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Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon: Northern Christians and Market Capitalism, 1815-1860

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226137063
ISBN-10: 0226137066
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Editorial Reviews


“An important contribution to a much-neglected but very important subject. No other author has set out to do what Davenport accomplishes, which is a systematic study of how key representatives of America’s rising tide of religion attempted a theoretical understanding of, and practical response to, America’s rising tide of commerce.”

(Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame)

“Stewart Davenport conscientiously and insightfully re-creates the world of the nineteenth-century political economists, who taught that the principles of international trade manifested, like the laws of biology and physics, the intelligent design of a Divine Creator.”

(Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, and Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus at UCLA)

Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon is an illuminating and original examination of religious thought about political economy in nineteenth-century America, and thereby of deep and enduring conflicts within market societies.”

(Emma Rothschild, Harvard University)

“Scholars have endlessly written about antebellum Protestant thinking about slavery. Now, finally, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon turns a spotlight on a new, crucial question:  how did antebellum Protestants parse capitalism?  For anyone who seeks to understand the political economy of the antebellum era—or, indeed, the complex entanglement of Christianity and capitalism today—this book is critical. I, for one, am very grateful to Stewart Davenport for having written it.”

(Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School)

"Stewart Davenport tackles the paradox of America’s exuberant spirituality and what he sees as its “gross materialism.” That such a paradox should exist in the Christian is easy to understand once one considers that the Christian ethic itself emerged in the first instance within a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist age. Coming to grips with the temptations and opportunities afforded by a free and prosperous economy would call for some thought. . . [an] excellent survey."
(Fr. Robert A. Sirico First Things 2008-09-25)

"Davenport’s study recognizes the significance of the interface between economics and the wider culture, in this case religion....Davenport concentrates on the intellectual interaction between economics and religion rather than sociological and institutional boundaries. And he engages in a sustained analysis. This makes the book significant."
(Donald E. Frey EH.net 2008-09-01)

"Stewart Davenport offers a detailed and engaging intellectual history of the reception, defense, resistance, and adaptation to political economy at the dawn of the market revolution in the United States. With remarkable clarity he explicates the so-called 'Adam Smith problem' and what was at stake for highly religious Americans in coming to terms with how self-interest and sympathy for others could be reconciled....This book is an outstanding contribution to American intellectual and religious history."

(James Hudnut-Beumler American Historical Review)

"This book accomplishes well what it sets out to achieve. The research is carefully executed, the prose clear and engaging, and the structure . . . easy to follow. . . . [It] should be of wide interest to scholars of antebellum history, religion, and moral phiosophy."
(Candy Gunther Brown Journal of American History)

"Davenport's superb Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon . . . is primarily an explanation of the attempt by Northern ministers to offer guidance for their students, congregants, and neighbors—and the still-young nation—all caught in the vortex of modern capitalism."
(Kenneth J. Startup Evangelical Studies Bulletin)

"An outstanding contribution to the history of American intellectual life in the nineteenth century. On the critical question of the relationship between economic ideas and religion, he casts his lot with historians of the period who see theological commitments as independently interesting and of complicated genesis."
(KevinSchmiesing Journal of Markets and Morality)

About the Author

Stewart Davenport is associate professor of history at Pepperdine University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226137066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226137063
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,049,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By William R. Stent on March 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an important book. In it Davenport shows how the Protestant Christians who dominated academic discussion of political economy in antebellum America came unquestioningly to support the principles of laissez faire. For these `clerical economists',"[Adam] Smith's words had the ring of gospel truth about them. In their minds, the world of commerce was one big harmonious mechanism with the God of Providence and progress behind it, and should therefore be exalted as good, right, and natural rather than maligned by skeptics as something sordid, speculative and immoral. The Creator had obviously designed the mechanism for the good of both mankind and of all creation, and Adam Smith - infidel though he was - had unlocked its mysteries". (pp 55,56)

Believing that their new `science' was entirely consistent with the laws of the created universe, the clerical economists accepted, and indeed justified, its underlying ethical and moral principle as being God given. Their consequent emphasis on individualism and the division of labour was not, however, without its Christian critics. They pointed out that individualism, if unrestrained, was likely to lead to pride, vanity, greed, envy, gluttony, and lust and that the division of labour creates great inequalities between individuals within a nation. All of this was of little avail. Thus was set in motion the course to establish in the public mind until this day that formal economics is a `value free' science.

The Global Financial Crisis has now led, once more, to a questioning of the nature of theoretical economics. Is it an art? or is it a science?. Is it `value free'? Can it adequately deal with moral issues such as poverty and climate change?
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
"Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon" is a fascinating account of how thinking Christians engaged with the emerging ideas of capitalism. The topic is important both for an understanding of history and for contemporary reflection. Davenport is a clear and persuasive writer.
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