We’re reminded of the meme quote attributed to “radical philosopher” Miguel D. Lewis.
Capitalism is religion. Banks are churches. Bankers are priests. Wealth is heaven. Poverty is hell. Rich people are saints. Poor people are sinners. Commodities are blessings. Money is god.
Or maybe we’re not, given that there seems to be quite little evidence of Lewis’ existence apart from here. Still, it’s a fine way to introduce the subject matter.
Has Capitalism Become Our Religion? by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins (The Nation)
We talk with historian Eugene McCarraher about the myths and rituals of the market, the lost radicalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the rise of neoliberalism.
One would be hard-pressed to find a form of modern rationalism more extreme than capitalism. The laws of supply and demand and the commodification of goods like health and education strip away the mystery and sense of sacredness that were once a vital part of human life.
Capitalism, Marx observed, tears asunder “all fixed, fast-frozen relations” and “drowns the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor…in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” It wrings out of human life every drop of awe and magic and leaves in their place a hardened world of material interests and accumulation. Or so the story goes.
Eugene McCarraher’s new book, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity, offers a different rendering of our modern age—one in which the mysteries and sacraments of religion were transferred to the way we perceive market forces and economic development.
The new world that capitalism created, McCarraher argues, is characterized not by disenchantment but by a “migration of the holy” to the realm of production and consumption, profit and price, trade and economic tribulation.
Capitalism, in other words, is the new religion, a system full of enchanted superstitions and unfounded beliefs and beholden to its own clerisy of economists and managers, its own iconography of advertising and public relations, and its own political theology—a view of history and politics that is premised on the inevitability of the capitalist system spreading across the world.
McCarraher spoke with The Nation about capitalism’s past and present, the lost radicalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, and the rise of a new generation of socialists. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.