Simmel’s psychology of money

From Marx

"The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1903)

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This psychologizing read of capitalist logics is important because it demonstrates how capitalism (and the urban conditions that accompany capitalist economy) creates subjects to match the system.

What hope of rupture is there if the cultural logic of capitalism is totalizing in this way, permeating all areas of social life, including psychological interiority ?

"Money economy and the dominance of the intellect are intrinsically connected. They share a matter-of-fact attitude in dealing with men and with things; and, in this attitude, a formal justice {8} is often coupled with an inconsiderate hardness. The intellectually sophisticated person is indifferent to all genuine individuality, because relationships and reactions result from it which cannot be exhausted with logical operations. In the same manner, the individuality of phenomena is not commensurate with the pecuniary {9} principle. Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it asks for the exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much? All intimate emotional relations between persons are founded in their individuality, whereas in rational relations man is reckoned with like a number, like an element which is in itself indifferent. Only the objective measurable achievement is of interest. […]The matter-of-fact attitude is obviously so intimately interrelated with the money economy, which is dominant in the metropolis, that nobody can say whether the intellectualistic mentality first promoted the money economy or whether the latter determined the former."


1. In an urban market economy, intellect and money are mutually reinforcing. (Cf. instrumental rationality, anonymity, exchange, interchangeability of parts.)

rationalisation of time

2. Calculated and coordinated time schedules add yet another element to the rationalization and objectification of human relations in the city.


3. The intellect preserves one's subjective life in the metropolis and functions as a kind of defense mechanism.

4. Overstimulation combined with an active intellect produce the blasé attitude typical of the urban dweller. Thus, another aspect of the leveling of value occurs. (cf. nihilism)

5. The sheer number of people in a large city and their anonymity make one, of necessity, more reserved. Reserve is the outer aspect of one's inner indifference and aversion to others. This results in a heightened sense of individuality and freedom from group demands.

=> In certain seemingly insignificant traits, which lie upon the surface of life, the same psychic currents characteristically unite. Modern mind has become more and more calculating.

(this breakdown is cribbed and adapted from here)

We become increasingly uniform (internally) but also atomised, as a social group (unlike Marx’s consolidation of the classes):

Doubled-edged nature of the metropolis : alienation/freedom The metropolis offers the freedom from close surveillance and tightly enforced social norms of rural communities in order to fully express our « inner nature ». Yet the blasé attitude developed in self-defense against the over-stimulation of the urban life dulls this capacity for expression .

A paradox : Increasing differentiation in products and values => stifling of individual differences.

« the division of labor demands from the individual an ever more one-sided accomplishment, and the greatest advance in a one-sided pursuit only too frequently means dearth to the personality of the individual. »

The solution (existentialism) : « authenticity » / natural state = uniqueness.

« Man does not end with the limits of his body or the area comprising his immediate activity. Rather is the range of the person constituted by the sum of effects emanating from him temporally and spatially. In the same way, a city consists of its total effects which extend beyond its immediate confines. Only this range is the city's actual extent in which its existence is expressed. This fact makes it obvious that individual freedom, the logical and historical complement of such extension, is not to be understood only in the negative sense of mere freedom of mobility and elimination of prejudices and petty philistinism. The essential point is that the particularity and incomparability, which ultimately every human being possesses, be somehow expressed in the working-out of a way of life. That we follow the laws of our own nature-and this after all is freedom-becomes obvious and convincing to ourselves and to others only if the expressions of this nature differ from the expressions of others. Only our unmistakability proves that our way of life has not been superimposed by others. » But how does one recognize this uniqueness that is supposed to demonstrate self-determination ?

Notes on Simmel + bibliography

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