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To Serve God And Wal-Mart

The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
  • By Bethany Moreton
The world's largest corporation has grown to prominence in America's Sun Belt the relatively recent seat of American radical agrarian populis and amid a feverish antagonism to corporate monopoly. In the spirit of Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" historian Moreton unearths the roots of the seeming anomaly of corporate populism, in a timely and penetrating analysis that situates the rise of Wal-Mart in a postwar confluence of forces, from federal redistribution of capital favoring the rural South and West to the family values symbolized by Sam Walton's largely white, rural, female workforce, (the basis of a new economic and ideological niche), the New Christian Right's powerful probusiness and countercultural movement of the 1970s and '80s and its harnessing of electoral power. Giving Max Weber's Protestant ethic something of a late-20th-century update, Moreton shows how this confluence wedded Christianity to the free market. Moreton's erudition and clear prose elucidate much in the area of recent labor and political history, while capturing the centrality of movement cultures in the evolving face of American populism. "(May)" Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

In the decades after World War II, evangelical Christianity nourished America's devotion to free markets, free trade, and free enterprise. The history of Wal-Mart uncovers a complex network that united Sun Belt entrepreneurs, evangelical employees, Christian business students, overseas missionaries, and free-market activists. Through the stories of people linked by the world's largest corporation, Bethany Moreton shows how a Christian service ethos powered capitalism at home and abroad.

While industrial America was built by and for the urban North, rural Southerners comprised much of the labor, management, and consumers in the postwar service sector that raised the Sun Belt to national influence. These newcomers to the economic stage put down the plough to take up the bar-code scanner without ever passing through the assembly line. Industrial culture had been urban, modernist, sometimes radical, often Catholic and Jewish, and self-consciously international. Post-industrial culture, in contrast, spoke of Jesus with a drawl and of unions with a sneer, sang about Momma and the flag, and preached salvation in this world and the next.

This extraordinary biography of Wal-Mart's world shows how a Christian pro-business movement grew from the bottom up as well as the top down, bolstering an economic vision that sanctifies corporate globalization.

"To Serve God and Wal-Mart" is a landmark study. Moreton's subtle blend of economic and cultural history compels us to rethink the history and geography of modern America. Revelations abound on every page.

This brilliant book could well become one of the most talked about nonfiction books of 2009-certainly among those who helped bring in the Obama era and likely among their opponents as well.

A fascinating portrait of the interconnections of commerce, spirituality, and government in modern society. Moreton treats Wal-Mart as a great whale of a corporation that gathered religious and political significance as it traveled from Bentonville, Arkansas, throughout the US, on to Mexico, and to every corner of the globe.

Startlingly original, creatively researched, and forcefully argued, this beautifully written book tells a compelling story about a crucially important player in modern American life.

A probing and nuanced study of the latter-day evangelical romance with free-market capitalism...Wal-Mart's folksy illusion relied in part on making store workers feel like family; in particular, on making female workers feel valued as wives and mothers. Moreton does an excellent job of digging beneath Wal-Mart's carefully imagineered vision of the rural good life. She not only recounts labor abuses such as the company's notorious failure to promote and reward women but also stresses how the company appealed to white Americans' feelings of entitlement...Its workers and the customers they served--often "friends, neighbors, and loved ones"--were the same: white Ozarkers nostalgic for a wholesome, more homogeneous, and largely imaginary yesteryear, for a past in which the best opportunities were reserved for people like them. -- Maud Newton "Bookforum" (06/01/2009)

Like all historians who love their craft, Bethany Moreton is a gifted storyteller, and this book offers readers an engaging account of how a discount five-and-dime store conceived in the rural American Ozarks became the template for service work in the global economy...[An] impeccably documented and eloquently argued narrative, which will interest historians, sociologists and general readers...Her most significant contribution is to offer an explanation of the paradox that political pundits have pondered in recent years: why many middle Americans prioritize conservative social issues ahead of government policies that would presumably be in their economic self-interest. Moreton's careful, sometimes wry historical analysis demonstrates that when "values voters"--with many Wal-Mart workers surely among them--eschew economic benefits such as unionization, they do so out of allegiance to a radically new set of moral market priorities. The subjugation of the self to the global corporation, ironically, embraces a deeper set of ideals about the supremacy of family, the morality of self-reliance and the evangelical justification of free enterprise. "To Serve God and Wal-Mart" shows just how deeply entrenched these ideals are in the world's largest retailer, offering an intimate portrait of both the contradictions and conquests of the new service economy. -- Rebekah Peeples Massengill "Times Higher Education" (05/28/2009)

Fascinating...With verve and clarity, Moreton offers something more distinctive: a compelling explanation of how Wal-Mart captured the hearts and pocketbooks, of so many Americans. -- Steven P. Miller "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" (06/07/2009)

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  • Additional Details
  • Additional Details
    Product Specs
    • SKU: 9780674033221
    • Manufacturer: Harvard Univ Pr
    • Language of Text: English
    • ISBN 13: 9780674033221
    • Publication Date: 05/01/2009
    • Format: Hardcover
    • Author: Bethany Moreton
    • Page Count: 372
    • Width: 6.50 inches
    • Height: 1.30 inches
    • Length: 9.30 inches
    • Weight: 1.60 pounds
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