The Philosophy of Money is a much neglected classic. While most
of his sociological work has now been translated into English, we
still lack a translation of this seminal work. One possible reason
for its neglect is the title, which could have led many to infer
that this is one of Simmel's metaphysical works. An early interpreter
of Simmel in this country, Nicholas Spykman, took just that view.
Although this large book does contain certain important philosophical
ideas, it is mainly a contribution to cultural sociology and to
the analysis of the wider social implications of economic affairs.
exchange, Simmel argues, can best be understood as a form of social
interaction. When monetary transactions replace earlier forms of
barter, significant changes occur in the forms of interaction between
social actors. Money is subject to precise division and manipulation
and permits exact measurement of equivalents. It is impersonal in
a manner in which objects of barter, like crafted gongs and collected
shells, can never be. It thus helps promote rational calculation
in human affairs and furthers the rationalization that is characteristic
of modern society. When money becomes the prevalent link between
people, it replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by
impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose. Consequently,
abstract calculation invades areas of social life, such as kinship
relations or the realm of esthetic appreciation, which were previously
the domain of qualitative rather than quantitative appraisals.
because money makes it possible to limit a transaction to the purpose
at hand, it helps increase personal freedom and fosters social differentiation;
money displaces "natural" groupings by voluntary associations,
which are set up for specific rational purposes. Wherever the cash
nexus penetrates, it dissolves bonds based on the ties of blood
or kinship or loyalty. Money in the modern world is more than a
standard of value and a means of exchange. Over and above its economic
functions, it symbolizes and embodies the modern spirit of rationality,
of calculability, of impersonality. Money levels qualitative differences
between things as well as between people; it is the major mechanism
that paves the way from Gemeinshcaft to Gesellschaft. Under its
aegis, the modern spirit of calculation and abstraction has prevailed
over an older world view that accorded primacy to feelings and imagination.
Philosophy of Money elaborates on various themes Simmel discussed
in other works, some of which have already been taken up in the
preceding pages. However, because this work gives a fuller treatment
of these themes than do his other writings, it is indispensable
for an understanding of his cultural analyses and his cultural criticism.
Coser, 1977: 193-194.