Theology of Money – 1. Power

This chapter is the first of “Part I: Of Politics”, which begins with this parable:

“A Parable

Imagine – if one were only out of debt, owing nothing to anyone, free to do as one pleased, wishing this blessing upon all others, so that one could cancel all debts owing to oneself, so that one’s debtors could in turn cancel all debts owing to themselves, until all debts were cleared, nothing more was owed, all people were free, with no employment, no money, no society, no religion, no life. Just imagine.”

Goodchilld then begins “Power” with a discussion of the distinction in modern political theory between physical power (from muscles to military power to fossil fuels) and the purely human power of the will. There is thus a correlative relationship between these two kinds of power, as can be seen clearly in Carl Schmitt’s definition of the political as a distinction between friend and enemy. When one decides that one is an enemy then one can withhold the first kind of energy as long as there is sufficient will and resources to do so, even unto the point of killing. But this duality of power, where “the authority of will over will […] derives from no other foundation than the exercise of physical power (29)”, is really a kind of monism since human will is dependent unilaterally on physical energy and so this duality must be complicated by a third kind of energy. This third kind of power, an “intangible ‘energy’ of the political (30)”, is the authority that guides and authorizes the action of will on will. These are the customs, traditions, markets and other aspects external or supplementary to the human will as such and also not physical in the same sense as physical forms of power. The nature of this power is the focus of political theology.

Modern Humanism

This modern dualism is co-extensive with a certain humanism as can be seen in three related sense of the term.

  1. The human is constituted indepedent of the divine. There is no true power in those elements that are called sacred (places, objects, rituals, persons). The will (2nd form of power) must be liberated from these spectral illusions in order to will the good.
  2. This enlightenment or emancipation, which is the constitution of the human subjects. develops through a rationals self-reflection as a self-determining agent. The human distinguishes itself from the animal and primitive forms of human society and thereby uses its reason to represent the order of nature impose order upon it. The power of the will is exercised through representation.
  3. The human subject then demonstrates this mastery, where formerly it had only been represented, by imposing order on an external nature.

These three forms of humanism have found historical expression as mastery in the scientific revolution, technological-industrial revolution, and the capitalist and free-market revolutions. Yet, humanism has come against limits in all three realms, with science having to give up its claim to mastery as it develops the sciences of chaos and complexity, the technological revolution is dependent upon resources that are disappearing in the midst of the ecological crisis and is unable to develop further without them, and the economy is governed by autonomous processes of debt, profit, and the control of consumer desire rather than any human rationality.

The Philosophy of Representation

All three of these expressions of mastery are thought to be achieved through representation via the imagination. As images, reactions, and desires are presented to the mind, reason is able to represent ideas that reign them in and control them. Yet, this modern reason is only a hesitation, a membrane, between the the subjective sovereign (as reasonable man) and the world it imposes order upon. Yet, there is one thing that it must exclude from its representation – its impotence (even if it were to represent itself as impotent that would be an expression of the mind’s power to represent).” In practice, the mind may be subjected to both physical force and the force of authority (35).”

Power beyond Representation

The sovereignty or reason exists in the imagination alone and is therefore in need of a supplement of the will, which will show itself to be sovereign when it converts representation into reality. Yet, this act of will must appeal beyond sovereign representation, “to physical, human, and meta-human configurations of power (36).” This mediation of will, and its conversion of representation into reality, exposes the weakness of mastery as a model, goal, or ideal for power. In order to overcome this weakness, Goodchild proposes an alternative direction of thought. We can escape from the sovereignty of reason, from being trapped within the problematic of reason, by engaging with the immanent problems expressed in the varied mediations of human will (those physical, human, and meta-human configurations of power). We must then engage with a body, specifically a social body where this configuration of power is found. For, if reason is to go further than its own representations and break out from the imagination, it cannot content itself with claiming “that being is, that power is powerful, or that God is divine. One cannot discover what such concepts might mean without the mediation of a concrete, political body (38).”

Money as Political Body

The thesis that guides the rest of the book is thus given here when Goodchild writes, “In modernity, money is the political body par excellence.” For money is what expresses sovereignty in all its forms – individual, corporate, nation-state. “Money participates in and brings together the realms of the non-human, the human, and belief and desire (ibid).”

The sovereignty of money is different from the sovereignty that reason represents as the subject. Developing a reading of Marx’s Grundrisse, Goodchild shows that the sovereignty of money derives from the severing of relation, or more clearly, that the relation is one sided with money/capital:

  1. Money exercises a sovereign power.
  2. It does so as a historically created element that, nevertheless, organizes natural production.
  3. It can be understood without those elements that formed it historically. It can be understood without ground rent, but ground rent cannot be understood without it.


Goodchild thinks that this particular configuration of the contemporary age, the sovereignty of money as the severance of relation and that which brings together three forms of energy, means that the vital political problem is no longer that of political subjectivity. Instead, we must ask question this new sovereign and elucidate it if we are to understand what new political bodies can be created.

Reflections/Questions: I first read this chapter in a draft form in 2005, during a reading group on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political at Long Sunday, and was struck by it very deeply. It has organized a lot of my political thinking since then, but I wonder if too little time is spent elucidating a mode of resistance to this sovereign. How are we to change the meta-human flows of belief and desire? Obviously the gamble of the book is that we haven’t yet thought and examined the structure and actuality of this new sovereign, so it is a preliminary step, but does Goodchild’s presentation give us a gilded cage or a weapon?

22 thoughts on “Theology of Money – 1. Power

  1. He’s talking about a kind of sovereignty of reason. As readers may have noticed there are not the usual slew of footnotes that accompany an Anglophone academic book, so I’m not entirely sure myself who the target is here. I’m guessing Locke and post-Lockean philosophy, which one can broadly call “analytic philosophy” in so far as Locke is very important in Anglophone departments of philosophy, but I’m not sure how helpful that phrase is here. He isn’t carrying on the blood feud, a feud with real consequences for jobs and what gets to “count” as philosophy in the English-speaking academy, but locating a real problem in the modern way of thinking. Representation, as I understand it and from how I understand Goodchild’s remarks in the book, is not about a simple dichotomy between universal-abstract/concrete-political, but comes from a certain theory, taken a guiding principle in modern political thought (remember whose philosophy paved the way for American politics), that posits the self as a sovereign of the mind. Born into the chaos of sense-date, the sovereign mind can select out aspects of this chaos and represent it to itself. It can work with these representations to find scientific laws (again, the meaning of this being dependent on the principle of representation) in order to see an implicit order and impose that order on the flux of reality.

    For a more detailed argument, with the requisite historical work in place, see Chapter 1 of his Capitalism and Religion, specifically the section on Locke.

  2. Surely also at the back of his mind is the way in which Deleuze is spoken as an ‘anti-representational’ figure in that he denies the kind of ‘analytic’ image of thought you are outlining here.

  3. Whose mind? Goodchild’s? I don’t think it is just that “Deleuze is x so I must be x” though, he’s taking us through an argument and one that has its own characteristics. This isn’t Deleuze’s argument, in other words.

  4. This is actually one of my favourite things about reading Goodchild: he rehearses arguments, and indeed gives his own version of them. There’s no name-dropping without exegesis, and he completely eschews arguing from authority. It’s a disappearing art.

  5. Again, I am still waiting for my copy to arrive, but since Schmitt is mentioned, I hope that my comments don’t violate the general rules of the discussion (i.e., if you haven’t read it, don’t comment!).

    When speaking of sovereignty, we need to be rather careful. It is a difficult and contentious term. Like all concepts, sovereignty has a historical trajectory: it can be problematic to read Schmitt into the history of the concept.

    The association between sovereignty and representation is usually tied to the rule of the absolute monarchs–think of Foucault’s discussions of Las Meninas and the execution of Damiens. What is at issue here is finding concrete ways of rendering visible (i.e., representing) the power and majesty of the king. In the case of Las Meninas, the royal family constitutes the realm as one being ruled by the royal family: it is a self-referential circuit. (Note the importance of mirrors and windows in the painting–i.e., the circulation of light, which of course also associates with god.) If there were no royal family, there’d be no realm. There’d be something else, but whatever the else were, it wouldn’t be what it is when constituted by the royal family. In the case of Damiens, what is at issue is the relation between king, subject and the law. The problem with power and authority is that it is invisible. In order to provide a lesson in ruling, that power must be manifested from time to time. In this particular case, the absolute power of the king is being demonstrated on Damiens’ body, who, you will recall, will be literally torn to shreds, his body burnt, his ashes dispersed in the wind, his house burnt down, his family exiled, and his extended family will be required to change their last names. In effect, the king manifests his power–in his absence through intermediaries, it should be noted–through the complete erasure of Damiens.

    In both cases, what is going on is the constitution of a world through the power of the king. But, this constitution cannot be made directly visible: it must be represented in other ways.

    Schmitt’s problematic is somewhat different. The political presents a special case of sovereign power insofar as it doesn’t constitute an “inside” but insofar as it constitutes an “outside”–we know who we are because we know who are enemies are. The “enemy” as the outside provides coherence for the identity of the inside. This interpretation of sovereignty should be kept distinct from the interpretation of sovereignty as decision found in Political Theology. The decision is a juridical relation; not a political relation.

    There is an important distinction between these two accounts. The absolute monarchs are monarchs due to a special relation with God, hence we call their right “divine right.” What the monarchs do, then, is also represent God’s power in the political, economic, social, etc domain. There is likely an important connection between divine right and Catholicism; as in most cases in this period, England is exceptional. However, with Schmitt, the sovereign does not represent God, but is God. This is explains his fascination with Hobbes and the idea of the sovereign as a “mortall God.”

  6. Andy,

    Yeah you don’t get much “as x shows” in Goodchild without him saying what “x shows”, any such things are generally relegated to footnotes.


    I’m going to respond to you when I have had a chance to look over my copy, but I am fairly sure that Goodchild is drawing on the former form you are describing, rather than the latter – sovereignty as exception making. I’ll also make some point about the concept of “consumer sovereignty” I think are pertinent.

  7. Thanks Anthony, for organizing this and getting it started. Also, you raise an excellent question, which is close to my own critique of Goodchild, in that he perhaps too quickly dispenses with issues of political sovereignty by claiming money always trumps any other form of power. This is why he rejects any formulation of bio-politics, including Foucault and Agamben, whereas I see them as more interrelated, and of course readers can also refer to my review of A Theology of Money in the archives of JCRT (Issue 9.3, Fall 2008).

    But that said, I do agree with Goodchild’s general understanding of theology, and his basic approach to money, ecology, economy, and credit, which I think is amazingly original, insightful, and important.

  8. Clayton,

    I’m not sure that Goodchild is wrong about money being the ‘trump’. In our neoliberal era, can you really think of a form of late bio-politics that does not involve the sovereignty of money, or reduce very quickly to it? Perhaps I am too obsessed here, but I cannot think of one.

    For example, the construction of neoliberal ‘calculative’ rationalities, where decisions are made on the basis of a neoliberal rationality that Foucault himself identifies in the Chicago School in his lectures collected in The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College De France, 1978-1979 seems to imply he thought money was the dominant biopower of our time.

    As John Protevi states (

    for Foucault, neoliberal governmentality conducts our conduct by inducing us to subjectify ourselves as self-entrepreneurs concerned with obtaining a return on our human capitalSo for Foucault, we best see the radicality of American neoliberalism by concentrating on its mode of subjectification. And the most radical mode of homo economicus is reached when the self-entrepreneur takes up the challenge of managing its genetic capital. Although Foucault felt the need to apologize for introducing the “science fiction” aspects of genetic capital, we are now deep into an era in which “biocapital” is an unavoidable horizon for social-political-economic analysis; as we might expect, these analyses invariably take Foucault as one of their starting points.

    (summary of Foucault on neoliberalism – )

  9. We often interpret the abstraction of money to be the root of evil. I recall a very interesting experiment done with primates (Gorilla I think). One was shown two dishes of candies and prompted to pick one by pointing. Whichever dish of candies they picked would then subsequently be awarded to the ape in opposite cage, in effect punishing the ape for choosing the larger of the two. As long as the actual candies were present in the two dishes, no matter how many times the experiment was repeated the ape would still choose the one with more candies, losing out everytime. But as this ape also could read and understand numbers, if the dishes each held a card with the number of candies that then would be awarded after choice, it was not long before the ape learned to choose the lower number, and thus receive the larger amount. This seems to point to the root of money use.

  10. Can I ask a naive question? It’s one thing to say that money has its own special power. It’s quite another to observe where money flows, and who gets it. Debts are flows of money. But who decides where the debts are, and on what basis? Does the creation of derivatives guide the flow of money? Does biopower have anything to do with derivatives?

  11. I am interested in applying Goodchild’s analysis to the world at hand. He writes, “Modern reason . . . reproduces the world in the theater of the imagination, where the order of the sovereign subject is maintained. Yet the sovereignty of reason exists in the imagination alone” (34). This goes a long way to account for the neo-con mentality we have been contending with overtly for 8+ years, covertly for decades. It is the reason the Bush-Cheney administration could ONLY imagine “winning” rapid and stunning “victories” with “shock and awe” in Afghanistan and Iraq. How could these “backward” malequipped nations bring a military mammoth, a godlike nation under God, to its knees? Imagination dwells on the superpowered weapons and the steely resolve of the “will” (“I feel powerful, ergo I am powerful”), not on the complex terrain, not on the contextual complications, not on the accidents and variables, not on the distance, not on the contrary forms of material and political power that exist outside the flexing of subjective imagination.

  12. Alex, I’m not sure Goodchild’s wrong about money trumping all other values either; I think it does for the most part. But the way I take Anthony’s question is how can one critique the sovereignty of money except in the name or on the basis of another kind of power, and if no other power exists, then we’re screwed, at least until or unless the whole financial system breaks apart. I just think that an analysis of political sovereignty and/or biopower along the lines of Foucault and/or Agamben can supplement Goodchild’s theology of money, which itself is incredibly impressive.

  13. Clayton,

    You’re right and that seems to be what Michael is raising in the post above as well. I think the last chapter, where Goodchild presents a sketch of a positive project, might hold some answers, but the question of how to bring about those answers is still there.

    How would you expand this to include biopower? It is an interesting suggestion and if you have the time it would be great to hear more. When Dan posts I think he may have something to say on this as well.

  14. Well, in my review I mentioned sometime like glory, mostly thinking of Agamben, to talk about the fame and exhilaration that I think mostly occurs under the sign and in the service of money, but at times I wonder if at times that indicates an alternate form of sovereignty or power. Not that it’s good or better than money, and I think we need to see how both work together with money generally trumping, but maybe playing them against each other just might offer a crack to imagine or experiment with alternate forms of evaluation.

  15. I was struck by Goodchild’s conclusion on page 42, where he asks, “What political bodies can still be created that will attribute a different hue or gravity to all particular things represented under their light?” (emphasis mine). What’s interesting here is the subtle way the formulation of this question addresses his statement earlier in the paragraph: “It is no longer a question of conscious self-determination, whether as an individual or as a collective. The sovereignty required for such a subject is itself an illusion.” By “illusion,” I take Goodchild to be saying that such a sovereignty is more or less passively received as a given. Hence his repeated call throughout the opening pages of the book that we first have to think how, and by what power, we have gotten where we are now. The avoidance/repression of such a question goes hand-in-hand with the propagation of the illusion of sovereignty. The “creation” of political bodies, however, activates a new kind of agency. At first blush, as Anthony and Clayton discuss here, it is hard to see how exactly this new agency is all that different from the old one — i.e., how exactly does it escape the “gilded cage” Goodchild has described without establishing another form of subjective sovereignty? If there is a difference, it seems to me, that it emerges only by way of a transition Goodchild hints at here from the passivity of illusion to the active formation of fiction.

  16. Brad,

    You take Goodchild to mean by “illusion” (42) that “such a sovereignty is more or less passively received as a given.” But how can it be passive? I would say the presumption of sovereignty is necessarily an active subjective construal: you have to believe in your power of self-determination actively in order to activate the illusion of being self-determined (cf. earlier pages on which “illusion” comes up heavily, 22-23). So then, the new kind of agency would dissolve that illusion by not believing it, denying it credence (credit); it would be “different from the old one” by believing instead that power is only as power does, via the nexus of inter-determining relations in the “theater of life” (35). Power that is in our heads is not power; it is illusion. And every actual attempt to exercise power is a gamble (e.g., I might perish of heart attack the moment I am about to enact my “will”; the most powerful “sovereign” in world history might suddenly be assassinated, setting off a chain of events that may lead anywhere, not in anyone’s control). Goodchild writes: “Sovereignty is a relation that exists only in its [power of] suspension” (35). I think this claim is accurate only if you add the phrase in brackets. What the illusion of sovereignty cannot accommodate is the fact that its “object” may have the power to suspend it. The new kind of agency would have to define power positively, not negatively, in terms of what it is actually able to effect in the theater of life–even when the focus is on destroying something.

  17. Lissa,

    “Passive” perhaps was a bad choice of words. I don’t mean to say that there is not an “active subjective construal.” Although, how would you know that, given my choice of words? I meant, rather, to say that in an illusion there is a sense, a faith, that something lies on the far side of sovereignty that underwrites/legitimates it. So, yes, there is definitely an active element to the imagination’s appealing to it; by “passive,” I was sloppily referring to the assumed stability of what underwrites the sovereign self-presentation. Goodchild’s appeal to creativity, in my reading, does not so much give up on the processes of the imagination, as it highlights a certain “fictive” element — here, the process and form of underwriting/legitimizing is fundamentally changed. The creation of new political bodies, rather, points to the immanent processes at work in self-presentation, in all their finite, perhaps transient, glory, rather than the assumed stability of a transcendent.

    Hope that is more clear.

  18. Can Goodchild’s analysis give us an explanation of US foreign policy? Well, the US is not sovereign over other nations. And the thrust of Goodchild’s argument is to establish the existence of ‘political bodies’, such as sovereignty and money, that have a determining role, not to explain sovereignty. There is no full analysis of sovereignty intended here. But Goodchild does describe the emergence of a form of subjectivity which is trapped in its own imagination, unreceptive to extraneous considerations – which is obviously evident here, as well as throughout daily life, whether in personal relationships or a ‘can do’ attitude. Especially in the US. Less so in cultures where one defers to an extended family, for example. The key point being the threat of breaking off the relation – ‘I will cease to consider you’.

    What’s interesting is that although this power operates primarily through threat (in that sense, Lissa, you are right to say that sovereignty only exists in its power of suspension), it is quite evident that power over imagination is in reality no power at all. Demonstrations of power have to be enacted in practice, Goodchild continues on page 35. So Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan. But are these economically viable wars? Did they bring effective access to resources? No, here war is an exception to the principle that money trumps other interests. Of course, there is much war profiteering, but it looks on the whole as though financial considerations are made to serve war, rather than vice versa.

    Perhaps religion can also trump money. Religion and war, are these to emerge victorious from the crises of capitalism?

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