Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | July 1, 2012

Capitalism as Religion


A religion my be discerned in capitalism—that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments and disturbances to which the so called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism –no merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by protestant Christian  religion but as an essentially religious phenomena—would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic. We can not draw closed the net in which we are caught. Later on, however, we shall be able to gain an overview of it.

Nevertheless, even at the present moment it is possible to distinguish three aspects of this religious structure of capitalism. In the first place, capitalism is purely cultic religion; perhaps the most extreme that ever existed. In capitalism things have a meaning only in their relationship to the cult; capitalism has no specific body of dogma, no theology.  It is from this point of view that utilitarianism acquires its religious overtones. This concretization of cult is connected with a second feature of capitalism: the permanence of the cult. Capitalism is the celebration of cult sans eve et sans merci (without dream and mercy) There are no ‘week days” . There is no day that is not feast day, in the terrible sense that all its sacred pomp is unfolded before us; each day commands the utter fealty of each worshiper. And third, the cult makes guilt pervasive. Capitalism is probably the first instance of the cult that creates guilt, not atonement. In this respect, this religious system is caught up in the headlong rush of a larger movement. A vast sense of guilt that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to make it universal, to hammer it into the unconscious mind, so as once and for all to include God in the system of guilt and hereby awaken in him an interest in the process of atonement. This atonement can not then be expected from the cult itself or from the reformation of this religion (which would need to be able to have recourse to some stable element in it), or even from the complete renouncement of this religion. The nature of the religious movement which is capitalism entails endurance burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which actually its secret hope.  Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation. God’s transcendence is at an end.  But he is not dead; he has been incorporated into human existence. This passage of the planet ‘Human’ through the house of despair in the absolute loneliness of his trajectory is the ethos that Nietzsche defined. This man is the first to recognize the religion of capitalism and begins to bring it to fulfillment. Its fourth feature is that its God must be hidden from it and may be addressed only when his guilt is at its zenith.  ….Capitalism is a religion of pure cult, without dogma. Capitalism has developed as a parasite of Christianity in the west (this must be shown not just in the case of Calvinism but in the other orthodox Christian churches), until it reached the point where Christianity’s history is essentially that of its parasite-that is to say of capitalism.
Worries: Mental illness is the characteristic of the age of capitalism. Spiritual (not material) hopelessness is poverty and in vagrant, mendicant monkhood.  A condition that is so bereft of hope causes guilt feelings. “Worries” are index of the sense of guilt induced by a despair that is communal, not individual and material,  in origin.

–Walter Benjamin

Selected writings volume 1

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