Charly Coleman's latest book, The Spirit of French Capitalism: Economic Theology in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford University Press, 2021) is at once a history of ideas, the economy, religion, and material culture. Pursuing the imbrication of the economy and theology with respect to both worldly and spiritual value and wealth, the book explores the emergence and development of a specifically Catholic ethic of capitalism particular to the French context in the century and more leading up to the French Revolution.
In its six chapters, the book examines the Eucharist, John Law's system, speculation and debt, usury, consumption, luxury, and more. By the time this reader reached the epilogue, it became clear that The Spirit of French Capitalism is both a history of the Age of Enlightenment and a genealogy/prehistory of the commodity fetishism elaborated by Marx and Marxist thinkers from the nineteenth century to the present. Faith in infinite wealth creation, obsessive consumption, pleasure, abundance, and enchantment are as much a part of the history of capitalism as scarcity, regulation, and restraint. Provocative and complicated, the book will be of great interest scholars and students of the histories of the early modern economy, religion, and the state in France and elsewhere, as well as the history of capitalism more broadly.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email ([email protected]
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