What is in question at the present moment is not financial capitalism; it is not capitalism per se; it is not the market, regulated or unregulated, self-regulated or self-deregulated, subject or not to short-selling. It is the place of the economy in our individual lives as in the workings of our societies. That place is immense, and we see this as ordinary, although it should be a source of intense amazement and questioning.
My work of the past thirty years in the philosophy of economics has been guided by the conviction that not only must the economy be linked to religion if we wish to understand its meaning, but that the economy occupies the place left vacant by the process—eminently religious in nature—of desacralization or secularization or “disenchantment” (Max Weber) that characterizes modernity. It is in this long perspective that the present moment must be inscribed.
Any study of the relationship between religion and the economy must take into account a third term: violence. According to René Girard’s anthropology of violence and the sacred, the traditional sacred contained violence in the twofold sense of the verb to contain: it kept violence in check through violent means (e.g. sacrificial rituals). It can be argued likewise that the economy contains violence in that twofold sense which reconciles Marx and Montesquieu. It is this radical ambivalence that is being destroyed by the current crisis, which appears less like an economic crisis than as a crisis of the economy seen as a solution to the theologico-political problem.
Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Mayday school keynote speaker, is a Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the École polytechnique, Paris. He is the Director of research at the C.N.R.S. (Philosophy) and the Director of C.R.E.A. (Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée), the philosophical research group of the École Polytechnique, which he founded in 1982. At Stanford University, he is a researcher at the Study of Language and Information (C.S.L.I.)