The Enchantments of Mammon

Eugene McCarraher sets out to explain how we came to find ourselves devoted to the jealous god Mammon, and how we might get free.

Critics of the disenchantment narrative have long noticed that if you look closely at western modernity, this ostensibly secular and rational regime, you find it pretty much teeming with magical thinking, supernatural forces, and promises of grace. Maybe the human yearning for enchantment never went away; it just got redirected. God is there, just pointing down other paths. As scholars like Max Weber have noted, capitalism is a really a religion, complete with its own rites, deities, and rituals. Money is the Great Spirit, the latest gadgets are its sacred relics, and economists, business journalists, financiers, technocrats, and managers make up the clergy. The central doctrine holds that money will flow to perform miracles in our lives if we heed the dictates of the market gods.

McCarraher offers an intriguing look at how American business journalism partly arises as a religious enterprise, with magazine publisher Freeman Hunt plugging a gospel of entrepreneurial divinity and the worship of technology, herding the flock towards a particular strain of misenchantment later called the “technological sublime.” The promoters of scientific management, for their part, offer a beatific vision for control freaks — a devotion to timekeeping and standardized behavior that may have partly originated in medieval monasteries.

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