The separation from Nature under the sign of the principle of production is fully realized by the capitalist system of political economy, but obviously it does not emerge with political economy. The separation is rooted in the great Judaeo-Christian dissociation of the soul and Nature. God created man in his image and created Nature for man’s use. The soul is the spiritual hinge by which man is God’s image and is radically distinguished from the rest of Nature (and from his own body): ‘Uniquely in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever known. In absolute contrast to ancient paganism and oriental religions, Christianity not only institutes a dualism of Man and Nature but also affirms that God’s will is that man exploit Nature according to his own ends.’
Rationality begins here. It is the end of paganism, animism and the ‘magical’ immersion of man in nature, all of which is reinterpreted as superstition. (‘Rational’ Marxism makes the same error by reinterpreting it in terms of the ‘rudimentary’ development of productive forces.) Hence although science, technology, and material production subsequently enter into contradiction with the cultural order and dogmas of Christianity, nonetheless their condition of possibility remains the Christian postulate of man’s transcendence of nature. This is why a scientific movement does not emerge in Greece. Greek rationality remains based on a conformity with nature radically distinguished from the Christian rationality and ‘freedom’ based on the separation of man and nature and on the domination of nature.
This separation immediately establishes not a work ethic (of material domination and production) but an ethic of asceticism, suffering, and self-mortification: an ‘other-worldly’ ethic of sublimation, in Max Weber’s expression. Not a productive morality but a fixed order is outlined, in which well-being is to be ‘earned.’ And this is an individualist enterprise. The passage from the ascetic to the productive mode, from mortification to labor, and from the finality of welfare to the secularized finality of needs (with the Puritan transition at the origin of capitalism where work and rational calculation still have an ascetic, intra-worldly character and an orientation toward well-being) changes nothing in the principle of separation and sublimation, repression and operational violence. Well-being and labor are both well within the realm of ends and means. From ascetic practices to productive practices (and from the latter to consumer practices) there is thus desublimation; but the desublimation is only a metamorphosis of repressive sublimation. The ethical dimension is secularized under the sign of the material domination of nature.
Christianity is thus on the hinge of a rupture of symbolic exchanges. The ideological form most appropriate to sustain the intensive rational exploitation of nature takes form within Christianity during a long transition: from the 13-14th century when work begins to be imposed as value, up to the 16th century when work is organized around its rational and continuous scheme of value—the capitalist productive enterprise and the system of political economy, that secular generalization of the Christian axiom about nature. But this revolution of the rational calculus of production which Weber noted is not the beginning; it is prefigured in the Christian rupture. Political economy is only a kind of actualization of this break.
Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production (1973 en francés, '75 en inglés)