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James D. Bratt
God & Mammon, Inc.
The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, by Robert William Fogel, University of Chicago Press, 383 pp.; $25
When a Nobel laureate in economics contends that Americans have too many commodities and need to pursue spiritual goods instead, people should take notice. When the same famed expert, usually placed on the conservative side of the political spectrum, has some good things to say about state intervention in the economy and some harsh words for the Industrial Revolution, liberals might take hope. When one of the most famous quantifiers in American history-writing makes religion—specifically, evangelical revival religion—a prime cause of American progress, Clio and Christ alike may look on in interest.
What they will read in this latest treatise from Robert Fogel, a historian for the University of Chicago's free-market school of economics, is mostly good news. American society has achieved material plenty and distributes it fairly enough, Fogel asserts; henceforth ethical and spiritual needs will be paramount in people's lives. Providing equal access to the satisfaction of such needs will be the key challenge for national politics if the United States is to keep faith with its historic commitment to equality. But politics cannot help on this front nearly as much as religion can. Happily, just in time—since the 1960s—the right sort of religion has reemerged to do the work. The resurgence of evangelical Protestantism constitutes nothing less than America's "Fourth Great Awakening," a culture-changing phenomenon so important as to deserve close study by social scientists and full appreciation by political liberals.
Whether evangelicals themselves should join in such delight is an open question, however. Their first warning should come from the complete absence of prayer, worship, meditation, or any other classic spiritual discipline, not to mention theological virtues, from Fogel's list of the "fifteen spiritual resources" vital ...