God is the Ultimate Banker

Peter Sloterdijk

The biggest and, outwardly, most trustful banker in history is God, the administrator delegated to eternity. And his credit institute is Paradise. Billions of faithfuls, for centuries, have invested in the hope of God, expecting redemption in eternal life. And since the celestial agency is going bankrupt, nothing is left of its capital, on which the hopes of six billion faithful consumers rely. Capitalism is a project of universal anthropology. Humans primarily are beings who desire. Not in an hedonistic, but in a materialistic sense: in the modern period, Westerners have looked for felicity through the possession of objects and the consumption of commodities.

You’re saying that the basic product of the modern period is Capitalism. But with the discovery that many values sold on the stock market don’t exist, and merely are pure abstraction and speculation, don’t you think these products today mostly indicate suicidal tendencies?

However serious the incidents on the ecological front are and the difficulties experienced by the financial market, capitalism isn’t on the edge of suicide. You have to be radically desperate or incredibly proud to commit suicide: and capitalism today may be disoriented, but not desperate. It keeps inviting the entire world to its great party of possession and consumption. The poor are invited.

“In God we Trust” is inscribed on the dollar: with the recent financial crisis, can investors still believe in the divine goodness of the market and of the financial system?

Certainly, the actors, the markets and the goodness of the American financial system are going through a deep crisis of theological proportions.
Theological?

In the United States, there’s a kind of tension which bears the imprint of Protestantism: investors in faith are desperately turning to the Cardinals and to the Bishops of the stock exchange. And these people are asking President Bush, as if he were a new Luther, to save the values threatened by the crisis of the financial market. This theological and monetary crisis is no exception, but confirms the capitalist system.

Do you mean, as Weber maintained, that the faith in capital is of protestant origin?

I mean that the faith and credibility of the monetary system would need to be overhauled: the speculative bubble comes and goes cyclically, bringing the values in touch with the reality of the world production. This self-correcting capacity, and therefore each spell of speculative power, is an incitement from capital to regenerate itself in relation to its value, and consequently its unshakable faith. The capitalist system believes, for instance, that humans will go on desiring products that only capital can reproduce and satisfy. But if you want to understand the historical and anthropological importance of hedonism in the capitalistic style, it suffices to imagine a contrary faith and lifestyle.

Like a monastic and Franciscan life?

Certainly, it would be a valid example of life.

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Interview with Peter Sloterdijk by Stefano Vastano, published in L’Espresso, october 2007.

Translated from the Italian by Sylvere Lotringer.

Peter Sloterdijk, septuagenerian German philosopher, professor of Aesthetics at the University of Karlsruhe and of Vienna, is widely considered a controversial maitre a penser, author of Critique or Cynical Reason, 1988 and his, yet untranslated, The Trilogy Spheres (1998-2004), his magnum opus. Peter Sloterdijk’s Terror in the Air will be his first book published by Semiotext(e).