money and recognition (an assessment of now – from 70 years ago)

This passage from Horkheimer and Adorno’s 1944 Dialektik der Aufklärung sounds very much as if written as a comment on the views of the of the world’s financial centre’s mayor.

‚Hierzulande gibt es keinen Unterschied zwischen dem wirtschaftlichen Schicksal und den Menschen selbst. Keiner ist etwas anderes als sein Vermögen, sein Einkommen, seine Stellung, seine Chancen. Die wirtschaftliche Charaktermaske und das, was darunter ist, decken sich im Bewußtsein der Menschen, den Betroffenen eingeschlossen, bis aufs kleinste Fältchen. Jeder ist so viel wert wie er verdient, jeder verdient so viel er wert ist. Was er ist, erfährt er durch die Wechselfälle seiner wirtschaftlichen Existenz. Er kennt sich nicht als ein anderes. Hatte die materialistische Kritik der Gesellschaft dem Idealismus einst entgegengehalten, daß nicht das Bewußtsein das Sein, sondern das Sein das Bewußtsein bestimme, daß die Wahrheit über die Gesellschaft nicht in ihren idealistischen Vorstellungen von sich selbst, sondern in ihrer Writschaft zu finden sei, so hat das zeitgemäße Selbstbewußtsein solchen Idealismus mittlerweile abgeworfen.‘ (Horkheimer/Adorno1969: 220)

‘In this country there is no difference between their economic fate and the human beings themselves. Nobody is anything but their wealth, their income, their position, their opportunities. In people’s minds, including that of the wearers themselves, the economic character mask and the face behind it are identical down to the last little wrinkle. Each is worth exactly what they earn, each earns exactly what they are worth. What they are, they learn through the vagaries of their economic existence. They don’t know themselves as anything different. While materialist social critique used to confront idealism with the claim that it was not consciousness that determined being, but being that determined consciousness and that the truth about society was not to be found in its idealist self image, but in the economy;  contemporary consciousness has discarded such idealism.’ (my translation)

It is also, as I argue here, the psychological effect on the basis of which Marx’s labour theory of value regains plausibility as a moral anthropology of capitalist exchange. In effect the capitalist market here performs the exact same role that it does, in Weber’s ideal-typical conception, for the Calvinist believer in predestination. It is the field of probation where divine signs (in the form of financial success) reveal one’s predetermined state of grace. But while the ‘invisible hand’, as which Adam Smith visualised the agency of the market awarding those signs, still seems to be doing its job, it no longer does so as the hand of God. The worthiness acknowledged by market recognition is completely secularised, but still has a religious feel to it. This is why ‘ability’, ‘talent’, ‘IQ’ etc. are reified and deified into equivalents of divine grace that cannot but attract financial recognition.

The problem – the reason why Boris Johnson’s revelations caused a minor scandal – is that without the theological underpinnings, the acceptability of this world view rests very much on the perceived plausibility of the distributive outcomes. Social psychologist Michael Lerner has shown that the fact that we want to live in a just world normally finds its expression in us committing to a belief in a just world, supporting counterfactual assumptions like that yes, in most cases people who earn more do so because they are cleverer and because the work harder (even if we should know from experience that this is not that often the case). But you can overstretch – and in the current crisis, we may well have reached a breaking point. At least Randall Collins seems to think so when he starts his speculations about an impending revolution with the observation that the first reward for proven intelligence constituted by a college degree is… a huge pile of debt.

Horkheimer, Max/Adorno, Theodor W. (1969) [1944]: Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.


Futuwwah and the value of a penny

When talking about a “Sufi ethics” which can be seen as impacting on more than just the committed practitioners, i.e. members of Sufi orders and individual wandering dervishes, one can’t get round Ibn al-Husayn as-Sulami’s collection of moral rules in what has been translated as The Book of Sufi Chivalry, (al Sulami 1983)the 312/1021 written Al-FutuwwaFutuwwa  or in Turkish transliteration fütüvvet is a set of ethical expectations that set a moral standard for the behaviour not only of Sufis but generally of Sufi-led communities, such as the kızılbaş and Alevi in Anatolia and also Ottoman trade guilds (Ridgeon 2013).

Much of fütüvvet is intuitively good behaviour – one is to be generous, altruistic, unassuming and tolerant. Some rules add an aristocratic note, encourage nobility in spirit even in the absence of wealth and power. For example

‘Be content with little and accept your lot, so that you will not lower yourself in front of another.’ (al-Sulami 1983: 69)

The next paragraph could be seen as a summary of the whole book

‘Wish for the conditions that Sari al-Saqati enumerates. Through Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Khalidi we learn that Sari said that man’s peace depends on five principles: avoid associating with evil people, be distant from ordinary people, and in this distance taste the taste of your own actions; at the same time refrain from blaming or finding fault with people even to the extent of ignoring their rebellion against Allah. There are also five faults from which one should cleanse oneself: hypocrisy, argument, affectation, artificiality, and love of property and rank; and five curse from which one should free oneself: miserliness, ambition, anger, greet, and gluttony.’ (al-Sulami 1983: 70)

As mentioned in an earlier post – Sufi ethics seem to have some impact on economic behaviour in Anatolia today, and seeing the commitment to work in the first statement of fütüvvet, this does not come as a surprise

‘Do not be idle, but work in this world until you reach the definite state of trust in Allah. As reported through Abu Bakr al-Razi and Abu ‘Uthman al-Adami, Ibrahim al-Khawwas said, “It is not right for a Sufi not to work and earn his livelihood unless his situation makes it unnecessary, or he is clearly ordered to abandon worldly work. But if he needs to work and there is no reason for him not to work, he must work. Withdrawing from work is for those who have attained a spiritual level at which they are freed from the necessity of possessions and the following of custom.’ (al-Sulami 1983: 44f)

But it was this little anecdote that caught my eye

‘ ‘Abdullah ibn Marwan dropped a penny into a dirty well by mistake. He paid thirteen dinars to some workers to recover the penny. When he was asked to explain this curious action, he said that the name of Allah was written on the penny. In respect for His Name he had to retrieve the penny from the dirt.’ (al-Sulami 1983:45)

What are the effects of the action? It may not be intended, but is obvious: to keep money in circulation. Not only so the penny isn’t lost, but also because the dirhams are set free. This strikes me as a remarkable economic rationality emerging from the seemingly irrational motives of piety (don’t leave something carrying God’s name in the mud) and altruism (invest without material return). Both motives are, of course, in full accordance with the ethics promoted by the Futuwwah. Piety goes without saying – and the “putting money back into circulation” part is repeated again and again under the label of charity. The way it is promoted in some other episodes cited by as-Sulami anticipates Keynesian economic sense: divide larger sums of money that lie idle into small parcels and give it to those in need (e.g. al-Sulami 1983: 53) – i.e. those you can be sure will be spending it, so keeping it in circulation.

When – as I will do more extensively elsewhere – arguing that Sufism does not only inform the emergence of Islamic capitalism (as recently in the “Anatolian Tigers”) but also consumerism, it is important to acknowledge that this cannot be a conversion to materialism. To the contrary, the contribution of Sufism to economic development needs to be seen in its anti-materialism, its ascetic altruism and its commitment to the World of Imagination.


But why is the name of God on the penny? It would be easy to go along with those who construe, from the origins of money in the temple economy, in sacrifice substitution (Laum 1924) a direct line to the “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill (e.g. Desmonde 1962 for a typical archaicising case). While there is an argument to be had for the guarantor of money (i.e. the state) mustering up religion as a source of trust, I would suggest there is a further and maybe already in the Abbasid age more relevant reason. Money is a competitor to religion, and it is the inherently religious (and hence from any traditional religious perspective: heretic) nature of money that the Sufi is up against: Money as final value and ultimate purpose in itself (see e.g. Deutschmann’s 2001 synthesis of Marx and Simmel). Religion is under threat from the money economy, hence, if money is allowed to circulate, it needs to be marked as under the authority of religion. This, then, facilitates the altruistic commitment to circulation. In the end, of course, the mentioning of God on currency becomes farcical.

Al-Sulami, Muhammad ibn al-Husayn (1983): The Sufi Book of Chivalry: Lessons to a Son of the Moment (Futuwwah), translated by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, New York: Inner Traditions International.

Desmonde, William H. (1962): Magic, Myth and Money, New York: Free Press

Deutschmann, Christoph (2001): ‘The Promise of Absolute Wealth: Capitalism as Religion’, in: Thesis Eleven Vol.66, pp. 32-56

Laum, Bernhard (1924): Heiliges Geld, Tübingen: Mohr

Ridgeon, Lloyd (2013): ‘Futuwwa (in Sufism)’, in Gudrun Krämer et al. (eds): Encyclopedia of Islam, Three, Leyden: Brill Online

Geld und Gesundheit: Konsum als Transformation von Geld in Moral

ISBN 978-3-8325-0697-1
450 Seiten, 40.50 EUR

In der lebensstilzentrierten Gesundheitsförderung werden bestimmte Lebens- und Konsumstile moralisch aufgewertet, andere abgewertet. Auf welche gesellschaftlichen Legitimitätsstrukturen bezieht sich dieser moralisierende Diskurs? Dieser Frage geht die vorliegende Arbeit in Form von Interpretationen von Gesundheitsaufklärung, Fernsehwerbung und Konsumenteninterviews nach. In theoretischen Exkursen zu monetärer Solidarität, Konsumreligion und romantischer Ethik des Konsums werden Aspekte des Gesundheitsdiskurses in Beziehung zur moralischen Grammatik kapitalistischer Gesellschaften gesetzt.