Utopias From Hell: Brecht’s Mahagonny and Adorno’s Treasure of Indian Joe
The emergence of the aristocratic ideal out of the chaos surrounding the collapse of the imperial Roman power in Europe in turn seemed to be what was required of European humanity facing the breakdown of Roman Authority. The military aristocrat and, even more so, the royal personage, for whom glory is the only motive worth contemplating, puts on a mask of “culture” (Bildung) to show his superiority over those motivated by more down-to-earth, self-seeking goals (exemplified by the tradesman and the wealthy bourgeois). The king and the aristocrat are each, so it seems, laws unto themselves, but they can only maintain their authority under the fiction that they are selfless, devoted to glory (or to the king), or to an abstract value of “honor”, whereas the bourgeoisie are supposedly only self-interested and therefore unworthy to rule for themselves. However, there could be no decisively distinguishing marks (other than fully spurious ones out of touch with the emerging view of nature at work in modern scientific culture) by which aristocrats and royals could mark off their own actions as “noble” and all others as “base” (as if learning to hold a wine glass correctly distinguished the “higher” and the “noble” values of the nobility from the “lower” and the “base” values of the commoners). As it became more and more clear that both noble and bourgeois were interested primarily in wealth, not in glory, the fiction became more obvious, and the laws decreed by the nobility appeared as what they were: a group interested only in preserving its advantages and priviliges, not part of reasons that could be given at all. The only remaining embodiment of being a “law unto himself” was the monarch, exemplified by the Sun King, Louis XIV, presiding over his court of crafty real-estate dealing aristocrats, The monarch, so it was said, was the nation.