Karl Marx
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

The Power of Money

[40] If man’s feelings, passions, etc., are not merely anthropological phenomena in the (narrower) sense, but truly ontological [41] affirmations of being (of nature), and if they are only really affirmed because their object exists for them as a sensual object, then it is clear that:

1. They have by no means merely one mode of affirmation, but rather that the distinct character of their existence, of their life, is constituted by the distinct mode of their affirmation. In what manner the object exists for them, is the characteristic mode of their gratification.

2. Wherever the sensuous affirmation is the direct annulment of the object in its independent form (as in eating, drinking, working up of the object, etc.), this is the affirmation of the object.

3. Insofar as man, and hence also his feeling, etc., is human, the affirmation of the object by another is likewise his own gratification.

4. Only through developed industry – i.e., through the medium of private property – does the ontological essence of human passion come into being, in its totality as well as in its humanity; the science of man is therefore itself a product of man’s own practical activity.

5. The meaning of private property – apart from its estrangement – is the existence of essential objects for man, both as objects of enjoyment and as objects of activity.

By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person.

“What, man! confound it, hands and feet
And head and backside, all are yours!
And what we take while life is sweet,
Is that to be declared not ours?

“Six stallions, say, I can afford,
Is not their strength my property?
I tear along, a sporting lord,
As if their legs belonged to me.”

Goethe: Faust (Mephistopheles)

Shakespeare in Timon of Athens:

“Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold?
No, Gods, I am no idle votarist! ...
Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair,
Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.
... Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides,
Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads:
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions, bless the accursed;
Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves
And give them title, knee and approbation
With senators on the bench: This is it
That makes the wappen’d widow wed again;
She, whom the spital-house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again. Come, damned earth,
Thou common whore of mankind, that put’st odds
Among the rout of nations.”

And also later:

“O thou sweet king-killer, and dear divorce
‘Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler
Of Hymen’s purest bed! thou valiant Mars!
Thou ever young, fresh, loved and delicate wooer
Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow
That lies on Dian’s lap! Thou visible God!
That solder’st close impossibilities,
And makest them kiss! That speak’st with every tongue,
||XLII| To every purpose! O thou touch of hearts!
Think, thy slave man rebels, and by thy virtue
Set them into confounding odds, that beasts
May have the world in empire!”

Shakespeare excellently depicts the real nature of money. To understand him, let us begin, first of all, by expounding the passage from Goethe.

That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. 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, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence 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 brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? 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, connecting me with nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, also the universal agent of separation? It is the coin that really separates as well as the real binding agent – the [...] [One word in the manuscript cannot be deciphered. – Ed.] chemical power of society.

Shakespeare stresses especially two properties of money:

1. It is the visible divinity – the transformation of all human and natural properties into their contraries, the universal confounding and distorting of things: impossibilities are soldered together by it.

2. It is the common whore, the common procurer of people and nations.

The distorting and confounding of all human and natural qualities, the fraternisation of impossibilities – the divine power of money – lies in its character as men’s estranged, alienating and self-disposing species-nature. Money is the alienated ability of mankind.

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 desired 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 the 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],||XLIII| and which therefore remains even 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 that which exists within me merely as an idea and the idea which exists as a real object outside of me.

If I have no money for travel, I have no need – that is, no real and realisable 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. Money as the external, universal medium and faculty (not springing from man as man or from human society as society) for turning an image into reality and reality into a mere image, transforms the real essential powers of man and nature into what are merely abstract notions and therefore imperfections and 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 distorting of individualities which turns them into their opposite and confers contradictory attributes upon their attributes.

Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.

Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things – the world upside-down – the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.

He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be 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 quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune.|XLIII||