Monday, April 28, 2008

Karl Marx: Nullified By Money...

The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my properties and essential powers—the properties and powers of its possessor. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness—its deterrent power—is nullified by money. I, in my character as an individual, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored, and therefore so is its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am stupid, but money is the real mind of all things and how then should its possessor be stupid? Besides, he can buy talented people for himself, and is he who has a power over the talented not more talented than the talented? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, binding me and nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, the universal agent of divorce? It is the true agent of divorce as well as the true binding agent—the universal galvano-chemical power of Society.

That which I am unable to do as a man, and of which therefore all my individual essential powers are incapable, I am able to do by means of money. Money thus turns each of these powers into something which in itself it is not—turns it, that is, into its contrary.

If I long for a particular dish or want to take the mail-coach because I am not strong enough to go by foot, money fetches me the dish and the mail-coach: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or willed existence into their sensuous, actual existence—from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, money is the truly creative power.

No doubt demand also exists for him who has no money, but his demand is a mere thing of the imagination without effect or existence for me, for a third party, for the others, and which therefore remains for me unreal and objectless. The difference between effective demand based on money and ineffective demand based on my need, my passion, my wish, etc., is the difference between being and thinking, between the imagined which exists merely within me and the imagined as it is for me outside me as a real object.

If I have no money for travel, I have no need—that is, no real and self-realizing need—to travel. If I have the vocation for study but no money for it, I have no vocation for study—that is, no effective, no true vocation. On the other hand, if I have really no vocation for study but have the will and the money for it, I have an effective vocation for it. Being the external, common medium and faculty for turning an image into reality and reality into a mere image (a faculty not springing from man as man or from human society as society), money transforms the real essential powers of man and nature into what are merely abstract conceits and therefore imperfections—into tormenting chimeras—just as it transforms real imperfections and chimeras—essential powers which are really impotent, which exist only in the imagination of the individual—into real powers and faculties.

In the light of this characteristic alone, money is thus the general overturning of individualities which turns them into their contrary and adds contradictory attributes to their attributes. Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and exchanges all things, it is the general confounding and compounding of all things—the world upside-down—the confounding and compounding of all natural and human qualities.

He who can buy bravery is brave, though a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every property for every other, even contradictory, property and object: it is the fraternization of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.

-Karl Marx ( Lapham's Quarterly, "About Money", Spring 2008 Issue. From the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Four years prior to the publication of his Communist Manifesto, Marx at the age of twenty-six was newly married and living in Paris, where he first met Friedrich Engels. He was expelled from the city in January 1845 because he wrote for a newspaper that approved of the attempted assassination of the King of Prussia ).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that, a very timely piece.