Philip Goodchild

 

On his book Theology of Money

Cover Interview of November 29, 2009

The wide angle

I am a philosopher of religion by training, but one shaped by a radical tradition of European philosophy, being influenced especially by Spinoza, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson, Heidegger, Derrida and Deleuze.

My first two books were on Deleuze, and my previous main work, Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety, was an attempt to stage an encounter between philosophy of religion, with its concern for belief in God as a basis for reason, ethics and metaphysics, and critical theory, with its attempt to look behind ideological beliefs to the social, psychological and economic forces and interests that structure thought.

I discovered that just as the social form of empire is intimately related to monotheism, the social form of money is intimately related to the objectivity of truth sought by reason.  This is especially true in the modern world where money replaces God as the guarantee of value, the highest good to be sought, and it lends its structural form to the way in which truth is conceived.

Where European philosophers have often sought some decisive term that gives shape to the ways we think and act, such as being, truth, difference, the sublime, the void, time, or even God, it seems to me that money actually plays the decisive role in our society.  For money is at once an object that can be handled, an institution which is the basis of all our cooperation, and a structure of thinking.  We unwittingly have a theology of money.

I wanted to discover how money actually constrains and structures our evaluations, so I largely put aside ontological considerations.  I tried to produce a philosophy of money, with the work of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Georg Simmel as my primary exemplars.  In each case, I found fundamental disagreements with their approaches, which made extended discussion unfruitful.  While I found fellow travelers among environmentalists, feminists, monetary reformers and some exceptional sociologists, my ideal was to produce a pure philosophical treatise, like French philosophy in its classical style.  This now forms the central body of the book, Part Two.

Instead of asking what money is, I wanted to understand what effect money has on the process of production and wider society—an ecology of money.  I also wanted to understand how money shapes power relations in relation to states and classes—a politics of money.  I also wanted to understand what effect money has on its own nature as a record of debts, an accounting practice, which is nothing more than a moral self-discipline for preserving credit—a ‘theology’ of money.

Part One of the book challenges the modern presumption of human freedom and rational mastery over both nature and religion.  Freedom is undermined from both sides when the natural order is no longer compliant to our will in the ecological crisis and when human freedom is constrained by money.

Economic forces have priority over political considerations.  The modern restructuring of nature and society has always left chaos in its wake, but its hope for finally imposing its own order has also lent it a partial order up until now.  While writing the book, I took it for granted that the limits to oil production would lead to inflation, a rise in interest rates, and a collapse in the overheated debt bubble by which the entire global economy is driven—all before most readers would see the book.

I see 2008 as the first shock in the terminal collision between economy and ecology, with a major depression to follow in the coming decade due to an ongoing crisis in energy supply.  The hope upon which the modern world is based will soon collapse, and competition for increasingly scarce resources will significantly undermine the moral and political cooperation to which we currently aspire.

Part Three of the book turns towards the fundamental questions of the nature of being, of power, and of credit.  Once evaluative questions are merged with ontological questions, and one seeks for a source of truth and value to ground our thought and attention, then these are theological issues.

An implicit agenda of the book is to propose that theology must become a critical engagement with the actual fundamental forces and structures that shape our lives, rather than simply a reflection upon past traditions, or an impotent recommendation of ideals that itself presupposes humanism as the power to realise such ideals.  In this respect, a rather tentative proposal for institutional reform of money, banking, credit, and evaluation is part of the new theological agenda.