By Matthew Crawford, Unherd
The HBO series Succession depicts the dynastic dramas of a family-controlled media company, headed by patriarch Logan Roy in a spirit of vigorous tyranny. This clan is ultra-rich and totally amoral. One of the sons, the dissolute and aptly named Roman (played by Kieran Culkin) is gleefully immoral, skewering the petty decencies of “normal people” with lines that make you wince and laugh out loud at the same time. It is a delicious depiction of aristocratic license that would be recognisable to observers of the senatorial class in late-empire Rome, or the court of Louis XVI. To watch the show is to take an hour-long break from the relentless moralism of contemporary life and watch power operate with bald-faced corruption, rather than self-righteous bullshit. It’s refreshing that way.
The Roy family occupies the most rarefied level of globe-trotting oligarchs. Dropping down a rung or two on the pyramid of power, consider the moral ecology inhabited by the broader gentility: the salaried decision-makers and ideas-managers who service the global arrangement from various departments of the ideological apparatus. They may work in NGOs, the governing bodies of the EU, corporate journalism, HR departments, the celebrity-industrial complex, the universities, Big Tech, etc. They, too, enjoy a kind of freedom, but it is decidedly not that of the high-spirited criminals depicted in Succession. So far from living “beyond good and evil”, this broader class of cosmopolitans asserts its freedom through its moralism, precisely.