Bernard Harcourt | November 25, 2020 | Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought


“What is a picklock to a bank share? What is the burgling of a bank to the founding of a bank? What is the murder of a man to the employment of a man?”

— Macheath in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera[1]


Bertolt Brecht captures so brilliantly in these verses the expropriative nature of property—the paradoxical way in which legal property can amount to theft. Running a bank, Brecht declares, is no different than robbing a bank. Taking someone’s labor is no different than killing them—well, of course, you understand the exaggeration, but the point remains: alienating and extracting someone’s labor treats them as less than human.

Brecht’s anti-hero, Macheath, is about to be executed for his sins (there were many, but seducing the daughter of the beggars’ prince, Peachum, was at the very top, it seems). In his final lament, before heading to the gallows, Macheath reflects on his life of thuggery and urges everyone listening to question their own sacred beliefs about property.

It is here that our seminar, Abolition Democracy 5/13, will begin: with a rendition of these verses by the virtuoso singer and composer, Theo Bleckmann, as an introduction to inspire us all to rethink, with an open and clear but stirred mind, the matter of property.

Originally published by the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought. Read the full post here.