The Recoil: The Anxiety Of Command (Crowds and Power)
February 7, 2013 By 1 Comment
The man who gives the command, who shoots the arrow, feels a slight recoil from it. Here the analogy with an arrow ends, for the real recoil is psychological, and the marksman only feels it when he sees that he has hit his target. It is all the more important to find out exactly what happens.
The satisfaction which follows a successful command is deceptive and covers a great deal else. There is always some sensation of a recoil behind it, for a command marks not only its victim, but also its giver. An accumulation of such recoils engenders a special kind of anxiety, which I call anxiety of command. It is slight in the man who only passes on commands, increasing with nearness to the real source of authority.
It is not difficult to understand how this anxiety of command accumulates. A shot which kills an isolated creature leaves no danger behind it: a creature which is dead can do no harm to anyone. A command which threatens death and then does not kill leaves the memory of the threat. Some threats miss their target, but others find it and it is these which are never forgotten; Anyone who has fled from a threat, or given in to it, will invariably revenge himself when the moment comes. The man who threatens is always conscious of this and will do everything he can to make such a reversal impossible.
He feels that all those to whom he has given commands, all those he has threatened with death, are still alive and still remember. He is always conscious of the danger he would be in if they all united against him and this fear, which is both fully justified and yet vague and inherently unlimited — for he never knows when memory will be translated into action, nor by how many — this endless torturing awareness of danger is what I call the anxiety of command.
It is strongest in the mightiest. The concentration of anxiety is greatest in one who is a source of commands, who creates orders and receives them from no one above him. A ruler can keep it hidden, or under control, for a long time, but, in the course of a life, it can increase until, as with certain of the Roman emporers, it suddenly manifests itself as madness.
—Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power [The Recoil: The Anxiety of Command]