Posted by: Dan | November 19, 2007

The Church and Capitalism: II-II.1

II. The Disciplines of Capitalism and the Conquest of the Public

Before we begin to look at the Christian way forward out of capitalism, it is worth exploring the ways in which capitalism dominates our life together, lest we think we are moving forward when we are not. This section will explore the ways in which capitalism disciplines our desires and our imagination, and conquers the public by dominating our stories, space, time, language, and bodies (individual and public). This section will conclude with a note on what capitalism does to those who refuse to be so disciplined and dominated.

II.1 – The Disciplining of Desire and Imagination

The Disciplines

As noted above, one of the distinctive features of fascism is the way in which it operates as a mass movement, wherein the majority pursues its own repression and desires the very things that dominate and exploit it. This is an accurate description of the state of affairs found within neoclassicism. But how can this be? Neoclassicism, in the West where it was born, does not, by and large, operate through the use of violence, threats, and coercive force (although violence, threats, and coercive force have been very much a part of the globalization of neoclassicism). Why is it, then, that so many freely choose their own repression? The pursuit of the majority of their own repression is best explained by the ways in which neoclassicism, rather than using violence to control the masses, disciplines both the desires and the imagination of the masses so that they then control themselves.[71] This section will first explore the ways in which desires are disciplined, before turning to the disciplining of imagination.

The suggestion that desire can be manipulated runs against the dominant theological ideology of neoclassicism, which asserts that desire is a force found within people that is free from external influences. Consequently, neoclassicism argues that, rather than disciplining our desire, it provides us with a society wherein we are free to pursue every desire that we (inherently) possess. However, deeper analysis reveals that this is a false ideology imposed by those who knowingly manipulate desire and sustain their ability to manipulate desire precisely by proclaiming that desire is free.

To begin with, neoclassicism disciplines desire by rooting desire in the notion of lack. Observe the allegiance that exists between neoclassical economics and modern psychoanalysis (which, it should be noted, was born out of capitalism): while capitalism rooted us within a world defined by lack, psychoanalysis, from the very beginning, expanded that notion by situating lack within the human psyche itself. Sigmund Freud begins this process with his reflections on desire (i.e. the libido) wherein lack is definitive of ‘Oedipal’ existence, and psychoanalysis, despite its move away from Freud, continues to operate with this understanding of a foundational internal lack.[72] Furthermore, not only is desire defined by lack, but neoclassicism also presents desire as insatiable, precisely because – as the market economy continually reminds us – there is always something that we are lacking.[73] In particular, there is always something that we are lacking, in comparison to somebody else and so lack becomes a part of the process of endless competition with one’s neighbour.[74]

This, then, leads to the second point: the way in which desire is disciplined by being rooted in self-interest.[75] Here, desire is reduced to the infantile cry of “I want, I want, I want” and “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”[76] However, an economy driven by self-interest is an economy that is driven by greed.[77] The result of this is “the institutionalization of envy” and the ubiquity of coveting.[78] Again, when neoclassicism is understood as a form of paganism, this comes as no surprise for, according to Paul, coveting was the primal sin of Adam and the badge of Adamic humanity.[79] Furthermore, this explains both the competitiveness and partisanship inherent to neoclassicism for, as Paul also notes, coveting is expressed in divisiveness and leads naturally to violence.[80]

Thirdly, desire has also been disciplined because it has been aligned with the notion of entitlement: one is entitled to that which one desires. This is especially evident by the way in which the language of ‘human rights’ has been co-opted by the wealthy and the powerful, and used as a means of sustaining that wealth and power.[81] The language of ‘human rights’ has become the means of justifying the pursuit of one’s desire, without concern for the needs of others. Consequently, ‘equality’ has become a function of inequality.[82]

Therefore, by rooting desire in (insatiable) lack, by reducing it to greed (envy, and coveting) and by aligning it with entitlement (rights), neoclassicism produces a form of desire that is thoroughly disciplined.[83] The result of this is a reversal of the traditional Platonic understanding of the body as the prison of the soul. When desire is so disciplined, the soul becomes the prison of the body.[84] Yet, this form of disciplined desire is one that has become radically alienated. As Zizek argues:

Jenny Holzer’s famous truism ‘Protect me from what I want’… can either be read as an ironic reference to the standard male chauvinist wisdom that a woman left to herself gets caught up in a self-destructive fury… Or else it can be read in a more radical way, as pointing towards the fact that in today’s patriarchal society, women’s desire is radically alienated: she desire what men expect her to desire, desires to be desired by men… ‘what I want’ has already been imposed on me by the patriarchal order that tells me what to desire.[85]

Having explored desire, it is now worth exploring the ways in which neoclassicism disciplines our imagination. Primarily, neoclassicism does this by employing the rhetoric of independence, security, and responsibility in order to mask the way that it disciplines our (individual and corporate) imagination with fear and despair.

Neoclassicism elevates the autonomous individual and defines maturity and success by the ability to live independently of others. However, there is a great deal of fear underlying this presentation. When society is dominated by self-interested individuals, there are few good reasons for one person to care for another and so one is driven to independence because, in the end, one can rely on nobody else. Further, because the world is defined by lack, and because there is so much disparity within the system, one becomes afraid of the other who will try to take that which is mine which he lacks. Hence, one withdraws and hoards one’s goods, not only because one cannot rely upon the other, but because one is afraid to lose the little one has (whether by a disaster that takes my home, an immigrant that takes my job, an addict that takes my wallet, or a terrorist that takes my life). However, rather than saying that fear drives us into independence, the language of ‘responsibility’ is used to justify this sort of lifestyle. As documented by Max Weber and R. H. Tawney, connecting economic independence to responsibility is well rooted in Puritan and Reformed traditions, and this provides neoclassicism with a foundation that sees such responsibility as virtuous, rather than fearful.[86] However, what is been much less observed is the way in which the language of ‘stewardship’ performs exactly the same function within much of contemporary Christianity. ‘Stewardship’ now provides Christians with a religious veneer that justifies fearful living.[87] Recall, then, the words of Eduardo Galeano: “The Devil of Fear disguises himself to deceive us. The deceiver offers cowardice as if it were prudence, and betrayal as if it were realism.”[88]

The other means by which neoclassicism disciplines the imagination is despair. Precisely because neoclassicism presents us with a consummated eschatology, we are left without hope. There is no escape and there is no possible alternative because there is, a priori, no imaginable alternative. Thus, capitalism becomes “the party of counter-revolutionary despair.”[89]
[71] This notion of the disciplining of desire and imagination as a means of social control is largely indebted to the writings of Michel Foucault, cf. esp. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1977); but also Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Random House Inc., 1965); and The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Knowledge (New York: Vintage Books, 1973).
[72] Hence, within the ‘Oedipus complex’ the male child desires that which he lacks – the mother – and the female child desires that which she lacks – the phallus (cf. The Ego and the Id, ed. By James Strachey, trans. by Joan Rivere [New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1989]). For further reflections for the way in which psychoanalysis after Freud continued trajectory, cf. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus.
[73] Cf. Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 77; Cavanaugh, “Consumption, the Market, and the Eucharist,” Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 28, 342.
[74] Consequently, the notion of lack is divorced from the notion of necessity and becomes and endless process of competitive differentiation of oneself from others (cf. Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, 61-67).
[75] As Smith writes: “we address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages,” (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I.ii.2).
[76] Barber, 93.
[77] In particular, it requires an ongoing greed for more profit and, reciprocally, an ongoing greed to consume more (Loy, 286).
[78] Cf. Bell, 22. Significantly, when a monetary economy was first being born in Western Europe, precisely this result was foretold by the early Franciscans (cf. “The Sacred Exchange between Saint Francis and Lady Poverty” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol 1, The Saint, ed. By Regis J. Armstrong et al. [New York: New York Ciety Press, 1999], 541). The result of this, as Jacques Lacan notes, is that one’s desire, rather than being free, is transformed into desiring what the other desires (cf. Ecrit, trans. by Bruce Fink [New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006], 79, 92, 98, 148).
[79] Cf. Ro 7.7-8; 13.9; 1 Cor 5.10-11; 6.10; 2 Cor 9.5; Eph 5.5. In contrast, the guiding principle of Old Testament economics is summarized in the tenth commandment: “Do not covet” (cf. Christopher Wright, 162).
[80] Cf. Ro 1.29-30; 1 Cor 5.9-11; 6.9-10; 2 Cor 12.20; Gal 5.20-21; Col 3.5-8; N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 29; James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 635-36; Sobrino, 67. Therefore, just as Adam – the first coveter – lingers behind Ro 7.7-12, Cain – the first murderer – lingers behind Ro 7.13-20 (cf. N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993], 226-30).
[81] Foucault explores this in detail (Discipline and Punish, 80-87). Cf. Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 124-29.
[82] Hence, Baudrillard: “there is no right to space until there is no longer space for everyone… Just as there was no ‘right to property’ until there was no longer land for everyone” (The Consumer Society, 58). Several others have made similar observations; cf. Bloch, 31-32; Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 110).
[83] Many, apart from Foucault, have also drawn this conclusion; cf. Baudrillard, The System of Objects, 194; Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History, 2, 9, 13; Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 3, 54; Massumi, 123; Zizek, Lacan, 42.
[84] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 30; cf. Barber, 83.
[85] Lacan, 38-39.
[86] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Routledge Classics, trans. by Talcott Parson (London: Routledge, 1992); R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1954). This is why the Puritans and those of the Reformed tradition were so opposed to Christians, like the Franciscans, who embraced poverty. Calvin, in fact, forbid begging, and the Puritan ‘battle-cry’ was that ‘giving alms is no charity’ (Weber, 108-109, 116, 240 n45; cf. Tawney, 200). It is notable that of the begging friars, the early Franciscans were able to foresee the connection, not only between ‘responsibility’ and fear, but also between ‘responsibility’ and greed (cf. “The Sacred Exchange between Saint Francis and Lady Poverty,” 542-45, wherein Greed goes by the names of Discretion and Foresight and accuses Lady Poverty of being laze and depraved).
[87] Cf. esp. Kelly S. Johnson’s exceptional study of this topic in The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics, The Eerdmans Ekklesia Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 71-99. Amongst other things, Johnson observes that this language was first employed by holders of substantial wealth and power, in order to reinforce that wealth and power; thus, for example, the language of stewardship was frequently employed as a means of justifying slaveholding.
[88] We say No: Chronicles 1963-1991, trans. by Mark Fried and others (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 237.
[89] Trotsky, 10; emphasis removed.


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