Old Drake suddenly stopped looking agreeable-but-bored— he seemed both interested and amused.
"One seldom encounters such a refreshing freedom from euphemism," he said, leaning forward. "But perhaps I am reading too much into your remark, sir?"
Hawk-face sipped at his champagne and patted his mouth with a napkin before answering. "I think not," he said at last. "Privilege is defined in most dictionaries as a right or immunity giving special favors or benefits to those who hold it. Another meaning in Webster is 'not subject to the usual rules or penalties.' The invaluable thesaurus gives such synonyms as power, authority, birthright, franchise, patent, grant, favor and, I'm sad to say, pretension. Surely, we all know what privilege is in this club, don't we, gentlemen? Do I have to remind you of the Latin roots, privi, private, and lege, law, and point out in detail how we have created our Private Law over here, just as the Politburo have created their own private law in their own sphere of influence?"
"But that's not the Great Tradition," the banker type said (later, I learned that he was actually a college professor; Drake was the only banker at that table). "What Mr. Adler means by the Great Tradition—"
"What Mortimer means by the Great Tradition," hawk-face interrupted rudely, "is a set of myths and fables invented to legitimize or sugar-coat the institution of privilege. Correct me if I'm wrong," he added more politely but with a sardonic grin.
"He means," the true believer said, "the undeniable axioms, the time-tested truths, the shared wisdom of the ages, the . . ."
"The myths and fables," hawk-face contributed gently.
"The sacred, time-tested wisdom of the ages," the other went on, becoming redundant. "The basic bedrock of civil society, of civilization. And we do share that with the Communists. And it is just that common humanistic tradition that the young anarchists, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, are blaspheming, denying and trying to destroy. It has nothing to do with privilege at all."
"Pardon me," the dark man said. "Are you a college professor?"
"Certainly. I'm head of the Political Science Department at Harvard!"
"Oh," the dark man shrugged. "I'm sorry for talking so bluntly before you. I thought I was entirely surrounded by men of business and finance."
The professor was just starting to look as if he spotted the implied insult in that formal apology when Drake interrupted.
"Quite so. No need to shock our paid idealists and turn them into vulgar realists overnight. At the same time, is it absolutely necessary to state what we all know in such a manner as to imply a rather hostile and outside viewpoint? Who are you and what is your trade, sir?"
"Hagbard Celine. Import-export. Gold and Appel Transfers here in New York. A few other small establishments in other ports." As he spoke my image of piracy and Borgia stealth came back strongly. "And we're not children here," he added, "so why should we avoid frank language?"
The professor, taken aback a foot or so by this turn in the conversation, sat perplexed as Drake replied:
"So. Civilization is privilege— or Private Law, as you say so literally. And we all know where Private Law comes from, except the poor professor here— out of the barrel of a gun,' in the words of
a gentleman whose bluntness you would appreciate. Is it your conclusion, then, that Adler is, for all
his naivete, correct, and we have more in common with the Communist rulers than we have setting
us at odds?"
"Let me illuminate you further," Celine said— and the way he pronounced the verb made me jump. Drake's blue eyes flashed a bit, too, but that didn't surprise me: anybody as rich as IRS thought he was, would have to be On the Inside.
"Privilege implies exclusion from privilege, just as advantage implies disadvantage," Celine went on. "In the same mathematically reciprocal way, profit implies loss. If you and I exchange equal goods, that is trade: neither of us profits and neither of us loses. But if we exchange unequal goods, one of us profits and the other loses. Mathematically. Certainly. Now, such mathematically unequal exchanges will always occur because some traders will be shrewder than others. But in total freedom— in anarchy— such unequal exchanges will be sporadic and irregular. A phenomenon of unpredictable periodicity, mathematically speaking. Now look about you, professor— raise your nose from your great books and survey the actual world as it is— and you will not observe such unpredictable functions. You will observe, instead, a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit
accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others. Why is this, professor?
Because the system is not free or random, any mathematician would tell you a priori. Well, then, where is the determining function, the factor that controls the other variables? You have named it yourself, or Mr. Adler has: the Great Tradition. Privilege, I prefer to call it. When A meets B in the marketplace, they do not bargain as equals. A bargains from a position of privilege; hence, he always profits and B always loses. There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The privileges, or Private Laws— the rules of the game, as promulgated by the Politburo and the General Congress of the Communist Party on that side and by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve Board on this side— are slightly different; that's all. And it is this that is threatened by anarchists, and by the repressed anarchist in each of us," he concluded, strongly emphasizing the last clause, staring at Drake, not at the professor.
The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a series of three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.