• Sacrifice and consumerism deemed incompatible

    by  • May 24, 2012 • Consumerism History, Featured

    Throughout history, sacrifice was the classic response in the event of a major catastrophe. In the interest of the lager good, society was required to scarify some of its consumer pleasures. However, since World War II, when the West has experienced serious austerity for the last time, things have changed drastically. Today, the response to major catastrophes is different.

    An obvious example is the reaction to the terrorist attacks that hit the United States in September 2001 after which the government urged people to continue with common consumption practices, trying to maintain current levels of consumer spending. The war on terror is simply not fought by sacrifice and austerity anymore but by means boosting consumption. Urging people to sustain or to intensify their consumption activities reveals how deeply consumerism is entrenched in modern society. It is simply regarded as a necessary condition to keep the economy function and that is why governments — as it was the case in the United States after the terrorist attacks — even go into deficit to sustain current levels of consumption.

    Today, society does not respond with sacrifice to major catastrophe as it has been the case for centuries. The role of consumerism has been changing over time and will continue to change in future. The precise role of consumerism remains controversial but its significance to the economy is beyond doubt: Sacrifice has been replaced by consumerism.


    Philipp Babcicky is a PhD student at the Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change at the University of Graz, Austria.