Marx Channels Shakespeare on Money: Why the Lame Will Walk, the Ugly are Beautiful, and the Dishonest are Honest

Or, perhaps this post could be sub-titled, “Why Bill Gates can’t believe what anybody tells him,” simply because no one can really be honest around big money.

Or, as the young Karl Marx wrote in 1845:

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?

Marx is in effect saying that money is the real brain creating what we believe to be good and bad. If it has money, it must be good. If someone does not have money, they must be bad in any world. Money though warps judgment by transforming what should be incapacities like dishonesty and stupidity into strengths to be ignored or even admired.  This is why the wealthy can go through life believing they are smarter than the rest of us, even if they are not.  They can even pay for grand projects which fail, but are not seen as failures. For one such example, see Ford projects like Fordlandia.EdselHenry Ford on Anti-semitism.  Henry Ford was also awarded a major medal (Order of the German Eagle) by Nazi Germany, and later have a US Postage stamp issued in his honor.  Nothing burnishes reputations for cleverness than simply being rich!

Marx cites Shakespeare (!) play “Timon of Athens” to conclude his point about the special powers of hard cold cash:

Shakespeare stresses especially two properties of money:

  1. 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.


Karl Marx (1844) “The Power of Money” in the Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

Originally posted on, November 10, 2015.