If the play portrays intellectual life as misguidedly valuing narrow research and mere words over substance, political pursuits in Faust tend to be compromised by greed, shortsightedness, and corruption, with disastrous results. This is nowhere clearer than in the episode of the Emperor who succumbs to Mephistopheles’ flattery and his own greediness when he decides to address his realm’s economic problems by searching for hidden gold rather than by designing a more sustainable solution.
The Emperor, surrounded as he is by courtiers who flatter him for their own self-interested purposes, never learns from his mistakes. Soon after his search for gold he agrees to print paper money at the behest of Faust and the devil. This is a short-term solution to economic woes, and one that only ends up compounding the problem—riding the false sense of prosperity created by the paper money, the Emperor falls into a life of luxury and wanton pleasure which diminishes his capacity to rule, and this, in turn, gives rise to anarchy and bloody rebellion.
Compare the Emperor’s troubles with the episode of the pygmies and cranes which unfolds on Classical Walpurgis Night, where the physically tiny pygmies mindlessly conquer, fight, and die for control of a newly created mountain—an episode which literally suggests just how absurd political actions can be when their masterminds and supporters lose sight of their own tiny stature in the universe.
Unguided by authentic wisdom, by a sense of how one’s actions relate to the thoughts and acts of the rest of the world, politicians blind themselves to the long-term by focusing on the short-term. By the end of the play, Faust alone understands that political rulers must give everything they have in guaranteeing prosperity for their subjects and justice for the societies they lead—though he dies before he can realize his Utopian vision.
Politics Quotes in Faust
The worst of torments we can suffer
is to feel want when we are rich.
The tinkling bell, the lindens’ scent,
make me feel buried in a crypt.
If only I might see that people’s teeming life,
share their autonomy on unencumbered soil;
then, to the moment, I could say:
tarry a while, you are so fair—
the traces of my days on earth
will survive into eternity!—
Envisioning those heights of happiness,
I now enjoy my highest moment.