Notes on Mammon
(This is a preliminary article towards a — hopefully — more robust analysis of Capital as Demon. The research for this analysis is ongoing, this article will outline certain ideas I will expound upon in greater detail at a later date.)
Human beings have, since our first blind attempts to grope at the mysterious, placed great emphasis on the power of names, the naming of those forces which command our lives. Marxist economist Ian Wright speaks of the victory of science over mystery in regards to electrification: “Sometime in the 18th Century, we finally discovered the right words and symbols to understand the lightning deity. Once we divined its true and proper name, we could control it” (Prolegomena to a demonology of capitalism, 2020). Wright’s appeal to mystical language is, in the spirit of Marx, an attempt to imbue what he identifies as the capricious forces moulding humanity with a gothic potency, a language which best captures the truth of his assertions. Wright, following Land, reasserts Marx’s notion of Capital as a living entity with powers of possession — the arcane ability to wrap human behaviour around itself and proscribe behaviour to us for the execution of its will. As cybernetic theories grow in popularity and relevancy alongside the arrival of Artificial Intelligence there will arise further thinkers, to become more and more mainstream, which will analyse the teleology of modernity with greater and greater horror, and they will begin more and more to name the entities.
Thomas Carlyle, in his 1843 book Past and Present, draws into view an intensely demonic trajectory to be found in the teleology of modernisation, speaking of man as a fallen flock who “have become enchanted; stagger spell-bound, reeling on the brink of huge peril,” alerting the reader to their own (social) demise. We see his fury at the reshaping of human work, which he views as sacred, around what he refers to as the “Mammonism’’ of capital. He appraises in scornful tone the condition of the poor houses, speaking on the acceptance of the new state of affairs “as if this were Nature’s Law”, going on to describe the justifications presented for the new labour practices as a “mumbling [about] some vague janglement of Laissez-faire, Supply and- demand, Cash-payment”. He evokes further a subversive demonic imagery, describing “Free-trade, Competition, and Devil” as “our latest Gospel yet preached!”, positing that the transformation of England and it’s working class into components of a machine as the work of Satan masquerading as God, labour as a “Demiurgus’’ to be freed from demonic capital, to “take his place on the throne of things, — leaving his Mammonism, and several other adjuncts, on the lower steps of said throne.” His description of capital as a living God is the same as it is in Marx.
To return to Wright, in his article ‘Marx on Capital as a Real God’: “Marx repeatedly points out that capitalism reproduces the religious mystification we find in earlier stages of history, but in new forms — such as commodity fetishism”, going on to describe capitalists themselves as “possessed”, asserting that capital is a being with “an ativistic [sic], low level of demonic intelligence…that appears to possess the magical power of animation [as well as] the power of annihilation”. Wright quotes Marx: “Since man alienates this mediating activity itself, he is active here only as a man who has lost himself and is dehumanised; the relation itself between things, man’s operation with them, becomes the operation of an entity outside man and above man.” Yet where Marx is principally concerned about the condition of the working class in itself, Carlyle is concerned furthermore with the destruction of locality, of the traditional conception of nation and spirit, of secure and stable place, in favour of totalising empire — an empire of mechanisation, progress, subversion (a world turned upside down), evoking Milton’s Hell — the imperial capital as a Pandemonium placed atop the world and bringing all within to heel beneath the Demiurge of Labour guided by capitalist Mammon.
Land’s conception of capital as an entity from the future which stretches through time to construct itself, calling on the interrelations between people and things to service its cosmic will, posits an alternate future that subversively mirrors the Christian conception of the Kingdom of God, which exists beyond our lived time and through the salvation of souls in time is constructed in space as it is in eternity, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Land is by his own admission on the side of the demonic, and recognises the Kabbalistic turn in Mysticism as a concurrent tendency to the ascension of merchants to give capital the necessary conditions to reign unimpeded. Christianity, as conceptualised by Catholic Social Thought, also acts along this Marx-ish trajectory, essentially bound to a kind of political economy, although one which admits to constraining rather than unleashing capital, and furthermore only as a result of the ‘good works’ of Christians as an integral component subordinated to the betterment of souls. In a less overtly demonic frame as Land’s, the notion of the Kingdom of God is also secularised and turned on its head by Kojeve in his reading of Hegel. The end of history and the creation of a Universal and Homogenous State is the return of man to given animal being through his overcoming all potential restraints to freedom — closing the circle of time indefinitely, achieving given animal homo-sapien simplicity through total complexification — imagine a beetle going to the opera. This atheistic version of the Eschaton reveals its Christian origins, but as with the Communism of Marx and against the Kingdom of God (as well as Land’s vision of a victorious capital-entity), it places the external action of man as primary to internal betterment, or to put it another way, the salvation of the soul. Good works here take precedence over and are unrooted from the soul, and here of course the Christian tradition is ruptured and necessarily this lends the project to a nihilistic outlook. Indeed, Kojeve asserts that man is nothing but a void, nihilating according to the fulfilment of desires. There is no Logos, no greater meaning to existence and nothing perfect outside of space-time to affirm, only the affirmation of man as he is and could be in his social practice, a satisfaction akin to death. Land’s accelerationism is much more explicit — he asserts his fidelity to the productive forces, the alienating, possessing and annihilating entity capital, against man. But for Christians a man like Land is necessary (as indeed he is for Marxists, despite their inability to realise Land’s conception near-totally overrides and assimilates theirs) to position themselves against — to have a theorist who embraces horror and pro-capitalism concurrently is to help solidify and mould the opposition to the capital-entity more rigorously. This, I argue, is what best shows the necessity for a Christian political economy that denies capital and affirms God.