Mahagonny tells the gloomy story of a society where prosperity is confused with well-being. And how quickly things can go wrong when all people unite around one goal.
In a place in the desert, three fugitive criminals found a new city: Mahagonny. It is to be a city of paradise, a new world where people do not work and only enjoy themselves if they have the necessary cash. They want to lure prospectors from the coast and have them squander their newly acquired fortune in bars and brothels.
The news of Mahagonny spreads quickly and fortune seekers and swindlers descend on the place. Among them are four Alaskan lumberjacks who have made big money through hard work: Jim, Jack, Bill and Joe. The rise of the town is made possible by a steady order. But a life of eating, drinking and making love soon becomes boring. Jim Mahoney wants to break out and others become disaffected.
A hurricane threatens the city and, during a 'night of horrors', Jim finds the 'laws of human bliss' or the idea of total anarchy. Stealing, raping, killing - anything goes 'for the good of society, the good of the city, the future of mankind and personal satisfaction'.
Miraculously, the hurricane leaves Mahagonny unharmed and now Jim's anarchy is put into practice. Jim's anarchy is put into practice. The men want to indulge in eating, loving, fighting and drinking without restraint. Jack dies of gluttony while Joe is knocked out in an unforgiving boxing match and subsequently beaten to death.
To drown the grief at Joe's death, Jim treats all the men to whisky until it turns out that Jim cannot pay the bill. The inventor of anarchy now falls victim to his own ideas. The unwritten law in Mahagonny says that everything is allowed except having no money in your pocket.
After a grotesque trial, Jim gets the death penalty. When he wants to postpone the execution by referring to the fact that God exists, the inhabitants of Mahagonny, led by Moses, play out the story of 'God in Mahagonny' in which the Almighty sends the inhabitants of the city to hell. In vain, they say, for they are already there!
After Jim's execution, the city is hit by famine, fire and a protest. Mahagonny goes down. We cannot help ourselves, nor you, nor anyone else', is the final conclusion.