Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Machinations and justifications (Books - Middlemarch by George Eliot)

Ah, the machinations and justifications that go into the acquiring of power. I seem to be seeing it everywhere lately. New York's current mayor wishes to overturn the twice-approved term-limit law (whatever one might think of it) so that he may run for a third term. He has convinced himself that this is because he is the only person qualified to get our city through the current financial mess we are in. The Ragazzo and I continue to watch Rome - in which we are witnessing its descent into moral and literal bankruptcy as those both high and low murder its people and divide its territory so that they might rule what is left of it, and persuade themselves that they do so for the good of Rome. And in George Eliot's Middlemarch there is a certain banker...
Mr. Bulstrode's power was not due simply to his being a country banker, who knew the financial secrets of most traders in the town and could touch the springs of their credit; it was fortified by a beneficence that was at once ready and severe - ready to confer obligations, and severe in watching the result...His private minor loans were numerous, but he would inquire strictly into the circumstances both before and after. In this way a man gathers a domain in his neighbours' hope and fear as well as gratitude; and power, when once it has got into that subtle region, propagates itself, spreading out of all proportion to its external means. It was a principle with Mr. Bulstrode to gain as much power as possible, that he might use it for the glory of God. He went through a great deal of spiritual conflict and inward argument in order to adjust his motives, and make clear to himself what God's glory required.

Yes, I'm sure he did. It is always scary when someone starts mixing god, or in the case of Rome - gods - into the equation and are so sure that they are the person who knows what it is this god or these gods want. The arrogance - but I suppose that lust for power is itself an expression of arrogance so this justification should not be so surprising, and Eliot meets this outrage with her tongue firmly in cheek:
But, as we have seen, his motives were not always rightly appreciated. There were many crass minds in Middlemarch whose reflective scales could only weigh things in the lump; and they had a strong suspicion that since Mr. Bulstrode could not enjoy life in their fashion, eating and drinking so little as he did, and worreting himself about everything, he must have a sort of vampire's feast in the sense of mastery.
Human nature hasn't changed, has it? 'If someone's nature is not like mine it cannot be good.' I think that is the saddest opinion one can hold. It's why political campaigns get away with bald manipulations of personality as a technique for acquiring office. Eliot's study of town and village domestic and political life is impressively comprehensive, it seems like one can study the entire world in microcosm, but I barely have the brain to read Middlemarch these days. It took me ages to read just this one chapter last night so preoccupied was I with studying for midterms.

No comments: