By Eugene McCarraher
Far from displacing religions, as has been supposed, capitalism became one, with money as its deity. Eugene McCarraher reveals how mammon ensnared us and how we can find a more humane, sacramental way of being in the world.
If socialists and Wall Street bankers can agree on anything, it is the extreme rationalism of capital. At least since Max Weber, capitalism has been understood as part of the “disenchantment” of the world, stripping material objects and social relations of their mystery and sacredness. Ignoring the motive force of the spirit, capitalism rejects the awe-inspiring divine for the economics of supply and demand.
Eugene McCarraher challenges this conventional view. Capitalism, he argues, is full of sacrament, whether or not it is acknowledged. Capitalist enchantment first flowered in the fields and factories of England and was brought to America by Puritans and evangelicals whose doctrine made ample room for industry and profit. Later, the corporation was mystically animated with human personhood, to preside over the Fordist endeavor to build a heavenly city of mechanized production and communion. By the twenty-first century, capitalism has become thoroughly enchanted by the neoliberal deification of “the market.”
Informed by cultural history and theology as well as economics, management theory, and marketing, The Enchantments of Mammon looks not to Marx and progressivism but to nineteenth-century Romantics for salvation. The Romantic imagination favors craft, the commons, and sensitivity to natural wonder. It promotes labor that, for the sake of the person, combines reason, creativity, and mutual aid. In this impassioned challenge, McCarraher makes the case that capitalism has hijacked and redirected our intrinsic longing for divinity—and urges us to break its hold on our souls.
Donald Sassoon on Church Times wrote:
"It is almost impossible to categorise Enchantments of Mammon. This monumental labour of love took two decades to write. There have been marvellous studies of contemporary capitalism published in recent years, for example Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? But this is an extraordinary work of intellectual history as well as a scholarly tour de force, a bracing polemic and a work of Christian prophecy. It perhaps should have been at least three books. But it is beautifully written and a magnificent read, whether or not one follows the author all the way to his final destination in this journey of the pilgrim soul in the capitalist wilderness."
James G. Chappel on Boston Review wrote:
"Many argue that in this world of consumption we have lost our soul. But McCarraher explains that capitalism has its own 'enchantment' (a word that he uses a little too often), but it is 'the enchantment of Mammon'. To analyse this magic, the author provides us with a beguiling 800-page tour de force in which not only well-known theorists (Marx, Weber, etc.) are analysed, but a host of less well-known figures: poets, artists, sociologists, theologians, advertisers, business gurus (the religious term is appropriate), philosophers, and entrepreneurs [...] However enjoyable the book, obviously the fruit of much labour, it has its limitation. It is almost exclusively about the United States. Europe is there only as Britain, and only as the precondition for American capitalist development. Moreover, the enchantment that he deals with is mainly a Protestant one. There is hardly a mention of the Catholic view of capitalism. [...] Besides, I am not sure that the case for capitalism as a religion is made. What we face is a religious defence of capitalism. Such defence is necessary when one thinks that so much of literature depicts capitalists (and the pursuit of money) in pejorative terms. [...] Worshipping money is, after all, a metaphor. No one really worships money in the way some worship Jesus or Allah. Many like to spend it or to accumulate it, and, if they feel a little guilty or if they want to feel good, they will give to charity, thus 'buying' their place in heaven."
Lynn Paramore on Institute for New Economic Thinking wrote:
"While written from a Christian perspective, the book is not evangelizing, and it has something to teach us all. At its heart, it is a moral critique of capitalism. McCarraher wants us to see that we are living in a system that, in failing to answer our most human needs, is literally inhumane. But this is not a book that asks us to slow down, smell the roses, and so on. That kind of ethical injunction is as tired as it is futile—and it is also, McCarraher thinks, an intellectually bankrupt analysis of the modern condition, told by theorists such as the sociologist Max Weber and the philosopher Charles Taylor, but also in popular culture. Once upon a time, this story goes, we inhabited an enchanted universe, in which we understood our place in the cosmos. Life in the past may have been hard, but at least it made sense. The transition to modernity, though, came with a cost: our lives might be materially better, but they have been drained of meaning. We are, in a word, 'disenchanted.' We are tasked, then, with crafting meaning for ourselves—whether by finding meaningful work, falling in love, or doing yoga. McCarraher contends that this whole story is disastrously misguided; it keeps us from seeing how capitalism functions, and why it continues to exert so much appeal. Disenchantment, he argues, never happened. Our world is still soaked with meaning, just as it was in the Middle Ages. We are not abandoned to a universe of moral relativism and nihilism, because capitalism and its prophets have offered an astonishingly stable set of alternatives. 'Capitalism,' McCarraher insists, 'is a love story.' What he means is that the market translates the poetry of our desire into the prose of institutions and exchange. [...] It is telling that The Enchantments of Mammon is not written solely in the argumentative mood. It often comes closer to scripture than scholarship, despite the fact that it is heavily footnoted and rooted in a wide range of up-to-date research from multiple disciplines. The sheer mass of the work is astonishing, all the more impressive for being written in unflaggingly rapturous prose. It will not be to everyone’s taste, but McCarraher has done his best to write as though modern scholarship might speak in the voice of the King James Bible."
"McCarraher’s book is a highly rewarding and powerful expression of the longing for a more hospitable way of living and a potent call to orient ourselves towards our capacities as caring, creative, and convivial beings, rather than the nasty horde of hustlers Mammon insists that we are. As Americans move toward a new administration looking to be fully aligned with the misenchantments of money and technology [...] McCarraher’s book is a welcome wake-up call and a reminder that while we didn’t compose the narrative we live inside, we do have choices about the ending. So thank you, Professor McCarraher, for helping us to think outside the temple."
Discussion: 'Is Capitalism Good for Us'?
Eugene McCarraher in debate with Mary Hirschfeld, author of Aquinas and the Market; Toward a Humane Economy (2019), on the question whether capitalism is good for us:
- Podcast with McCarraher about the book, Lapham's Quarterly - The World in Time, 6 December 2019
- "Mammon", an essay by McCarraher in online magazine Aeon, 22 October 2019
- "Has Capitalism Become Our Religion?", interview with McCarraher in The Nation, 4 October 2019
- "‘Turn the Page’; The Romantic Socialism of William Morris", essay by McCarraher at Commonweal, 24 June 2019
- "The World is a Business; The mad alchemy that transformed the market into a god", article by McCarraher in The Baffler, March 2018
- "We Have Never Been Disenchanted", article by McCarraher in the Hedgehog Review, fall 2015
- "Capitalism and Our Moral Imagination", article by McCarraher in the Hedgehog Review, fall 2012
About Eugene McCarraher
Eugene McCarraher is Associate Professor of Humanities at Villanova University and the author of Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern American Social Thought. He has written for Dissent and The Nation and contributes regularly to Commonweal, The Hedgehog Review, and Raritan. His work on The Enchantments of Mammon was supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Table of Contents of The Enchantments of Mammon
I. The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things: Capitalist Enchantment in Europe, 1600–1914
- About His Business: The Medieval Sacramental Economy, the Protestant Theology of “Improvement,” and the Emergence of Capitalist Enchantment
- The God among Commodities: Christian Political Economy, Marx on Fetishism, and the Power of Money in Bourgeois Society
- The Poetry of the Past: Romantic Anticapitalism and the Sacramental Imagination
II. A Hundred Dollars, a Hundred Devils: Mammon in America, 1492–1870
- Errand into the Marketplace: The Puritan Covenant Theology of Capitalism
- The Righteous Friends of Mammon: Evangelicals, Mormons, Slaveholders, and the Proprietary Dispensation
- Glows and Glories and Final Illustriousness: Transcendentalism, the Religion of the Slaves, and the Romantic Imagination in Antebellum America
III. The Mystical Body of Business: The Corporate Reconstruction of Capitalist Enchantment, 1870–1920
- God Gave Me My Money: The Incorporation of America and the Persistence of Evangelical Enchantment
- The Soulful Corporation: Corporate Fetishism and the Incorporation of Enchantment
- Blazers of the One True Way: Corporate Humanism, Management Theory, and the Mechanization of Communion
- The Spirit of the Thing: Advertising and the Incorporation of the Beatific Vision
- Modern Communion: Corporate Liberalism and Imperialist Eschatology
IV. The Beloved Commonwealth: Visions of Cooperative Enchantment, 1870–1920
- The Producers’ Jeremiad: The Populist Reformation of the Covenant Theology
- The Cross Is Bending: The Socialist Jeremiad and the Covenant Theology
- The Priesthood of Art: Anarchism, Arts and Crafts, and the Re-enchantment of the World
- Another Kingdom of Being: The Crisis of Metaphysical Experience and the Search for Passionate Vision
V. The Heavenly City of Fordism: Enchantment in the Machine Age, 1920–1945
- Business Is the Soul of America: The New Capitalism and the Business Millennium
- The American Century and the Magic Kingdom: Mythologies of the Machine Age
- A New Order and Creed: Human Relations as Fordist Moral Philosophy
- Beauty as the New Business Tool: Advertising, Industrial Design, and the Enchantment of Corporate Modernism
VI. Predicaments of Human Divinity: Critics of Fordist Enchantment, 1920–1945
- The Mysticism of Numbers: Postwar Enthusiasm for Technocracy
- Secular Prayers and Impieties: The Cultural Front as Migration of the Holy
- Small Is Beautiful: The Religion of Small Property and Lewis Mumford’s Novum Organum
- Human Divinity: F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Agee, and the Son of God
VII. One Vast and Ecumenical Holding Company: The Prehistory of Neoliberal Enchantment, 1945–1975
- God’s in His Heaven, All’s Right with the World: The Political Economy of Containment and the Economic Theology of the Cold War Consensus
- Machines of Loving Grace: Auguries of the Corporate Counterculture
- The New Testament of Capitalism: The Resurgence of Evangelical Enchantment and the Theology of Neoliberalism
- The Statues of Daedalus: Postmaterialism and the Failure of the Liberal Imagination
- To Live Instead of Making History: Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, and the Romantic Eschatology of Immanence
- Heaven Which Exists and Is Everywhere around Us: The Sacramental Vision of Postwar Utopians