Capitalism is a religion.
Many young and old who declare themselves non-religious ignore a thesis that has become consolidated over the last century and which also satisfies the Harari’s test.
In his book “Sapiens: a brief history of Humankind” Yuval Noah Harari provides a definition of religion that intrigued me and I therefore decided to apply it to capitalism, also taking into account the theses of Max Weber and Walter Benjamin who nevertheless gave extensive demonstration over the last century.
According to Harari:
Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order
Please note that it is stated “superhuman” not “supernatural”.
Well let’s move on to the test:
Religions hold that there is a superhuman order, which is not the product of human whims or agreements.
Capitalism is essentially based on an alleged natural order of things — that is, on the natural existence of a class division of the population. They are the capitalists, the owners of raw materials (including land) and the proletarians/slaves.
This schematization is usually typical of religions and order does not depend on the human being and his rules but on the very nature of things. Of course a capitalist can turn into a proletarian after one or more generations and vice versa. In this sense there is a certain free will in the choices that an individual can make. According to Max Weber the free will is very limited, who even denies its existence but let’s allow ourselves a little hope.
Based on this superhuman order, religion establishes norms and values that it considers binding.
I would say that this condition is certainly satisfied, once private property or the natural right of property has been theorized, which the word itself says is natural therefore it does not depend on man, then everything else follows.
A religion must be the mouthpiece of a universal superhuman order that is valid always and everywhere.
When Elon Musk, new prophet of capitalism, will colonize Mars I doubt that he will introduce the collectivization of the means of production. In this sense, capitalism is universal (and is based on an expendable workforce)
A religion must insist on spreading this belief to everyone. In other words, it must be universal and missionary.
This requirement is fully satisfied. Capitalism is promulgated by the media and by the related priests who pontificate continuously, as do the priests of every cult as if they were in a perennial ecclesia.
In summary, Harari’s definition of religion can be applied to capitalism, as capitalism is a system of beliefs and social practices that unites people around a set of shared values, providing them with a sense of purpose and belonging.
Since capitalism has assumed a dominant role in the world, many have pointed out that it has taken on an almost religious dimension in human life.
Max Weber, one of the foremost sociologists of the 20th century, has suggested that capitalism has assumed a function similar to that of religion. In his celebrated essay “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Weber argued that the mentality of modern capitalism originated in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, when the view of work as a moral duty was developed as a way to prove one’s divine election.
According to Weber, capitalism is based on the Protestant ethic of hard work, frugality and individual responsibility. This ethic is based on the belief that work is a moral duty and that success in business is a sign of divine approval. In this sense, capitalism can be seen as a form of secular religion, in which faith is replaced by faith in rationality and economic efficiency.
At the same time, capitalism has also taken on a symbolic and mythological dimension. The market has become a sort of temple, where people gather to exchange goods and services. Companies have become like churches, with their altars and rituals. Consumers have become the faithful, who seek to find meaning in life through the consumption of material goods.
In this way, capitalism has assumed a function similar to that of traditional religions. It provided a worldview, a moral framework, and a set of rituals that give meaning to people’s lives. Like religion, capitalism has also provided answers to the fundamental questions of human existence: who are we, why are we here, and where are we going.
However, capitalism as a religion has also had negative effects on human society. Belief in the free market as the solution to all economic problems has led to extreme inequalities, the destruction of the environment and the commodification of culture and social life. The race for profit has driven many companies to ignore social responsibility and to pursue the maximum possible profit, even at the expense of the health and well-being of its employees and consumers.
In conclusion, capitalism can be considered a form of secular religion, in which the market acts as a temple and the pursuit of profit acts as a faith.
Walter Benjamin, one of the most important philosophers and cultural critics of the 20th century, has also analyzed capitalism as a form of religion. According to Benjamin, capitalism has replaced traditional religion as the source of meaning and meaning in people’s lives.
Benjamin argued that capitalism created a form of “object worship,” in which material goods became the gods of modernity. This cult of the object has led to the commodification of all spheres of life, from culture to art, from politics to science.
Furthermore, Benjamin described how capitalism has bred a form of alienation, where people are disconnected from the meaning of their work and from their own humanity. The division of labor and specialization have led to the loss of an overview and the fragmentation of the human experience.
Finally, Benjamin argued that capitalism has created a linear and progressive form of time, in which the past is forgotten and the future is always seen as better than the present. This has led to the loss of a connection with history and the creation of a culture of obsolescence, where everything becomes old and obsolete in a short time.
In summary, Benjamin’s theses complement Weber’s by adding a cultural and psychological dimension to the description of capitalism as a religion. Benjamin described how capitalism has created a culture of object, alienation and obsolescence, which has replaced traditional religion as the source of meaning and meaning in people’s lives. In this sense, Benjamin’s critique adds another dimension to the understanding of capitalism as a religion, showing how it has influenced human psychology and culture at a profound level.
Note: Marx writes, in the third book of Capital: «The monetary system is essentially a Catholic institution, the credit system essentially Protestant … It is Faith that brings salvation».
This article was written with the help of OpenAi’s ChatGPT