« For the love of wealth is the root of all evil.
The political figures are acutely aware of, or at least feel, what the desire of the masses to want more and more assures them as « social peace », perpetually rejecting in the future revolutionary impulses. The editorials of the journalists of the established editorial offices do not say any less, and they attack anyone who dares to attack the rich… : « The systematic stigmatization of the « rich », as practiced by the unions, is deplorable. So what, being poor is enough to be honest…? A country needs rich people. » (La Libre, January 6, 2014). The others are all like it, reminding us again and again, if we were to forget it, that our system, which can certainly be improved, produces negative effects, but which are only failures, remaining the best, or the least bad, that can be. They will therefore not be surprised that Trump, a notorious billionaire, could become President, the man who said « I have a hard time turning down money because that’s what I’ve done my whole life. I take and take and take. You know, I’m greedy. I want money, money. »(2)or that Macron, a former Rothschild, states: « We need young French people who want to become billionaires(3)while he himself was working to become one. The question that should be nagging at this point, whether it’s Trump or Macron, is: how can heralds of the hyper-rich be considered credible in political offices that are supposed to represent the people?
Few know however that in ancient Greece, to the founding prohibition of incest, was added that of pleonexia. Since the birth of philosophy, this term was commonly used in Greece, coming from pleon (more) and echein (to have), thus translating the fact of « always wanting more ». This prohibition was considered necessary « for the building of a just city, on pain of destruction »(4). For the desire for wealth is insatiable, drifting today towards an inequality that was unimaginable a few decades ago, where eight men together hold the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, that is, some 3,500,000,000 people. This number alone should make us stop all our talk of « fighting poverty », our palliative investments in charitable NGOs, our calls for higher taxes on wealth, our winter distributions of meals and blankets to the homeless… and focus on the means of fighting to abolish these possibilities. Not only the men and women who hold these fortunes, but the social, economic and political system that makes them possible.
For no matter how much we annihilate the rich, as soon as they are dethroned, new pretenders will replace them. A society of unlimitedness resonates with elements rooted in the depths of the being who, once left to his impulses, always wants more. It is « around 550 BC that a deep tendency of the human soul was identified: to want more than its share »(5). Philosophy has therefore had from the beginning to constitute itself against this disposition inscribed in the depths of the soul, the pleonexia. Without this opposition, we are in a situation « where wealth replaces all values […] because it can provide everything […]. It is then money that counts, money that makes the man. Now, unlike all the other « powers », wealth has no limit: nothing in it can mark its end, limit it, accomplish it. The essence of wealth is excess; it is the very figure that hubris takes in the world.(6). Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), a brilliant analyst of the economy and of the instinct for profit, the cement of our unequal societies, described in his own way the absence of an intrinsic limit to wealth: « In all cases, the tendency is constant: to make the present level of money the starting point for a new increase in wealth, which in turn puts the individual on another level of sufficiency, and places him on a new level of the pecuniary scale if he compares himself to his fellow man (.… in any case, the desire for wealth can hardly be satisfied in any individual (…) the struggle is in reality a race for esteem, for provocative comparison, there is no possible outcome ».(7).
As long as we refuse to understand that freedom does not consist in giving free rein to the impulses of the individual, but in setting limits(8), which are indispensable to the building of the city, the advance towards the abyss will continue and will be accelerated. It is therefore not or no longer a question of taxing fortunes, when such heights of indecency and legalized squandering are reached, but simply of prohibiting the exceeding of a certain threshold of wealth.
DESIRE AND PRODUCTION
The pleonexic desire exists in a relation of interdependence with a productivist system that creates needs, which allows the desire to find a temporary object of consumption that, through programmed obsolescence (whether it is the obsolescence of fashion that symbolically enjoins us to change because others change; the obsolescence of machines already programmed in the company when they are made; or the obsolescence of the incapacity to repair objects) will be constantly renewed in order to assure a constant nourishment to our insatiability: clothes galore produced in the slave granaries of Asia, tablets, iphones and TVs manufactured in the Foxconn laboratory-companies, cars made in Eastern Europe, etc. The cycle of production-desire-consumption then responds to a cycle of work-consumption-frustration that can only exist in a globalized economic system where we can produce in poor countries the objects consumed by Western man, objects that will compensate for the nonsense of a work that produces frustration feeding in return the desire to consume: work-conso-antidepressant, all against the backdrop of the destruction of society by the commodification of everything, even the social bond, and the destruction of nature. From these two alienated « jobs », in the North and in the South, the oligarchy will draw a surplus value that will contribute to the expansion of its fortune.
The ignorance of this mechanism of perpetuation of the status quo by a psychic enslavement of the popular and middle classes is moreover notably what causes the short or medium term failure of the popular revolutions, notably in Latin America. For a good and simple reason: if the productivist system has not been questioned, if the enrichment of the popular and middle classes is bet on while refusing to put limits on it, those who have climbed the ladder of wealth will want more and more and will want to continue their ascent, fighting alongside their masters from now on (see box « The curse of the middle class in Latin America »)
- Cité dans Majid Rahnema, Quand la misère chasse la pauvreté, Babel, 2003.
- Donald Trump, Nevada, 23 février 2013, cité dans Les prédateurs au pouvoir, main basse sur notre avenir, Michel Pinçon et Monique Pinçon-Charlot, Textuel, 2017.
- Notez qu’il ne parle même pas de « millionnaires » mais de « milliardaires ».
- Nous devons beaucoup dans l’écriture de cet article à l’ouvrage de Dany-Robert Dufour, Pléonexie, Le Bord de l’Eau, 2015, p.13.
- Dany-Robert Dufour, ibid., p. 15.
- Jean-Pierre Vernant, Les origines de la pensée grecque, PUF, Paris, 1962, cité dans Dany-Robert Dufour, Ibid., p.15–16.
- Thorstein Veblen, Théorie de la classe de loisir, Gallimard,  1970, p. 23.
- Voir l’interview d’Alain Deneault, Kairos avril/mai 2017, ou la vidéo www.kairospresse.be/article/rencontre-avec-alain-deneault