Wednesday 29 March 2023


 In 2019 a book was published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in the USA that in nearly 800 pages in length. Its author is Eugene McCarraher, Associate Professor at Villanova University; its title: The Enchantments of Mammon - How Capitalism Became The Religion Of Modernity. I bought my copy in 2021 but didn't make the time to begin reading until January of this year. My loss. This book is a masterpiece of scholarship and a wonderful testimony to the value of a morality that puts people before profit. 

Professor Eugene McCarraher and the front cover of his masterpiece, published in 1919 just before the coronavirus pandemic struck

By the end of January, reading a little almost every day, I had left my bookmark at p.152 with the first five chapters under my belt. Since then, my own work on the 1919 Levant Mine Disaster chapter in Mine to Die, my book that is heading for publication in 2024, has delayed the publication of this blog post which is the first in a series of perhaps five posts that will give you the essence of Professor McCarraher's scholarship and vision.

Here, as tasters, are some of the reviews of The Enchantments of Mammon:

"... a game changer - the history of capitalism will never look the same." - Jackson Lears

"Capitalism emerges here ... as an affront to the divine creation of which we are a part. An astonishing work of history and criticism." - Casey Nelson Blake

"McCarraher argues that modern capitalism has not been a secularizing movement from enchantment to disenchantment, but rather an alternative, competing form of enchantment. He is sharply critical of the underlying assumptions and damaging consequences of modern capitalism with its emphasis on extractive efficiency and profit-making. A powerful, impressive work." - Brad Gregory

"In the world of economic enchantment masquerading as hard-eyed realism, McCarraher urges us to keep open an imaginative window through which to glimpse alternatives." - Bethany Moreton

"The author’s dogged idealism is uplifting. But Romantic countercultures have had an unsuccessful time challenging the church of Mammon. Sometimes, as McCarraher notes, their ideas have simply been monetised and co-opted into the next wave of capitalist accumulation. And at least some readers may be less surprised than he is at how hard it is to live in heaven, given the expectations there. There seems to be little sense here of original sin, or the tragic dimension to life.

But it feels wrong to quibble with a book that is so refreshingly original and splendidly pulled off. In any case, where pessimism might take hold, the author’s Christian faith gives him a trump card. For McCarraher, it is simply the case that “the Earth is a sacramental place, mediating the presence and power of God”. That cannot change, however obscured the truth is by a destructive lust for power

and accumulation. It is simply a question of seeing things as they truly are.

Some secular romantics might not be able to go along with that. But that should not make this remarkable book any less enjoyable for them to read and mull over in alarming times." - Julian Coman in The Observer, 22 December 2019 

 The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity by Eugene McCarraher is published by Harvard University Press (£31.95)" 

Evelyn De Morgan - 'The Worship of Mammon' (1909) - photograph: History and Art Collection/Alamy

And then, a month or two later, SARS-CoV-2 arrived in the USA, the UK and the rest of the world. Professor McCarraher's radical take on history and the present was swamped by the tide of a disaster that might very well had had its origins in the excesses of an unregulated capitalism that disturbs the balance of nature and facilitates the spread of crowd diseases. If I can contribute in my own small way to the spread of understanding about McCarraher's ideas, that will be a worthwhile aim fulfilled. 

In his Prologue, Professor McCarraher outlines the ways in which the world has seemingly lost its medieval enchantments and become secularized - but then he begins to tease out an alternative understanding that sees the persistence of enchantment in capitalist societies. Naomi Klein has pointed out already that the neoliberal economics of the last forty and more years is nothing less than a creed - "the contemporary religion of unfettered markets". Further back in time, in Victorian Britain, Thomas Carlyle saw in the miseries of industrialism the presence of "invisible Enchantments" that derived from "the Gospel of Mammonism". In 'The Communist Manifesto', Marx and Engels wrote that the capitalist "is like a sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world he has called up by his spells."

"I am intent on resemblance, a resemblance more real than the real" - Picasso

McCarraher sets out his position on pages 4 and 5. I have bullet-pointed his words: 

  • 'Far from being an agent of "disenchantment", capitalism has been a regime of enchantment, a repression, displacement, and renaming of our intrinsic and inveterate longing for divinity ... perhaps better, a misenchantment, a parody or perversion of our longing for a sacramental way of being in the world.  
  • Its animating spirit is money. 
  • Its theology, philosophy, and cosmology have been otherwise known as "economics".   
  • Its sacramentals consist of fetishized commodities and technologies - the material culture of production and consumption.
  • Its moral and liturgical codes are contained in management theory and business journalism.
  • Its clerisy is a corporate intelligentsia of economists, executives, managers, and business writers, a stratum akin to Aztec priests, medieval scholastics, and Chinese mandarins.
  • Its iconography consists of advertising, public relations, marketing, and product design.
  • Its beatific vision of eschatological destiny is the global imperium of capital, a heavenly city of business with incessantly expanding production, trade, and consumption. 
  • And its gospel has been that of "Mammonism", the attribution of ontological power to money and of existential sublimity to its possessors.

Such a brilliantly conceived radical alternative way of understanding our world - thank you, Professor Eugene. 
I want to join you in this journey of reimagining the nature of the world and what is really going on. 

I hope my readers will want to, too - please do look out for and read my future blogposts in this series.   

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