Saldo natale

The “saldo natale” indicates, in some imaginary existential bookkeeping, the disparity between the credit and the debit side of a human existence.  On the debit side there are entered all the things that parents wish for their children from these latter’s birth on: happiness, health, long life, intelligence, beauty. Also entered on this debit side are all that the United Nations, for example, have listed as the minimum standards that need to be met if there is to be any sense in speaking of a human being’s having “a good life”.  In the credit side, on the other hand, there is entered whatever has actually been fulfilled at the end of a human life.

An indication of the fact that the “saldo natale” always leaves behind itself a certain “debit” is, for example, Martha Nussbaum’s contention that no life can be spoken of as a truly successful one that if even a single one of the points on a 10-point list drawn up by her has failed to be met and satisfied[1]. In terms of the “existential bookkeeping” proposed by Nussbaum the general balance of all births will, considered as a whole, always turn out to be a negative one. The irony is that, although Nussbaum is, judging by her own criteria, fully aware of the extreme precarity and fragility of any kind of “success” in life, she still counts a right of the individual to reproduce as one of said individual’s inalienable opportunities for self-realization – apparently oblivious to the fact that through the very according of such a right the foundation stone is laid for the creation of new human existences which will then, in their turn, surely fail to meet Nussbaum’s own criteria of “successful existence”. Through her explicit inclusion of procreation within a catalogue of all that which characterizes “the good life” Nussbaum thus becomes, precisely as an ethicist of a “good life” so conceived, an objective accomplice of future suffering and failed and ruined existences.

Saldo natale as Current Account for Reincarnation Purposes

In cultures which have been marked by doctrines of karmically-determined reincarnation the “saldo natale” is a kind of bank account of personal merit.  Whoever was reborn into a relatively favourable incarnation, be it as a human being or even as a god, will tend to gradually empty out, as he proceeds through this present existence, this “personal-merit account” – that is, in the case where he does not maintain its balance, or increase it, by his good deeds. Max Weber explains this “saldo natale” as follows: “All the (ritually or ethically acquired) merits and demerits of the individual go to form a kind of ‘current account’, the ‘balance’ of which then inevitably determines the further fate of  the soul upon rebirth, and this precisely proportionately to the degree of debt or credit shown by the one side of the ‘account’ or the other.” (Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie)


[1] „… we can argue, by imagining a life without the capability in question, that such a life is not a life worthy of human dignity.“ (Nussbaum, Frontiers of justice, Pos. 929)

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