CEVI-WP 09-09

Greed and Avarice
Tom Claes & David Seth Preston


We often hear the lament that our modern (or postmodern) era is marked by an obscene high level of Greed and/or Avarice. Greedy and avaricious dispositions and persons, so some are eager to tell us, rule the modern world and this, so they proclaim, accounts for a whole score of (other) disasters like, extreme selfishness, the erosion of solidarity, the withering away of social bonds, an instrumental attitude towards our fellow human beings and even to the natural world, etc. up to—according to some analysts—the recent breakdown of the financial system. Quick bucks, easy money, the allure of the city boys, money scams and the heartless and continuous rat race for more and more money—all this and more testifies to the all encompassing greed and avariciousness of modern man.

But is this really the case? Do we live in greedy times—or better put: greedier times then ever before? Have we become more avaricious? In this part of our paper I would like to explore and perhaps even provide a sensible start of an answer to these and other related questions. I will draw heavily on the insights of one of the most brilliant analysts of modern society, Georg Simmel. Following some of his observations in these matters will provide us with a possible answer to our starting questions—an answer that perhaps will startle the greed and avarice hardliner-critics.

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