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The Emperor: Downfall of An Autocrat

Ryszard Kapuściński

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“Two lusts breed in the soul of man: the lust for aggresion, and the lust for telling lies. If one will not allow himself to wrong others, he will wrong himself. If he doesn't come across anyone to lie to, he will lie to himself in his own thoughts.”

“His August Majesty chided the bureaucrats for failing to understand a simple principle: the principle of the second bag. Because the people never revolt just because they have to carry a heavy load, or because of exploitation. They don't know life without exploitation, they don't even know that such a life exists. How can they desire what they cannot imagine? The people will rvolt only when, in a single movement, someone tries to throw a second burden, a second heavy bag, onto their backs. The peasant will fall face down into the mud - and then spring up and grab an ax. He'll grab an ax, my gracious sir, not because he simply can't sustain this new burden - he could carry it - he will rise because he feels that, in throwing the second burden onto his back suddenly and stealthily, you have tried to cheat him, you have treated him like an unthinking animal, you have trampled what remains of his already strangled dignity, taken him for an idiot who doesn't see, feel, or understand. A man doesn't seize an ax in defense of his wallet, but in defense of his dignity, and that, dear sir, is why His Majesty scolded the clerks. For their own convenience and vanity, instead of adding the burden bit by bit, in little bags, they tried to heave a whole big sack on at once.”

“His Highness worked on the assumption that even the most loyal press should not be given in abundance, because that might create a habit of reading, and from there it is only a single step to the habit of thinking, and it is well known what inconveniences, vexations, troubles, and worries thinking causes.”

“Because it was enough for one of those favorites of His Distinguished Highness to issue a thoughtless decree. These young smart alecks see it, and they immediately imagine some fatal result and come running to the rescue. They start trying to mend things, straighten things out, patch things up and untangle them. And so instead of using their energy to build their own vision of the future, instead of trying to put their irresponsible, destructive fantasies into action, our malcontents had to roll up their sleeves and start untangling what the minsters had knotted up. And there's always a lot of work to untangling! So they untangle and untangle, drenched in sweat, wearing their nerves to shreds, running around, patching things up here and there, and in all this rush and overwork, in this whirlwind, their fantasies slowly evaporate from their hot heads.”

“An empty envelope! Mr. Kapuchitsky, do you know what money means in a poor country? Money in a poor country and money in a rich country are two different things. In a rich country, money is a piece of paper with which you buy goods on the market. You are only a customer. Even a millionaire is only a customer. He may purchase more, but he remains a customer, nothing more. And in a poor country? In a poor country, money is a wonderful, thick hedge, dazzling and always blooming, which separates you from everything else. Through that hedge you do not see creeping poverty, you do not smell the stench of misery, and you do not hear the voices of the human dregs. But at the same time you know that all of that exists, and you feel proud because of your hedge. You have money; that means you have wings. You are the bird of paradise that everyone admires.”

“Observing the behavior of individual fowl in a henhouse, we note that birds lower in rank are pecked by, and give way to, birds of higher rank. In an ideal case, there exists a linear order of rank with a top hen who pecks all the others. Those in the middle ranks peck those below them but respect all the hens above them. At the bottom there is a drudge who has to take it from everyone. (Adolf Remane, Vertebrates and Their Ways)”

“Why did our fathers impose such strict rules on us, recommending that mortification of the flesh be practiced unceasingly? It is because man is by nature a bad creature who takes damning pleasure out of giving in to temptations, especially the temptations of disobedience, possessiveness, and licentiousness. Two lusts breed in the soul of man: the lust for aggression, and the lust for telling lies. If one will not allow himself to wrong others, he will wrong himself. If he doesn’t come across anyone to lie to, he will lie to himself in his own thoughts. Sweet to man is the bread of untruths, says the Book of Proverbs, and then with sand his mouth is filled up.”

“The event that hastened the confrontation between the army and the Palace was the starvation in the northern provinces. Usually it is said that periodic droughts cause bad crops and therefore starvation. But it is the elites of starving countries that propagate this idea. It is a false idea. The unjust or mistaken allocation of funds and national property is the most frequent source of hunger. There was a lot of grain in Ethiopia, but it had first been hidden by the rich and then thrown on the market at a doubled price, inaccessible to peasants and the poor. Figures about the hundreds of thousands who starved next to abundantly stocked granaries were published. On the orders of local dignitaries, the police finished off whole clans of still-living human skeletons. This situation of intense evil, of horror, of desperate absurdity, became the signal for the conspiring officers to go to work. The mutiny involved all the divisions in turn, and it was probably the army that had been the main prop of Imperial power. After a short period of bewilderment, shock, and hesitation, H. S. began to realize that he was losing his most important instrument.”

“The Hour of the Ministers was devoted to Imperial matters, but who cares about Imperial matters when the treasure chest is open and the favorites and chosen ones are swarming around it like ants! No one wants to go away empty-handed, without a gift, without an envelope, without a promotion, without having cashed in. Sometimes His Highness would answer such greediness with a kindly scolding, but he never became angry, since he knew that it was because of the open purse that they pressed around him and served him more humbly. Our Emperor knew that one who is satiated will defend his own contentedness, and where else could one be satiated but in the Palace?”

“Since the cost of loyalty was going up, there was an urgent need to increase income, and that’s why the Finance Ministry ordered the peasants to pay higher taxes. Today I am free to say that it was His Unrivaled Majesty’s decision, but because the Emperor, as a gracious benefactor, could not issue vexatious or plaguing decrees, any proclamation that put a new burden on the shoulders of the people was issued in the name of some ministry. If the people could not shoulder that burden and started a rebellion, His Majesty scolded the ministry and replaced the minister—although he never did so immediately, to avoid creating the humiliating impression that the monarch allows the unbridled mob to put his Palace in order. On the contrary, when he saw the need to demonstrate monarchical supremacy he would raise the most disliked officials to higher positions, as if to say, “Get an eyeload of who’s really in charge here, of who makes the impossible possible!” His Noble Majesty asserted his force and authority by benevolently needling his subjects.”

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Book Keywords:

humanity, poor, condition, revolt, revolution, inequality, democracy, lies, drive, dignity, passion, aggression, people, burden

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