Sunday, February 28, 2016

Conspiracies of the 1%: Vast and Deep and Old

Quotation of the Day:

In fact, when I consider any social system that prevails in the modern world, I can't, so help me God, see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organizing society. They think up all sorts of tricks and dodges, first for keeping safe their ill-gotten gains, and then for exploiting the poor by buying their labour as cheaply as possible. Once the rich have decided that these tricks and dodges shall be officially recognized by society [...,] they acquire the force of law. Thus an unscrupulous minority is led by its insatiable greed to monopolize what would have been enough to supply the needs of the whole population.
The speaker here is Raphael Hythloday in Sir Thomas More's — St. Thomas More's, if you're Catholic — Utopia, published in Latin in 1516, here in the translation by Paul Turner in the Penguin edition of 1965.

Utopia has been available in English since 1551 and can be picked up cheaply on So English-reading grownups have no excuse not to know that there can be "a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests" without meetings of The Elders of Plutocracy or a whole lot of explicit plotting among "the 1%" and their minions and somewhat less obscenely rich associates. The superrich quietly play the game, after rigging it. In More's day the game was more open and, where visible, conspicuous: "privilege and the class system" constituted the ruling ideology. In our day, however, we have incessant media coverage of the lives of the less prudent rich, so we're back to no excuses.

Sir Thomas both was and was not modern here; for sure, Saint Thomas knew the competing and complementary teachings of the Latin Church, Radix malorum superbia est, and, as Chaucer's thoroughly corrupt but here doctrinally correct Pardoner puts it, "[...] my theme is yet, and ever was, / Radix malorum est Cupiditas. That is, the root of all evils is either Pride or Greed, or, frequently, a combination. Such an idea may be overstatement and oversimplification, but it's still legitimate and crucial. Pride and greed are constants, and they are threats in the hands of the powerful. Which is why, more often than it gets done, society needs to be shaken up and the "conspiracy of the rich," for a while, at least a bit, rolled back.

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