In a previous post Sergio quoted Bertrand Russel saying “that envy is the basis of democracy?” I asked for the source, and he responded:
The quote is from his book “The conquest of happiness” (1930).
Wikipedia´s comment on “envy” is also interesting, as it says Russell also thought that envy is the basis of human unhappiness. Also they mentioned two kinds of envy, a malign and a benign one. I quote:
“Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured to achieve a more just social system. However, psychologists have recently suggested that there may be two types of envy: malicious envy and benign envy – benign envy being proposed as a type of positive motivational force.“
RL: Precisely the distinction that Schoeck makes. Cultures in which anyone else’s gain is “my” loss, are ones in which there is a high price for success, where magic offers the envious means to strike back, where people fear the “evil eye.” Which is why Schadenfreude is so destructive.
Now no one can be “free of envy” (save the rare saint). But you can be careful. Some people are scrupulous on this. I got a call from a friend on a train which was whizzing by the cars stuck in traffic on Route 1 going to Tel Aviv. “Is it okay to feel a little Schadenfreude when I see those stuck motorists?”
I say this about envy in my chapter on Marx in Heaven on Earth:
In an early meditation on “raw” or “crude” Communism (der rohe Communismus), by which he meant the Communism of Babeuf and Buonnaroti, Marx explained its appeal as a universalization of envy. By implication, he distanced himself from it:
Universal envy establishing itself as a power is only the disguised form in which greed re-establishes and satisfies itself in another way. The thought of every piece of private property as such is at the very least turned against richer private property as envy, and the desire to level, so that envy and the desire to level in fact constitute the essence [of the hatred of the results] of competition. Crude communism is only the fulfillment of this envy and leveling on the basis of a preconceived minimum.
This is a highly sophisticated moral discourse that cuts to the quick of the mechanisms of ressentiment parading as idealism. But for all such insight, Marx ended up stoking the very fires he here critiqued. Helmut Schoeck notes: “It is only in Marxism, the abstract and glorified concept of the proletariat, the disinherited and exploited, that a position of implacable envy is fully legitimized.”
Marx’s aggressive brilliance took hold of history so powerfully that he could shake off the “utopian” fantasies that “all men are brothers” (here, transformative apocalyptic) and drive those who would participate in salvation history into a cataclysmic battle at the side of the true brotherhood, the proletarians. And he accomplished this call to battle with the promise of a hopelessly impossible millennium that could only be “achieved” when alienation had produced so much rootlessness and anger that only a purging violence would clear the decks.
Such tendencies strengthened among those who inherited and implemented Marx’s millennialism in the following generation, whose envy and resentment Max Scheler chronicled. With an irony that became increasingly bitter with every passing generation, Marx may have written his own self-description in his vicious denunciation of the tailor-agitator Weitling for abusing prophecy. Annenkov, a witness to Marx’s tirade, summarized Marx’s assault then quoted him directly:
It was simple fraud to arouse the people without any sound and considered basis for their activity. The awakening of fantastic hopes . . . would never lead to the salvation of those who suffered, but on the contrary to their undoing. “To go to the workers in Germany without strictly scientific ideas and concrete doctrine would mean an empty and unscrupulous playing with propaganda, which would inevitably involve, on the one hand, the setting up of an inspired apostle and, on the other hand, simply asses who would listen to him with open mouth.”
It apparently never occurred to Marx that pseudo-science also constituted “empty and unscrupulous playing with propaganda.”