When Did Capitalism Become Our Religion?

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.

O Society

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

~ Luke 16:13 KJV

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.

by Daniel Jenkins edited by O Society October 13, 2019

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 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…

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2 thoughts on “When Did Capitalism Become Our Religion?

  1. Very interesting talk with historian Eugene McCarraher, Dr. Bramhall. I’m always open to new ways of thinking about humanity’s dilemma. I found McCarraher’s following comments of special interest:

    “…I think the moral and spiritual crisis is real and that it’s far deeper than we often realize. I agree with David Graeber: We may well be approaching the end of the capitalist epoch, but we’re not at all sure that what’s coming after will be any better. We may be living in the sort of dreary liminal period that Wolfgang Streeck describes—an ongoing apocalypse in which capitalism is languishing, but since there’s apparently no coherent opposition, it manages to lurch onward from one crisis to the next without finally collapsing. We really do need a “new civilizational paradigm,” in Naomi Klein’s words, one in which the world—and especially the human beings who reside in it and are a part of it—isn’t seen as nothing more than columns of integers on a balance sheet. This is why I argue in the book that the tradition of Romantic anti-capitalism contains one of the most humane and generous treasuries of possibilities.”

    I think that we humans all agree that there’s urgent need for a new way forward. Agreeing on that path is our greatest challenge.


  2. Rosaliene, i, too, spend a lot of time thinking about the way forward once capitalism collapses, which looks pretty inevitable at present. I really like an analogy Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute made about 13 years ago about the need to build “lifeboats” for ourselves. By this, he meant we all need to work within our communities to figure out how to provide for ourselves and each other in a post capitalist world. Here in New Plymouth we’ve build a surprising number of entities to help carry this out: savings pools to loan our savings to one another, a crop swaps to share surplus veggies, a seed saving collective, commuting collectives based on electric vehicles, etc. We’ve given up on the national or local government giving us any help – they’re all in bed with the corporations. Essentially, in other words, we’re building a living, breathing direct democracy outside of the corporate world. We’re also figuring out ways to network with similar communities around New Zealand to help meet any needs we can’t meet locally.

    Liked by 1 person

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