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Keynes was deeply ambivalent about capitalist civilization. It was a civilization that unleashed bad motives for the sake of good results. Morality had to be put in cold storage till abundance was achieved, for abundance would make possible a good life for all.
Keynes understood that capitalist civilization had, at some level of consciousness, undertaken to license motives previously condemned as “foul” for the sake of future reward. It had struck a bargain with the forces of darkness, in return for which it would secure what earlier ages could only dream of—a world beyond the toil and trouble, violence and injustice of life as it actually is. We have called this bargain
“Faustian,” in honor of the famous doctor who sold his soul to the devil in return for knowledge, pleasure, and power.
The story starts with the ancient dream of Utopia and then mutates into the historical project of creating a paradise on earth, which has gripped the western imagination for the last three hundred years, and in which the human race is still fitfully engaged. On the way, the idea of moral limits to human ambition, which underpinned all premodern conceptions of the good life, was lost, and dormant energies of creativity and destructiveness were set free in the hope that they would carry mankind to a pinnacle of achievement and mastery of the natural world. At various stages on this journey, the greatest thinkers of the age tried to envisage an end state, a point at which mankind could say “enough is enough,” only to find that the machine it had created to carry them to this point was out of control, a Frankenstein’s monster, which now programmed the game of progress according to its own insane logic. This is the story of how it happened—how we came to be ensnared by the dream of progress without purpose, riches without end.