The manuscript for Idols of Nations went off to the press (Fortress) a month ago, so here’s some details, the preface, and a table of contents:

Idols of Nations: Biblical Myth at the Origins of Capitalism

Roland Boer and Christina Petterson

Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2014)


How do the early ideologues of capitalism engage with the Bible and theology? Why do they wrestle with the Bible in constructing myths to justify what was still a new economic order? What is it like to read those whom Marx read when researching Capital? These are some of the questions that played in our minds as we read, discussed, and wrote this book, Idols of Nations. Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Malthus are our concerns, and into their thoughts we have delved. We have been intrigued, surprised, exasperated, underwhelmed at their banalities, and laughed out loud at their often astonishing contortions as they sought to retell biblical stories. Or rather, they try to retell the story of the Fall, and of Adam more generally, finding there the origins of private property, self-interest, labor, exchange, commerce, law, states, and what have you. In the process, greed becomes a social benefit, acquisitiveness part of the divine plan, and labor a result of God’s command to subdue the earth. Idols indeed, worshipped and justified by a text that systematically condemns those idols. After all, it takes some deft story-telling to make the text say almost exactly the opposite of what it does say.

In the process of writing, we have been assisted by those … To all these people, we are extremely thankful.

As we read and wrote, we were always mindful of the fact that we were treading in Marx’s footsteps to some extent. These were the same texts he read in the slow process of writing Capital. Although we cannot hope to match his critique and insight, we have undertaken this project with a similar approach: to ascertain the patterns of argument, the myth-making, and blind spots of what became the ideological carapace for capitalism.

On the Кра́сная стрела́ (Red Arrow) train

Somewhere between St. Petersburg and Moscow

September 2013

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Hugo Grotius: Rewriting the Narrative of the Fall

Softening the Fall

Retelling the Myth

The Paradox of Liberalism

Class, or, The View from the Height

Chapter 2: John Locke and the Trouble with Adam

Something About Adam




A Myth Retold – Again

Setting the Scene

The Commons

Use and Appropriation


Tilling the Earth

Adam and the Plot Lines of the Fall

Downcast Ending

Conclusion: On Human Nature and Biblical Limitations

Chapter 3: Adam Smith the Story-Teller

Human Nature

Truck, Barter, and Exchange

Self-Love and the Invisible Hand

Tall Tales

Sayings, Moral Tales, and Vignettes



In the Rude State of Society: The Foundation Myth

In Ancient Times

Conclusion: On Myth, Utopia, and Transitions

Chapter 4: The Lust and Hunger of Thomas Malthus

A Melancholy Hue: On Human Nature

Fallen Creatures

Misery, Vice, and Perfectibility

Retelling and Retelling the Myth

From Savagery to Civilization

The Basic Postulata: The Reverend’s Lust and Hunger

The Traps of God’s Good Gifts

Facing up to Evil

Conclusion: On Good and Evil


September 2013