The Anarchist Banker

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Transcript of The Anarchist Banker

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    Fernando PessoaTHE ANARCHIST BANKER

    translated by Margaret Jull osta

    W e had just finished having supper. Opposite me sa t my friend. the banker - a well-known capItalIst and tycoon - absentmmdedly smoking his cigar. The conversation had been graduallypeterIng out for some tune and now lay defunct between us. I triedto revive it with an idea that had ju st surfaced in my mind. Smiling,r turncd to him and sa id :

    ' [ know wh at I've becn m eanin g to ask yo u. Someone to ld m e afew d ays ago that you used to be an anarchi st.. 'There's no "used to about it, [ was and I am . haven't changedm that respect, I still am an anarchist.'

    .'That 's a goo d one You,an anarchist In what way are you an anarchI st? Unless , of course , you're not using th e wo rd in its ..'In its proper sense? I can assure you that I am.''You mean to say, then, that you are an anarchi st in exactly the

    same way as all those people in wo rkers' orga ni sa tions lre anarchists?You m ean th at there's no difference between you and the men whothrow bombs and form trade unions?'

    Of course there's a difference, of course there is, bu t it isn't thedifference that you're imagining. Do you perhaps doubt that mySOCIal theones are dIfferent to theirs?'

    'Ah , now r see In theory, you're an anarchist, but in prac tice.. .'I'm as ;lluch an anarchist in practice as I am in theory. Indeed, inpractIce, I m much more of an anarchist than those other people you

    mentIon. My whole life proves it.''Wh at?''My whole life proves it. It's just that you 've mver thought about

    these thmgs clearly. That's why you think that what I'm say ing isnonst'nse or that I'm merely playing with you. 'J do n 't understand a wo rd of it Unless . . . unless you think ofyour lIfe as being disruptive and anti-social and arc using anarchismm that sense .

    'I' ve already told you that I am using the word "anarchism" in itsproper sense.'

    The Anarchist Banker 9'All right , but I still don 't und erstand .Are you saying that there's

    no conflict b etween your tru e anarchistic theor ies and th e life yo ulead, your present life? Do you want me to believe that your life isidentical to that of tho se people ordinarily termed "anarchists"?'

    'N o, that's not it at all .What I mean is that between my theoriesand how I lead my life there is no divergence at all , but absoluteconformity. It's true that my life is not like that of hose trade uniontypes or of people who throw bombs. It is their lives that are nottruly anarchistic, that fall sho rt of their anarchistic ideals, not mine.The theory and practice of anarchism meet in me, yes, in me -banker, financier, tycoon ifyou like - and there's no conflict betweenthem.You compared me to those fools in the trade unions, to thosepeople who throw bombs, in order to demonstrate that I am quitedifferent from them. 1 am, but the difference is this: they (yes, theyand not I) are purely theoretical anarchists; I am an anarchist in boththeory and practice.They are foolish anarchists and 1am an intelligent anarchis t. Therefore, I am the true anarchist. They, the peoplein the trade unions , the ones who throw bombs (I did the same onceuntil I emerged from that into my true anarchism), they are thedetritus of anarchism, the whores of the great libertarian doctrine.''Come off it, that's ridiculous. How do you reconcile your life, Imean your life in banking and commerce, with anarchist theory?How can you do that if you say that by ana rchist theory you meanexactly the same as ordinary anarchists mean? If I understand yourightly,you're saying that you're different from them because you aremore of an anarchist than they are, is that so?'

    'I t is.''Then I don't understand at all.''Do you want to understand?'I do.'His cigar had gone out; he slowly relit it, watching the match as

    it burned out, then placing . he match delicately in the ashtray.Looking up after a moment, he said:'Listen, I was born amongst the working classes of his city.As you

    can imagine, 1 inherited neither a good position in society nor goodliving conditions.What I did have was a sharp intellect and a strongwill. Those, however, were natural gifts which my low birth couldnot take away from me.

    'I was a worker, I worked, I h ad a hard life; in short , I was like mostof the people who inhabit that world. I wouldn't say that I'd evergone hungry - though I came close once or twice - which doesn't

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    90 THE ANARCHIST BANKEmean that it couldn t have happened.That doesn t change anythingthat occurred subsequently, it changes nothing of what I m going totell you now, or of what my life was or is.I was an ordinary worker. Like most people, I worked because Ihad to and I worked as little as possible. r was intelligent though.Whenever I had the opportunity, r would read, argue about thingsand, since I was no fool, I began to feel a great sense of dissatisfaction, an overwhelming feeling of revolt against my fate and againstthe social conditions that made my fate what it was . I ve already saidthat my fate was not as bad as it could have been, but, at the time, itseemed to me that I was abeing to whom Fate had dealt out all kindsof injustices and had made use of social convention in order to doso. I was about twenty at the time, twenty-one at most, and t hat waswhen I became an anarchist.

    He stopped for a moment, turned to me and then went on,leaning forwards slightly.

    I was always pretty clear-thinking. I felt rebellious. I wanted tounderstand my rebellion. I became a conscious and convinced anarchist, the same conscious and convinced anarchist I am today.

    And is the theory you believe in today the same as you believedin then?

    It is. There is only one true anarchist theory. r believe the samething r always did, ever since r became an anarchist, as you ll se e.As. r was saying, I was, by nature, clear-thinking and r became an anar-j)Chist. Now wh at is an anarchist? He is a person in revolt against th e- ) injustice of people being born socially un equal - that s basicallywhat it is. From that springs his rebellion against th e social conventions that make that inequality possible.What I m explaining now isthe psychological route, the reason why people become anarchists;we ll get to the theoretical part in a moment. For now, imagine whyan intelligent man in my circumstances would feel rebellious.Whatdoes he see in the world? One man is born the son of a millionaire,protected from the cradle from all the misfortunes that money canavoid or make bearable, of which there are many; another man isborn poor, just another mouth to feed in a family where there arealready too many mouths to feed and not enough food to go round.One man is born a count or a marquis and thus enjoys the respectof everyone, whatever he does; another man is born as I was and hasto behave with absolute rectitude in order to be treated like a humanbeing. Some men are born in conditions that allow them to study,to travel, to educate themselves, to become (you might say) more

    The narchist Banker 9Iintelligent than others who are by nature more intelliaent thanthem. And so it goes on, in all aspects of life. t >

    We can do nothing about nature s injustices, but why shouldn twe do s()mething about the injustices of society and its conventions:>Iaccept - I have no option but to do so - t ha t a man might be supenor to me because Nature gave him more talent, strength or energy;what I cannot accept is that he is my superior by virtue of artificialqualities, qualities he did not have when he left his mother s wombbut which he had the good fortune to be given as soon as heborn: wealth, social position, an easy life,etc. My anarchism was bornout of he rebellion I felt against those things, the anarchism which,as r said, I still hold to, completely unchanged.

    He again paused for a moment, as if considerina how he should. . t >contmue. He mhaled the smoke from his cigar then slowly exhaled,blowing the smoke out to one side of me. He turned to me againand was about to go on. I however, interrupted him.

    Just o ne qu es ti on, purely o ut of curi os ity. W hy did yo u b eco mean anarchi st?You could have become a soc ialist or takell up SO eoth er similar adva nced philosophy.Th at wo uld have fitted in withyour feelings of rebellion. I deduce from what you ve said that byanarchIsm you understand (and I think it s fine as a definition) arevolt against all social conventions and formulae, together with thedesire and intention to abolish them all.That s right.

    Why did you choose that particularly extreme formulation andnot one of the other more moderate ones?

    I ll tell you. I gave all that a lot of hought. Obviously, I read aboutall those theories in pamphlets and I chose anarchism, an extremetheory as you quite rightly say, for reasons which I can sum up in afew words .

    He stared into space for a moment.Then he turned to me a g a i n ~The tru e evil , indeed, the only evil,are the social conventions and

    fi cti ons whI ch becom e superimposed on natural realities, every-thing from family to money, from religion to the state. We are bo rnman or woman , I mean, we a re born to grow into adult men andwo men; we are not born , in term s of natural justi ce, to be a husbandor to be rich or poo r, ju st as we are not born to be Ca tho lic orProtestant, to be Portuguese or En glish. All these things are socialficti o ns . Now why are these social fictions a bad thing:> Preciselybecause they are fictions, because they are not natural. Money is asgreat an evil as the state, and the institution of the family as wrong

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    92 THE ANARCHIST BANKERas religion. It doesn't matter what these fictions are - they c