Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review of Theology of Money by Philip Goodchild

This review is up on Amazon here. As ever, if it immanentizes your eschaton do pop over and click the thumbs up.


NOTE : I edited this review after it was published ! The original is underneath, and the edited version (the one now showing on Amazon) is underneath that. I'll go into the reasons for this in my next post. There isn't a huge difference but the edited version is more positive and less snarky.

An imperfect but unique and important contribution to our understanding of money

What to make of this book?

It's not what I expected. I thought it would be a survey of theological ideas about money. But it's more like the author's own take on money, inspired by and viewed through his own theological and philosophical commitments. The backnotes claim that Goodchild engages with the thought of Schmitt, Simmel, Marx, Smith and many others. I'd say this is an overstatement. They are certainly referred to, but with the possible exception of Schmitt, they are not really 'engaged with' per se.

The book can be hard going at times too. Perhaps because there are few diversions into the expositions of other's work and thought, it can feel a little relentless at times; a constant refrain of 'money is....' Also stylistically it can resemble the delivery of a liturgy. Opposing ideas are counterpoised and resolved into the middle ground sometimes all within a sentence. Sparingly used this can affect a pleasing and reassuring rhythm to the reader. But Goodchild overdoes it. And so, at its worse it can have the bludgeoning effect of a political polemic.

None of that explains though why this book goes unmentioned in the bibliographies of other recent work on money, What I was left with after reading was a sense that theology does has something to offer to our understanding and conceptualizing of money. Specifically, theology has a unique 'theory of value'. Goodchild - in his own way - deals with this quite extensively. I use the term 'value monism' to describe the position, but in Goodchild's theological terms the ultimate evaluation of all values is in the judgement of God. Conceptualizing value in this way brings an important perspective to money because often (for Simmel, Smith, Marx and many others) value arises either in exchange or from human action and mind. Goodchild presents a case that is the opposite of the Nietzschean 'price making mind of man' and the 'valuelessness' of nature. Because obviously, for any theological position, God is not dead.

So given the uniqueness of his perspective in work on money - I've seen value monism alluded to in other works but never as underscoring an entire treatise on money - and despite the book's difficulties and flaws, I'd really recommend this book to students of money. The ultimate criteria I use for my reviews is whether the book works within its own terms. This one does, just about. I reckon Goodchild started out with the intention of writing a different book; the survey on the theology of money I mentioned. But, in writing got caught up in his own arguments.

Fortunately, the pre-penultimate section of the book 'Of Theology' is so good - and obviously where Goodchild feels most at home - that the stylistic issues and other difficulties of the first 200 pages are overcome. His recommendations for a solution to the problems of the moneyed world are naive fantasy. But it's so endearing that he's brave enough to offer his solutions that one immediately forgives him. I read an online interview with Goodchild where he says "So I expect [the book] to be deeply divisive at best, or else regarded with such scandal and outrage that it must be denounced, marginalised or ignored." I'd say its been ignored, mostly. And that's not an appropriate response to a book that gives a unique and valuable insight into money.

There is a disscussion of this book and chapter summaries, along with a letter form the author at https://itself.wordpress.com/category/goodchild/theology-of-money-event/

[update: I'm overstating it by saying 'ignored'. The book was reviewed, for example Carol Johnson in The Review of Politics, Vol. 73, No. 1 (WINTER 2011), pp. 190-192, and of course it had a stateside reprint by the prestigious Duke University Press. I should have taken the positive line and said that I wish it had been even more widely appreciated.]
_______________________

And this is the new version:

What to make of this book? (My copy was the 2009 Duke University Press edition, btw)

It's not what I expected. I thought it would be a survey of theological ideas about money. But it's more like the author's own take on money, inspired by and viewed through his own theological and philosophical commitments. The backnotes claim that Goodchild engages with the thought of Schmitt, Simmel, Marx, Smith and many others. I'd say this is an overstatement. They are certainly referred to, but with the possible exception of Schmitt, they are not really 'engaged with' per se.

The book can be hard going at times too. Perhaps because there are few diversions into the expositions of other's work and thought, it can feel a little relentless at times; the refrain of 'money is....' has a numbing effect because of repetition. Also stylistically it can resemble the delivery of a liturgy. Opposing ideas are counterpoised and resolved into the middle ground sometimes all within a sentence. Sparingly used this can affect a pleasing and reassuring rhythm to the reader. But Goodchild overdoes it.

None of that explains though, why this book goes unmentioned in the bibliographies of other recent work on money, What I was left with after reading was a sense that theology does indeed, have something to offer to our understanding and conceptualizing of money. Specifically, theology has a unique 'theory of value'. Goodchild - in his own way - deals with this quite extensively. I use the term 'value monism' to describe the position, but in Goodchild's theological terms the ultimate evaluation of all values is in the judgement of God. Conceptualizing value in this way brings an important perspective to money because often (for Simmel, Smith, Marx and many others) value arises either in exchange or from human action and mind. Goodchild presents a case that is the opposite of the Nietzschean 'price making mind of man' and the 'valuelessness' of nature. Because obviously, for any theological position, God is not dead.

So given the uniqueness of his perspective in work on money - I've seen value monism alluded to in other works but never as underscoring an entire treatise on money - and despite the book's difficulties, I'd really recommend this book to students of money. The ultimate criteria I use for my reviews is whether the book works within its own terms. This one does, just about. The feeling I had while reading was that Goodchild started out with the intention of writing a different book; the survey on the theology of money I mentioned. But, in writing got caught up in his own arguments.

Although he does make his point successfully in the end. The pre-penultimate section of the book 'Of Theology' is excellent. Clearly Goodchild feels at home here and the words flow easily through some very difficult metaphysical territory. I regard final section of Goodchild's recommendations for a solution to the problems of the moneyed world as naive fantasy. But it's endearing that he's brave enough to speculate out loud on solutions. It'd be churlish to mark him down for that.

I read an online interview with Goodchild where he says "So I expect [the book] to be deeply divisive at best, or else regarded with such scandal and outrage that it must be denounced, marginalised or ignored." I'd say its been ignored, mostly. And that's not an appropriate response to a book that gives a unique and valuable insight into money.

There is a disscussion of this book and chapter summaries, along with a letter from the author at https://itself.wordpress.com/category/goodchild/theology-of-money-event/

[update: It turns out I'm overstating it by saying 'ignored'. The book was reviewed, for example Carol Johnson in The Review of Politics, Vol. 73, No. 1 (WINTER 2011), pp. 190-192, and of course it had a stateside reprint by the prestigious Duke University Press. And I've since discovered a whole trail of thought that links Goodchild to projects pursued by the likes of Eisenstein. I should have taken the positive line and said that I wish it had been even more widely appreciated.]

No comments:

Post a Comment