The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2019
The Enchantments of Mammon:
How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity
Hardback: Harvard UP, 2019
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
*** Best Nonfiction Book of 2019!!!
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. (And isn’t this the structure of any love story, or at least those ending in marriage?) Our world, in other words, is just as “enchanted” as the one of our medieval forebears: the human frame is such that it could not survive otherwise. Capitalism offers us community, faith, ritual, nature worship, and everything else that we imagine in the enchanted worldview of the past.
The trouble is that it is black magic. It twists our God-given love for neighbor and world into a force of estrangement, and it transforms our God-given desire to work into forms of exploitation. The problem with capitalism isn’t that it lacks values, but that it values the wrong things. If McCarraher is right, the salvation we seek will not come through technological breakthroughs or even the creation of new political coalitions. The first order of business, he thinks, is to learn how to love again, and to love better.
- from a review by James Chappel
in the Boston Review [ READ THE FULL REVIEW ]
*** READ an interview with the author…
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