In an official press release by the White House on October 31st, Trump announced, in a rare enthusiastic professional language that he urged all Americans to take part in the celebration of November “in the year of the Lord two thousand and seventeen” as a “national entrepreneurship month”.

Dominique Routhier
Published date: March 5, 2018

La religion industrielle. Monastère, manufacture, usine. Une généalogie de l’entreprise

Pierre Musso

Les éditions Fayard


According to Trump, the particular American entrepreneurial tradition is to be praised for its “innovative, hard-working entrepreneurial spirit”. Having said that, it is not only in America that entrepreneurship is being celebrated. Even in France, although they have not gone so far as to establish a new national month, President Macron´s startups have repeatedly been highlighted as the ground for the future growth and prosperity of the nation.

Even though Trump and Macron appear to be closely related to each other´s political oppositions, they both seem to confide in the mysterious entrepreneurial spirit that is presented as a life-giving and charitable principle for the organisms of society. As stated by Trump in his press release, “Entrepreneurship is the fuel that drives the US economy, and this month I appeal to all Americans to honor the entrepreneurs who strengthen our economy, drive creativity and promote the vitality of our magnificent nation.”

From the monastery

For the French philosopher Pierre Musso, the belief in this entrepreneurial spirit is an expression of the latest phase of what he calls la religion Industrielle, “the industrial religion”, in his book with the same title. The basic assumption of the book is that religion has not disappeared, it has rather changed over time, parallel to the growth of capitalism.

«The origin of the industrial religion is found in “the silence of the monasteries, in the badly lit premises of the manufacture, and behind the smoke and steam of the factory … »

Thus, Musso´s theory inevitably leads us back to the famous German sociologist Max Weber, who, as it is widely known, developed a thesis about the connection between the ethics of Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism. In a sort of expanded attempt on a new-Weberian representation of this development, Musso describes the development of what one, in continuation of Trump, might call “the entrepreneurial spirit”. This spirit is the final phase of a long and complex historical process that Musso is trying to reconstruct. In the same way Weber made the Reformation his starting point, Musso is going back to the monastery to find the origin of industrial religion: “In the silence of the monasteries, in the badly lit premises of the manufacture, and in the smoke and steam of the factory, this religion has evolved to this day, where it is fully lit up as the triumph of enterprise …”

The Imago Mundi of religion

Pierre Musso

Musso´s study of how the entrepreneurial spirit came to penetrate both established politics and technology enthusiasm in, for example, the Silicon Valley – where entrepreneurialism almost is to be regarded as an official article of faith – is an entertaining and compelling tour de force of the Western ideas in history, a kind of Da Vinci mystery for intellectuals. The ambition is far-reaching, indicated by the 800-page book´s oversized format. The method used is the so-called genealogical method, in the French tradition from Michel Foucault, although Musso´s study of the monastery appears quite roughly cut in comparison with Giorgio Agamben´s philosophical accuracy in the Homo Sacer series.

The historical proceeding of the book is thus divided into three major sections – Monastère, manufacture, usine – each of which refers to a historical period in the development of what Musso calls “the imago mundi of industrial religion” and its worldview, like the subtitles also indicates: on the monastery and the Christian worldview; on the manufacture and the period that belongs to the mechanic perception of reality; and finally on the factory enterprise (l’usine-entreprise) as “the modern industrial religion´s cathedral”.

Towards paradise with technology

Thus, the enterprise is the place in our collective imagination where industrial religion deposits the past mythology of former religions. Heaven and hell resemble the constant alternation between two poles, between utopia and dystopia. The hell of exploitation always resists the dream of “the paradise of automatization” and the abolition of labor, Musso writes. It is the central contradiction in the worldview that has accompanied the industrial development until today, according to Musso, where we reportedly should be on the threshold of the “fourth industrial revolution”.

Musso´s theory about industrial religion is thus motivated by the attempt to identify and criticize the le grand récit de la “Revolution Industrielle”, “the great narrative of the Industrial Revolution”, from the first to the fourth, the fifth – God knows what revolution we are soon to reach. The narrative is the same throughout the book, namely that industrial and technological progress (for example in the form of automatisation of production) in itself will carry humanity towards the realization of paradise on Earth: “The industrial faith operates with the fundamental idea of “a revolution”, which announces an upcoming state of happiness … The promise of this state of happiness is repeated with any new technology-induced wave, soon of a new social class of messianic aspirations, soon by hero contractors or technologists, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs”.

Horizontal world order

Although it can, of course, be difficult to discover what Musso exactly contributes with, in comparison with both Weber and Agamben, in terms of Christianity´s secular afterlife in capitalism, it is precisely the analysis of the entrepreneurial ideology´s appearance in the early industrial capitalism that makes Mussos book deserve all its attention. This primarily because of the focus on the eccentric aristocracy son Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and his utopian socialism, which was a crucial source of inspiration for large parts of the early socialist mass movement during the 19th and 20th century.

«Even though Trump and Macron are each other´s political opposites, they both share a faith in the mysterious entrepreneurial spirit.»

Saint-Simon launched his industrial religion under the term “a new Christianity”, where, as Musso explains, science and industry were placed up front, instead of theology and politics.
Thus, the vertical world order, with its ancien-régime-hierarchies, had to make a place for a vision of the world as a horizontal network structure; a modern “atheist” religion without any form of anchoring in the hereafter. A world where both religion and politics have been redundant in favor of what technology critic Evgeny Morozov has described elsewhere as “politics without politics”, based on the idea that society and production thrive best only when it is left to an “algorithmic regulation.”

Christianity in a metamorphosis

One of the key elements of Saint-Simon´s teachings was, in this perspective, also the idea of the spontaneous “organization” of production, an idea that resembles much of the so-called new-public-management business philosophy at the time, as well as the Silicon Valley ideology that technology can replace politics. In Musso´s presentation of the Saint-Simonistic teachings, one begins to understand that such ideas are closely intertwined with the history of Christianity. Though not, as stated by Weber, as a deprivation of the religious world, not as a secularization of Christian Protestant ethics, but rather, as Musso argues, “as a new metamorphosis of Christianity,” that assumes an “industrial scientific form”.

La religion Industrielle is hardly a new classic in line with Agamben´s work Homo-Sacer, nor will it replace Weber´s famous book in history. Nevertheless, it is a good place to start if you feel the need to gather a more fundamental criticism of the dogma about the general “progress” of humanity, solely sustained by the development of industrial technology. The book also contributes to an understanding of the new religious enthusiasm and passion with which Trump, like Macron (as well as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg), promotes the occult qualities of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Modern Times Review