Materialist Conservatism

Materialism is “good news,” according to Stephen Greenblatt, since it shows us the truth of “human insignificance” and dispels enchantment. We’re liberated from sacred boundaries to do what we like.

Rusty Reno, who quotes this from Greenblatt (Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, 148) considers this a bit of naively class-based cheeriness: “What Greenblatt fails to see is that this gospel is for the rich and powerful – professors at Harvard, for example. As materialism disenchants, the norms by which we can hold the powerful accountable melt away.”

He continues: “I cannot imagine a more convenient and reassuring philosophy for today’s One Percent. The swirl of atoms has given them tenure at Harvard, a high income, power, status. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. Like the social Darwinian and racial theories that eased the conscience of Fitzgerald’s Tom Buchanan, Greenblatt’s materialist philosophy reassures those who hold power today. Because nothing we do in this vast cosmos matters, the high and might can do what they want, and nobody can criticize them.”

Far from being revolutionary, “materialism is attractive to people . . . because it justifies the status quo. There are no higher truths to serve. Accept things as they are, for they can’t be otherwise. Far from revolutionary, materialism, like all the lowering therapies, eases the way for empire and servitude” (149).

A philosophy that affirms the reality of something beyond the status quo – that makes revolution a real possibility.

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