Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the ethics of those who work in the banking sector have come under special scrutiny. Indeed, the world of finance has long carried a moral taint, one which has been more than occasionally depicted and addressed in works of literary fiction. A highly illuminating and penetrating case in point is Fernando Pessoa’s The Anarchist Banker. In this short-story, the great Portuguese writer portrays a successful banker defending the position that his acquisition of wealth represents the practical corollary of anarchism. By anarchism is meant a state of affairs in which individuals are able to attain their highest potential free of the constraints imposed by all humanly constructed institutions, whether it be the state, religion, family, or the monetary system. At first blush, the banker’s case strikes the reader as bizarre, yet the flaws in his reasoning are hard to pinpoint. Precisely by this difficulty, Pessoa draws the reader into an interrogation of the philosophic presuppositions of modernity, as expressed in the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the end, one is left seriously rethink the presuppositions of modernity or, perhaps, admit that the way of life of the wealthy financier is indeed the logical culmination of modernity’s project of human liberation.
Posted in Ideas and Papers.