4 Sept 2021


Plutocracy by Stationjack
Unfortunately, plutocracy does not involve being governed by an ancient Greek god of the underworld [1], nor the empowering of Mickey Mouse's dog. 
It means, rather, living in a society where a super-rich global elite lord it over the rest of us; i.e., where 1% own and control everything and 99% fight over the loose change thrown their way [2]
It's not a new word: it's not a new idea: it's not a new phenomenon. But plutocracy is very much the reality of the world we're living in today; a socio-economic and political reality that I would describe as undesirable and, in the long term, unsustainable (as the elite eventually discover to their cost).     

I suspect that most people would agree that the tyranny of wealth is vulgar and objectionable, wherever they are on the political spectrum [3]. Indeed, opposition to plutocracy as socially destructive is one of the few things that unites everyone from Nietzsche to Noam Chomsky [4], including Ursula Brangwen, who declares a preference for an "aristocracy of birth rather than of money" [5] and seems to believe, naively, that only a toff can save us ... 
Unfortunately, however, the hereditary model holds out no hope; something that even the Queen's grandson, Prince Harry, has grasped, thus his and Meghan's decision to up sticks and move to California. As Nick Cohen writes, they have "judged the modern world with calculating eyes and placed the ultra-capitalist entertainment industry above old royal privilege" [6]
He continues:     
"The Sussexes have followed the prophecies of Marx and Engels by concluding that the traditional aristocracy is finished. [...] If you doubt me, ask how many British people can name a duke or an earl [...] The power of inherited wealth is stronger than it has been in a century and the explosion in inequality [...] will make it more powerful still. Yet in terms of the status the Sussexes seek, the old aristocracy of birth counts for next to nothing [...]" [7] 
I think that's probably true, though it's not a particularly new insight. For as Cohen indicates, Marx and Engels were announcing that the old world order was dissolving way back in 1848 [8]
And when, eighty-years later, D. H. Lawrence published his final novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, he'd also reached the conclusion that the old aristocracy no longer existed as a distinct social class; they may belong to a super rich 1%, but like the rest of humanity they have become robot [9].
Cohen concludes his interesting piece:
"The Sussexes present a real threat to the monarchy because they have seen its irrelevance, as many more will once the Queen dies. They have soberly concluded that whatever privileges it brings are as nothing compared with the money and status that belongs to the real aristocracy of the celebrity industry they are so determined to join." [10]
[1] There is often confusion regarding the etymology of the term plutocracy. It does not derive, as many people mistakenly think, from Ploutōn (Πλούτων) - i.e., the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. It derives, rather, from the name of the Greek god of wealth, Ploutos (Πλοῦτος). However, Ploutōn was frequently conflated with the latter because, as a chthonic deity, he ruled the deep earth where mineral wealth is located.   
[2] In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street Movement popularised the term 1% in reference to America's richest people, who, at that time, controlled at least a third of the country's wealth. We are the 99% quickly became a unifying slogan of the protestors and is now implanted as an idea in the cultural and political imagination. 
      In May of that same year, the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article published in Vanity Fair entitled 'Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%', in which he criticised growing inequality and argued that the United States has become a plutocracy. Click here to read this article online. 
      Finally, it might be noted that another economist, Paul Krugman, has since questioned whether we ought to refer to the 99.9%, as it has been an even smaller group - the top 0.1% (i.e., the richest one-thousandth of the population) - who have made the most outrageous gains in recent years. This is also the argument made by Chrystia Freeland in her book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, (The Penguin Press, 2012).
[3] It's interesting to note that both communists and fascists were united in their opposition to capitalism on the grounds that it would eventually lead to a plutocracy. 
      The Nazis, for example, liked to characterise the Third Reich as a People's Community [Volksgemeinschaft] in their propaganda and contrast the life of a typical German worker with that of their British counterpart. Hitler claimed that National Socialism rejected the rule of money and he prided himself publicly on being the only head of state who didn't have a personal bank account. 
      (It should be noted, however, that the German Führer did have several secret accounts in Switzerland in which he deposited the not inconsiderable royalties earned from Mein Kampf and that the NSDAP received financial support from big business and wealthy benefactors from its earliest days. It is often wise to take what the Nazis say with a pinch of salt.) 
[4] Noam Chomsky describes America as a plutocracy masquerading as a formal (but dysfunctional) democracy. See, for example, his essay 'Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline', The Huffington Post, (May 8, 2012), which can be read by clicking here.
       Nietzsche, like Marx, recognised the increasing dominion that money had acquired over every aspect of modern life and whilst little interested in developing a detailed political critique, he repeatedly voiced his concerns with this trend. Even in his earliest writings, such as 'The Greek State' (1871/72), for example, he makes clear his contempt for the moneyed aristocracy (i.e. the plutocracy) who threaten social cohesion. 
      Readers who are interested can find the above essay in On the Genealogy of Morality, ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson, trans. Carol Diethe, (Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 164-173. 
[5] D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, ed Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 427.
[6-7]  Nick Cohen, 'Behind the glitz of the Sussexes lies a simple truth: our aristocracy is dead', The Guardian (28 August 2021): click here.
[8] In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels describe how all values are resolved into exchange value and old social structures and modes of existence incorporated into the global market place, as people increasingly look to the latter for answers to questions that are not merely economic, but metaphysical; questions of what is worthwhile, what is ethical, even what is real. In the end, money determines everything and there is no other nexus between people than sheer self-interest.    
[9] As Connie informs her husband, Sir Clifford Chatterley, he is not a genuine master of (or amongst) men: "'You don't rule, don't flatter yourself. You have only got more than your share of the money, and make people work for you [...] or threaten them with starvation.'" [9]  
      D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 193.
[10] Nick Cohen, op. cit.  

No comments:

Post a Comment