January 11, 2020


Misenchantment: a review of 'The Enchantments of Mammon' by Eugene McCarraher    (David Bentley Hart, January 6, 2020, Commonweal)

In McCarraher's telling, capitalism as it has taken shape over the past few centuries is not the product of any kind of epochal "disenchantment" of the world (the Reformation, the scientific revolution, what have you). Far less does it represent the triumph of a more "realist" and "pragmatic" understanding of private wealth and civil society. Instead, it is another kind of religion, one whose chief tenets may be more irrational than almost any of the creeds it replaced at the various centers of global culture. It is the coldest and most stupefying of idolatries: a faith that has forsaken the sacral understanding of creation as something charged with God's grandeur, flowing from the inexhaustible wellsprings of God's charity, in favor of an entirely opposed order of sacred attachments. Rather than a sane calculation of material possibilities and human motives, it is in fact an enthusiast cult of insatiable consumption allied to a degrading metaphysics of human nature. And it is sustained, like any creed, by doctrines and miracles, mysteries and revelations, devotions and credulities, promises of beatitude and threats of dereliction. 

the problem with this view is obvious.  Let us suppose a simple thought experiment: all we know of Family A is that they have been devout since 1776 and have tithed 10% of their income to the church every year; all we know of Family B is that they are capitalists and have invested 10% of their income in broad market indexes for those same years.  We can not know whether either Family today is happy, healthy  or wise, which is to say that their faith has been rewarded, spiritually, nevermind materially.  Nor can we know whether Family B is healthy, happy and wise or whether they are miserable; we do, however, know that they are wealthy.  Their calculation has been entirely sane, though not sufficient.

Posted by at January 11, 2020 8:40 AM