Money and power
OLAVO DE CARVALHO
Translated by Marcelo De Polli
Whenever I hear a left-wing politician condemn the capitalist greed in prophetic voice, I wonder if he really fancies the craving for power to be a passion which is morally superior to the wish for money, or if he simply pretends to believe in that in order to play innocent. There is evidently no third alternative. No left-wing activist would make a revolution to just go home afterwards, living as an obscure common citizen of the socialist republic each one of them is, by definition, the virtual holder of a share of power in the upcoming State. This is, among the members of a party, the only difference between an activist and a plain voter. When taking up the revolutionary fight, one expects no less than a position as commissioner of the people. After all, there would not be much sense in giving less from oneself than what was given when taking up the responsibility of active leader in the destruction of capitalism. (The same, of course, can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the activists of fascism or any other proposal of radical change of society. If I stress socialism, it is for the simple reason that today in Brazil there is not a fascist-inspired mass movement.)
All revolutionary activism is therefore inseparable from the craving for power, and it takes either a brutal shamelessness or a pathological unconsciousness to prevent someone from realizing that such a passion is infinitely more destructive than the wish for wealth. Wealth, no matter how relative the abstractions of financiers may try to make it, always has a residual materiality houses, food, clothes, implements that makes it something concrete, a visible good worthy in itself, independently from the surrounding opulence or misery. Power, on the other hand, as Nietzsche well saw it, is nothing if it cannot be more power. This is the most obvious thing in the world: mediated by social relationships as it may be, wealth is ultimately domain over things. Power is domain over men. A rich man does not become poor when his neighbours also get rich. On the other hand, a power that eventually gets equalled by other powers is automatically cancelled out. Wealth is developed by the adding up of goods whereas power, essentially, does not increase so much by the expansion of its means than by the suppression of other men's means of action. In order to establish a police State, it is not necessary to provide the police with additional guns it is enough to take them from the citizens. A dictator does not become a dictator because he grants himself new rights, but because he suppresses the old rights from the people.
The human intelligence would have to sink down to almost infranatural levels before a philosophy or something similar to that could come to invert such an evident equation, seeing in misery the foundation of wealth and in political power the creative instrument of equality.
The most characteristic phenomenon of the 20th century totalitarianism was not a detour or a bump on the road to the democratic dream. It was the inescapable consequence of a suicidal wager on the moral superiority of political power and its equalitarian social mission. The outcome of this wager is before everyone's eyes. The promised economic equality failed to come about. However, the difference in terms of means of action between those who govern and those who are governed has increased to a point of which the most ambitious tyrants of Antiquity did not even dare to dream. Julius Caesar, Attila or Genghis Khan would shun in horror if they were offered the means to listen to every private conversation or to disarm every adult man. Today, governments already study how to program the conduct of future generations by genetic means. They are not satisfied with the destructive power of demons: they want the creative power of gods.
It is one of the most atrocious perversities of our time that a man imbued with the simple desire to get rich is considered a morally harmful person and almost a criminal, while an aspiring political leader is seen as a beautiful example of idealism, kindness and love to one's neighbour. A century who thinks that way is crying to heaven for a Hitler or a Stalin to be sent down.
September 16th, 1999
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