Disdain not the lowly fishmonger. From the cover graphic, you can see that's the main message of The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce by Deirdre McCloskey.
Now don't get me wrong...
...of a sort. In a manner of speaking. Though what each is mongering may be an entirely different kettle of fish altogether. None of this, of course, really has anything whatsoever to do with the actual content of this book, which is entirely serious, not to say (but may I imply?) humorless.
No, the actual main message of the book is: Hey, c'mon, let's quit picking on the poor over-vilified laughingstock bourgeoisie. What'd they ever do to you, huh? If Karl Marx jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge -- assuming the opportunity had ever presented itself -- would you follow suit? Whatsamadda you? <SLAP!> Etc.
As to whether this is a message the world is dying to hear, I frame no hypothesis. Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, apparently did.
Though her overarching aim is to develop a modern theory and taxonomy of virtues, promoting libertarian economic views and summarizing 250 years of normative economic writings, McCloskey only sketches her argument here; the details will be left to three subsequent volumes. Most of this book is a technical survey of virtues that emphasizes Catholic theology, though it includes material from other traditions. The prose style is arch and obscure, often relying on brief quotations from philosophers, economists and historians and then rebutting them. Without the future volumes, these challenging 600 pages represent a highly idiosyncratic survey with no obvious focus.
Notice that I have emphasized "libertarian" -- because the word always gives me the creeps -- and "Catholic theology" -- because, as a survivor (I think) of that particular Weltanschauung, I reserve the right to yank its pants down and make fun of its ugly butt as the mood strikes me and without further rationalization or apology. Notice that I have not emphasized "no obvious focus" so as to avoid the charge that the pot might be thereby implying the kettle to be black.
A more sober (if not more credible) assessment of the book is provided by the author herself, who opens an article titled "Bourgeois Virtues?" (on the Cato Institute site) like this:
I bring good news about our bourgeois lives. I preach here, in the vocabulary of Christianity...
Damn, that is good news! I don't know about you, but I'm breaking out the party hats right now.
Need I mention that the Cato Institute is... (how to put this to avoid a libel suit?)... not exactly your typical hotbed of bomb-throwing anarchists. Rather, it is a place where, for instance, this quote McCloskey throws out is sure to bring cheers from the peanut gallery...
"Virtue is, on balance and all other things being equal, essentially smart business under capitalism: nice guys, in fact, tend to finish first."
That's from John Mueller, author of Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery. Yeah, but what about what Alice Cooper said? Plus, last time I checked, "all other things" were not equal, John, which is sorta where the whole debate gets started. Example: You have a nice bourgeois fish market. I, on the other hand, have not eaten in five days. Whether or not we apply the Mr. Nice Guy principle here, if I'm hungry enough, chances are somebody's gonna need a b-i-i-i-i-g padlock. And that's just for fish. You start talking gold bullion, balance of payments, terabit network throughput capacity, foxy teenage daughters, and well... you get the general idea.
All of which is pretty weird when you consider that the main thrust of the book is that bourgeois people are, overall, pretty darn nice. However, this tack avoids having to explicitly point out, as more rabid denizens of the utter-nutter right are so fond of doing, that other sorts of people are, overall, basically not.
Now true, the sort of person pictured above happens to be white. But that's because putting a picture of the sort of person we all know they mean could cause a good deal of... what's the phrase? Social unrest. You like that? Unrest? Man, who makes this shit up? Cause we not talkin' interrupted naps, Jack. We talkin' spears in yo ass!
Put the fear of God in you, as they say.
Because dig it: left, right, red, black and blue, that's what we're really talking about. Who can put the the fear of God in who else first. God on our side. Gott mit uns. God bless the mystic bourgeoisie.
Yeah well, it's late and I never set out to write even this much. I'd dearly love for someone to buy me the Bourgeois Virtues book (and the Jung-Nietzsche thing, maybe even the watch) because it seems a rich motherlode, you might say, of the sort of crap this blog and I -- having no other life to speak of -- thrive on. But honestly? At the end of the day? Who needs another hyperventilating paean to the goddam Burghers? So they got a lousy rap. Gee, I wonder why?
bour⋅geois (boor-zhwä', boor'zhwä .) n. pl. bourgeois 1. A person belonging to the middle class. 2. A person whose attitudes and behavior are marked by conformity to the standards and conventions of the middle class. 3. In Marxist theory, a member of the property-owning class; a capitalist. 4. A simpleminded but well meaning fishmonger. adj. 1. Of, relating to, or typical of the middle class. 2. Held to be preoccupied with respectability and material values.
~ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, [slightly modified]
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Thursday, July 13