to the louts and the hotheads; civilized people suppress their instincts and moral outrage, and recite the script that justice is the enlightened man’s revenge.