Pascal and Capitalism

Some Reflections on Jansenist Morality and the Spirit of Capitalism

  • Samo Tomšič University of Fine Arts, Hamburg
Keywords: Jacques Lacan, Blaise Pascal, Capitalism, Renunciation, Life


The paper departs from Jacques Lacan’s unusual remark that Blaise Pascal was a pioneer of capitalism. Next to being provocative, Lacan opens an additional perspective in his engagement with the encounter between psychoanalysis and critique of political economy. Capitalism appears as a moral order, grounded in a specific combination of “risk management” and imposed renunciation of life. However, these two aspects also mark the problem of conversion, which preoccupies Pascal in his famous reflections on the wager. Furthermore, to understand the “spirit of capitalism”, it is worth placing Pascal’s work in line with Jansenism, a radical Christian doctrine, according to which humanity is doomed in the eyes of God, with no hope for salvation. In this way, a more disturbing connection from the one between capitalism and the protestant work-and-abstinence-ethics comes to the foreground, namely between the Jansenist pessimistic vision of the human condition and the aggressive antisociality of capitalism.